Jerusalem - As she visits the Middle East this week, USSecretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pressing Israeli and Palestinian leaders to commit to confidence-building measures and a timetable ahead of an upcoming US-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Md.
Israel has resisted a timetable, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a major speech Sunday night that he is ready to begin accelerated peace talks – even on final-status issues such as Jerusalem.
Mr. Olmert's statement reiterated recent remarks by Israel's deputy prime minister indicating that Israel must be prepared to discuss giving up parts of Jerusalem – potentially dividing the city – in upcoming negotiations with the Palestinians.
"It is in Israel's interest that all the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem receive international recognition and that Arab neighborhoods like Walajeh and Shuafat are transferred to the Palestinians," Haim Ramon, the vice premier, told cabinet members last month.
Whether intended as a trial balloon or as a genuine attempt to get Israelis accustomed to the idea of turning Arab neighborhoods over to Palestinian control, the message sent shock waves through both Israeli and Palestinian society.
Many Palestinian residents opposed
Those feeling skittish about the city's potential partition aren't just Israelis – who traditionally take the position that Jerusalem should be Israel's united capital – but also Palestinian Jerusalemites, who fear that their standard of living will fall if they come under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
"I don't want to have any part in the PA. I want the health insurance, the schools, all the things we get by living here," says Ranya Mohammed as she does her afternoon shopping in Shuafat.
"I'll go and live in Israel before I'll stay here and live under the PA, even if it means taking an Israeli passport," says Mrs. Mohammed, whose husband earns a good living from doing business here. "I have seen their suffering in the PA. We have a lot of privileges I'm not ready to give up."
The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported that two veterans in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, have been meeting secretly and have reached a document agreeable to both sides that lays out possible solutions to the conflict. In it, Palestinians showed a willingness to be flexible on their historic claim to a "right of return" to houses that are now inside Israel proper, accepting instead a mixed solution that would include some refugees returning to the Palestinian state-to-be, some to Israel, and many other to be resettled in third countries. Israel's outlook showed a willingness to accept the concept to returning to the 1967 borders by doing land swaps, meaning that it would annex settlement blocks but give the Palestinians a tract of land of the same size elsewhere.
Neither side was willing to comment on the report.