Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority continued, albeit at a slower pace, Thursday in the absence of President Clinton.
But after 10 days of debate over the issues that have driven a wedge between Jews and Arabs for more than a century, back home the two sides are readying themselves for a possible confrontation.
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, left in charge while Clinton attends a G-8 summit in Japan, wants to use the time "productively." Albright, he insisted, is every bit as "determined" as Clinton is to reach an agreement.
Clinton said he would assess the situation when he returns in four days. Although, the negotiators were given some time to rest on Thursday after make or break talks had allowed little time for sleep during the past several days, Boucher asserted that the "efforts have not slackened in any way."
Barak and Arafat agreed to stay on early Thursday morning while Clinton is in Okinawa, after the President had already concluded the summit had ended without an agreement.
"Prime Minister Barak decided to stay, in order to explore every possibility to try and reach an agreement that will put an end to the conflict," Barak's spokesman Gadi Baltiansky said.
However, he added there are still "many difficulties and the gaps are very wide. We will need a lot of effort and hard work to bridge those gaps."
Israeli lawmakers in touch with Barak by phone said he had agreed to stay despite Arafat's "intransigence", out of respect for the President and all of his efforts.
Arafat said he had never packed his suitcases nor threatened to quit the talks. Rather, Arafat said he was the one willing to stay. Arafat's standing in the Arab world has been bolstered by his non-compromise stance on Jerusalem.
"We will make every effort to reach an acceptable and balanced peace agreement that would be based on international resolutions," Hassan Abdel-Rahman, the Palestinian representative in Washington said in a radio interview.
Clinton called several Arab leaders including Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when the talks were falling apart over the issue of Jerusalem and was told not to let the talks collapse.
According to a Jordanian source quoted by a news agency, it was King Abdullah who persuaded Barak and Arafat to continue negotiations at the summit.
Before leaving for Japan, Clinton said the parties had been "engaged in the most comprehensive and thorough negotiations ever between Palestinians and Israelis on the core issues of their 52-year conflict."
However, despite "an intensive effort to resolve their differences over the most difficult issues," he said the "gaps remain substantial."
Both sides have confirmed that they are still deeply divided on the city of Jerusalem. Media reports from Camp David have said there is an American bridging proposal on the table, which focuses on some amount of shared control over parts of the city.
Arafat has said that he will not compromise on his demand that eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City come under his full control. He was quoted on Israel's second television channel as having told Clinton that if he compromised on Jerusalem, he would be killed.
Opposition Likud party leader Ariel Sharon expressed the sentiments of many Jews in a television interview. "There is no Jew who has the right to give up Jerusalem," Sharon said.
In the disputed West Bank and Gaza strip territories, the PA is training children and teens to fight with automatic weapons and to storm hills, like those on which Jewish settlements are built.
Jibril Rajoub, the PA's Preventive Security Service Chief for the West Bank, said earlier this week they were preparing for their "strategic goal" of guaranteeing that the Jewish settlements would disappear. Later, he said this should be achieved through negotiations and not violence.
An Israeli army spokesman said Thursday the military was "ready for all developments" but had not heightened security. However, according to radio reports, settlers in high-risk communities are being specially trained to deal with massive Palestinian protests on their doorstep. Soldiers are also undergoing special instruction on crowd dispersal.