Middle East talks end in deadlock over Jerusalem

'In the end, we were unable to bridge the gap,' says Clinton. But he praises Israel and lays the blame on the Palestinians
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The Independent Online

The Middle East peace summit at Camp David ended without a deal yesterday, a fortnight of intensive negotiation finishing in a deadlock over the future of Jerusalem.

The Middle East peace summit at Camp David ended without a deal yesterday, a fortnight of intensive negotiation finishing in a deadlock over the future of Jerusalem.

"We were, in the end, unable to bridge the gaps," said President Bill Clinton. "I think they will be bridged, because the alternative is unthinkable." Statements from Israeli and Palestinian officials were much less hopeful.

Mr Clinton had reportedly pushed for a statement which at least summed up what had been achieved, "a framework of progress". It did not happen. Now the risk is that, far from building on progress they have made, the two sides drift further apart, and deals which had been struck will disintegrate.

Mr Clinton laid much of the blame for the failure at the feet of the Palestinians, saying the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, had been more willing to compromise than the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

"The Prime Minister moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat, particularly surrounding questions on Jerusalem," he said.

"Mr Barak showed particular courage, vision and an understanding of the historical importance of this moment. Chairman Arafat made it clear that he, too, remains committed to the path of peace."

The Palestinians had refused to accept only limited sovereignty, and Israel refused to give them sovereignty over the walled Old City, providing only access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

Israel has presented its willingness to offer some form of Palestinian sovereignty over east Jerusalem as a compromise; Palestinians see this as an non-negotiable issue. Mr Clinton's comments will be widely seen in the Arab world as yet another proof of America's partiality towards Israel, and its inability to see the Palestinian point of view.

Negotiations would be renewed in the next few weeks, Mr Clinton said. And he tried to remain optimistic. "While we did not get an agreement here, significant progress was made on core issues," he said. "If you ask me did they make enough progress to get this done, 'yes'," he added. "But they've got to go home and check, they've got to feel around.

"Israelis and Palestinians are destined to live side by side, destined to have a common future. They have to decide what kind of future it will be. Though the differences that remain are deep, they have come a long way ... and, notwithstanding the failure to reach an agreement, they made real headway in the past two weeks."

Many tough issues, such as the size and powers of a Palestinian state, the treatment of Palestinian refugees and the fate of Jewish settlers on the occupied West Bank had been at stake, and here there had been narrowing of the gap. But the problem with an international negotiation is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Deals can be unstitched as easily as they can be made.

The talks had stuttered to a close as they went into their 15th day with no deal in sight. At 3am, Mr Arafat sent a letter to Clinton saying he saw no benefit in continuing the negotiations. Israeli sources later said that Mr Barak, too, wanted to leave because he saw no further point in talking.

The two leaders had agreed to stay on last week despite the near-collapse of talks, but Mr Clinton's energetic and renewed intervention apparently made little difference.

Mr Arafat "is very angry and he doesn't believe the Israelis are willing to make peace," said a Palestinian official. "It's a waste of time to stay here any longer." An Israeli source said: "This summit is ending with no result. The Palestinians have rejected all the American proposals under pressure."

The Palestinian leadership has said if there is no agreement by 13 September, it will make a unilateral declaration of statehood, a move which Israel has warned will trigger conflict.

Mr Clinton made a veiled warning against unilateral actions; but if there is no further progress, then US leverage over the Palestinians will be weakened.