Israel is ready to cede parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians in the framework of a peace
deal, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday ahead of the start of talks in Washington.
Partition in Jerusalem - at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- would include a "special regime" for managing the city's holiest sites, Barak told Haaretz.
He said the killing of four Israelis by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank on Tuesday should not stop the talks starting.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday for their first face-to-face negotiations, has
publicly balked at dividing the city.
Barak's disclosure suggested the Netanyahu government was willing to yield on Jerusalem, including its walled Old City where al-Aqsa, Islam's third-holiest shrine, abuts the Western
Wall, the vestige of Judaism's two ancient temples and today a Jewish prayer plaza.
"West Jerusalem and 12 Jewish neighborhoods that are home to 200,000 residents will be ours. The Arab neighborhoods in which close to a quarter million Palestinians live will be theirs," said Barak, who helped lay the groundwork for the U.S.-sponsored summit.
"There will be a special regime in place along with agreed upon arrangements in the Old City, the Mount of Olives and the City of David," he said.
Israel captured the eastern part of the city from Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to set up in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Barak's vision of two cities and a special regime in the so-called "holy basin" recalls a plan discussed by the previous Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, during peace talks with Abbas that fell apart almost two years ago.
Barak himself negotiated unsuccessfully with the Palestinians a decade ago as prime minister, singling out Jerusalem as the key stumbling point in reaching a deal.
Barak also said any agreement would see the relocation of isolated Jewish West Bank outposts into Israel, which will keep larger urban settlement blocs.
A deal would also have to ensure Israel's security, Barak said, including a presence along the Jordan valley, the West Bank's eastern frontier, and "technological arrangements".