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Jerusalem Emerges as Stumbling Block in Mideast Peace Talks


Jerusalem is emerging as a major stumbling block in new peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, both Jews and Muslims are claiming the city's holy sites as their own.

A senior Palestinian official has thrown a wrench into peace talks by saying that the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, the holiest place in Judaism, belongs to Islam and the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Adnan Husseini says the Western Wall is a "Wakf" or Islamic Trust that must be returned to Palestinian control. He told Israel Radio that it is a supporting wall for the al-Aksa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam.

For Israel, the wall is the last remnant of the biblical Temple, and turning it over to the Palestinians is unthinkable.

As Israel and the Palestinians try to hammer out a declaration of principles to be presented at an international peace conference this year, Jerusalem is back on the negotiating table.

In a compromise proposal earlier this week, Israel offered to hand over some Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Palestinian control, though that would not include the Old City, where contested holy sites are located.

Israeli parliamentarian Reuven Rivlin, of the hawkish opposition Likud party, says the government made a mistake by negotiating on Jerusalem in the first place.

Rivlin told Israel Radio that if you begin by offering Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians then you end at the Western Wall. He said no Israeli leader has the right to negotiate over Jerusalem, which he says is the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

Reinforcing Palestinian demands, President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must withdraw from all territory captured in the 1967 war, including Jerusalem's Old City. Israel's government says that is a non-starter.

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