Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported on Friday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to include the issue of Jerusalem within any potential framework agreement with the Palestinians, including the proposal put forth by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The newspaper cited senior Israeli officials as sources, and quoted one of them saying that Netanyahu will not agree to any deal that proposes the establishment of a Palestinian capital anywhere near Jerusalem, even if this leads to the failure of the current talks.
Another official told the newspaper that all the discussions that took place around the future status of Jerusalem were confined to Kerry and Netanyahu; however, Netanyahu was more nuanced with Kerry than the inflexible message he delivered to his ministers and other Israeli politicians.
Haaretz quoted another Israeli source familiar with the details of the American-Israeli talks saying that while Netanyahu has tried to avoid addressing the issue of Jerusalem within the framework agreement, he did not refuse mentioning it completely.
The future status of Jerusalem is one of the most complex issues on the table that Kerry needs to address with the Palestinians and Israelis, as the two sides are extremely divided due to the political sensitivity of the holy city and its potential to thwart the peace efforts.
According to the Israeli newspaper, one official revealed that the US administration is considering employing the term "Greater Jerusalem" so that the Palestinians can use it to refer to east Jerusalem, while the Israelis can claim it refers to the towns of Abu Dis and Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Substantiating this, Haaretz cited a recent report by the Associated Press news agency that detailed how the Americans are suggesting that the framework agreement "refer to 'Palestinian aspirations' to establish a capital in Jerusalem". According to the news agency, this was rejected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. A senior Palestinian source added that: "Abbas had demanded a clear and unequivocal reference to the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, out of concern that a more general reference would be interpreted as Palestinian willingness to establish their capital in one of the city's outlying suburbs."