Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak suggested parts of Jerusalem could be handed over to the Palestinians, in an interview published on Wednesday on the eve of new Middle East peace talks. West Jerusalem and 12 Jewish ‘neighbourhoods’ — settlements in Arab east Jerusalem — would remain in Israel’s hands. “The Arab neighbourhoods in which close to a quarter million Palestinians live will be theirs,” he told the Haaretz newspaper. But the suggestion by the Labour party leader does not reflect the views of hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has insisted Jerusalem will remain Israel’s undivided capital “forever.” Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas were set to launch a new round of peace negotiations in Washington on Thursday.
Control over annexed Arab east Jerusalem has been a key issue during 17 years of on-off negotiations. Israel considers Jerusalem its “eternal and indivisible” capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their promised state.