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Israel's Celebration of Jerusalem Raises Eyebrows

3,000th anniversary of once-divided city is marked by controversy over its status as center of three religions

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Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, a senior member of the right-wing Likud opposition, which opposes the Israeli-PLO peace accord, warned Tuesday that Jerusalem would eventually come under Palestinian rule if Israel agreed to let Arab residents of Jerusalem take part in upcoming Palestinian elections.

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But Mr. Olmert, who is demanding the closure of the PLO's Orient House headquarters in Jerusalem, said that he would not prevent Palestinians from voting if Israel's parliament approved their participation. Palestinians claim the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Amid this controversy, the Community of Saint Egidio, a lay Roman Catholic group that promotes world peace, this week held a conference in Jerusalem with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious leaders.

Israeli Economic and Planning Minister Yossi Beilin, a leading peace advocate, said at a round table discussion at the conference that the only way to solve the issue of Jerusalem was to separate the religious and political aspects of the debate.

''We are dealing with one of the most delicate situations in the world. Wherever you go, things are holy - even if you don't know it.

''For Jews, there is no holier place than Jerusalem. But both sides need to understand the other's red lines when it comes to Jerusalem,'' he said.

Mr. Beilin, who advocates that final status negotiations under the Israel-PLO accord should be brought forward, said there has been some progress toward a consensus over the future of Jerusalem.

He said free access for worship is already established, and Israel is adamant that Jerusalem should never be a divided city again. It is also accepted that the 160,000 Palestinians living in the city have to be accommodated.

Mr. Husseini, who disclosed he has been engaged in a five-year dialogue with Beilin, said that the crucial factor for any future deal over Jerusalem was that Palestinians should not feel that someone else was ruling them.

''The only way to solve the problem of Jerusalem is to accept that there is one city, but rights for two people. There will be capitals in the East and the West, but the city will be open - call it two capitals in one open city or one open city with two capitals,'' he said.

Rabbi David Rosen, director of Israel's Anti-Defamation League and its liaison with the Vatican, said in an interview with the Monitor that the Saint Egidio conference would help further a climate of coexistence and mutual respect on the Jerusalem issue. ''This conference provides the psycho-spiritual glue that holds the political peace process together,'' he says.

Rabbi Rosen says he agreed with Beilin that the final status talks should be advanced to facilitate an agreement over Jerusalem.

He says that once the boundaries of a Palestinian entity had been agreed, a solution for Jerusalem could be achieved by postponing the sovereignty issue and having one united municipality for Jerusalem.

''The division of sovereignty of Jerusalem should not be delineated. Instead, a single municipality with its own police force should be developed for the city and all its people. Eventually, the sovereignty issue would become irrelevant.

''I don't think any Israeli government could survive tampering with Israel's sovereignty for Jerusalem,'' Rosen adds.