Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - There can be no peace in the Middle East unless Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has warned.
Arafat's comments were published in a Saudi Arabian newspaper on Thursday, as Israelis celebrated the 33rd anniversary of the unification of their disputed capital and as talks on final status issues reportedly resumed in the Middle East.
"Security, peace and stability cannot be restored in the Middle East unless Jerusalem returns to Palestinian sovereignty and becomes the capital of a Palestinian state," Arafat was quoted as saying in the English-language Saudi Gazette.
"There is no concession on al-Quds al-Sharif ("holy Jerusalem") nor on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes," he said.
The future status of Jerusalem and the return of Arab refugees who fled Israel in 1948 are two of the most difficult issues that remain to be resolved by a September 13 deadline. That's when a permanent negotiated settlement between Israel and the PA is supposed to be reached.
Although Arafat referred to Jerusalem's "return" to Palestinian sovereignty, the city has in fact never fallen under Palestinian rule. For hundreds of years before World War I it fell in an area under Ottoman Turk administration. From the early 1920s to 1948 it fell under the British mandate; and from 1948 to 1967, half of the city was occupied by Jordan.
Israel argues that, apart from the Jews, no nation and no people in history has ever declared Jerusalem as its capital. Israel insists that the united city will remain its capital.
The PA claims the eastern portion of the city, which Israel captured from the Jordanians in 1967, as the capital of its envisaged future state.
Jerusalem's Mayor Ehud Olmert said this was the time for Israel to decide that it would continue Jerusalem's 3000-year Jewish history. In a television interview to mark "Jerusalem Day," Olmert said there should not be any changes in its status, and called on Prime Minister Ehud Barak to maintain Israeli sovereignty.
Barak's minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Haim Ramon, said Wednesday there was no way the issue of Jerusalem could be included in a final agreement between Israel and the PA because it was impossible "to resolve this delicate matter at this point."
"Both sides have to understand that the other side cannot and will not give up its position, and we have to agree to disagree," Ramon told Israel television.
"We want to postpone any decision on Jerusalem for a number of years. [The Palestinians] want division of the city. We have not bridged this gap at all."
Earlier this month Barak nearly saw his government fall over a vote to hand over three Arab villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem to full PA control. Although lawmakers approved the transfer it was postponed until Arafat could guarantee that the nearly two weeks of violent rioting recently would not happen again.
Since then, the security establishment has recommended that Israel erect a security fence between the neighborhoods and the municipal boundary of Jerusalem. Olmert has said that he favors the idea, which would effectively cut off Arafat's plan to encompass eastern Jerusalem under his authority.
Meanwhile quasi-secret talks between Israel and the PA resumed on Thursday at an undisclosed Middle East venue. Barak's office refused to confirm they were taking place.
Although the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors began well before June 1967, it is from that time that the PA marks its current territorial claim. Many Arabs include the entire country of Israel in their definition of "occupied territory."
As the 1967 war between Israel and Egypt broke out, Israel sent word to Jordan's late King Hussein that Israel had no quarrel with his kingdom and would not attack Jordan if left alone.
But Hussein decided to enter the fray, in the process losing control over the territory west of the Jordan River, including eastern Jerusalem and its ancient Old City.
Thirty-three years ago on Thursday - according to the date on the Hebrew calendar - Israel captured eastern Jerusalem and subsequently declared the entire city its eternal capital.
That annexation of the Old City allowed Jews for the first time in 33 years to pray freely at the Western Wall, the remnant of a retaining wall of the ancient Jewish Temple, the holiest site in Judaism.
Israel never annexed the rest of the "West Bank," the area it considers its Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, although it came under military administration.
Israeli communities were built, some of them on the ruins of Jewish settlements founded prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948 but destroyed by advancing Arab armies during their failed attempt to wipe out the nascent state.