Israel agreed to give up sovereignty in part of Jerusalem Old City in 2000 — document

Newly declassified response to Clinton proposal under PM Ehud Barak shows Jerusalem was willing to accept Palestinian sovereignty in much of Temple Mount as basis for peace talks

US President Bill Clinton, center, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, left, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat walk on the grounds of Camp David, Maryland, at the start of the Middle East summit on July 11, 2000. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)
US President Bill Clinton, center, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, left, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat walk on the grounds of Camp David, Maryland, at the start of the Middle East summit on July 11, 2000. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

Israel agreed in principle to give up its sovereignty in parts of Jerusalem’s Old City, including part of the Temple Mount, during peace negotiations with the Palestinians 23 years ago, according to a newly declassified document.

The Israel State Archives on Sunday published Jerusalem’s official response to then-US president Bill Clinton’s Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal in 2000, the Ynet news site reported.

The document also showed that Israel under left-wing prime minister Ehud Barak demanded eight percent of the West Bank — home to 80% of Israeli settlers and some Palestinians — without any land swap in that territory, while a land swap in the Gaza Strip — which at that point included some 20 Israeli settlements, home to some 7,000 Israelis — would be no more than 2%.

The papers were published as part of the archival file of the late Noah Kinarti, who was one of Israel’s negotiators during the ultimately failed peace talks.

The document features the Palestinian and Israeli formal, English-language responses, highlighting the differences between the sides, as well as a Hebrew-language document that detailed Israel’s reservations regarding Clinton’s proposal.

On Jerusalem, the Clinton proposal suggested that “what is Arab should be Palestinian and what is Jewish should be Israeli.”

Israel noted that this principle “creates severe problems of [territorial] contiguity” and that “special arrangements” would be needed. The Jewish state gave up on its demand that the Palestinian sovereignty in Arab-majority neighborhoods would be limited just to neighborhoods adjacent to the Old City.

Regarding the Old City, the proposal included a “special regime” that would divide it between Israel and Palestine. Jerusalem noted in its response that the Armenian Quarter should remain in Israel since “the Armenians aren’t Arab.”

Modern tourist map of the Old City of Jerusalem. (Obendorf, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Israel suggested a principle that from the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, the territory “straight ahead and to the left” would be Palestine, while the territory to the right would be Israel.

Regarding the fiercely contested Temple Mount — the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest to Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif) — the Clinton proposal included two alternatives, both of which would hand Palestinians sovereignty over the Mount and Israel sovereignty over the adjacent Western Wall.

The first formulation would additionally hand Israel sovereignty in “the space sacred to Jews of which it is a part; or the holy of holiest of which it is a part. The second formulation would include “shared functional sovereignty over the issue of excavation under the Harem [sic] or behind the wall.”

In its response, Israel noted that the first formulation was too vague and should include more detail and “incorporate the Kotel [Western Wall] Tunnel, the Makhkame building, the Kotel itself and the remaining part of the Wall towards the South Wall, as well as the Ofel Garden, the City of David, Mt. Olives, and the Tombs of the Kings and Prophets.”

Israel’s notes said the formulation included “de facto division of sovereignty on the Mount.”

Gilead Sher (Flash90)

Israel’s English-language response was written by Barak’s chief of staff, Gilead Sher, and sent to Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger in January 2001.

Sher wrote that Israel considered Clinton’s outlines to be “a basis for discussion, provided that they remain, as they are, a basis for discussion acceptable to the Palestinians.” He added that “Israel will request a number of clarifications concerning matters of vital interest to Israel.”

The talks were conducted amid intense fighting in the West Bank and Gaza after the Palestinians launched the Second Intifada, marked by an onslaught of suicide bombings against Israelis, in September 2000.

The Palestinians had more significant reservations regarding the Clinton proposal, and the talks eventually collapsed. Barak lost the following elections.

Peace talks have been moribund since 2010.

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