Howard Schneider
The Washington Post
December 9, 2009 - 1:00am

The European Union's foreign ministers on Tuesday softened their call for a division of Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that the city should be shared but that the two sides should negotiate the details.

The statement, issued in Brussels, marks a diplomatic victory for Israel in a contest with the Palestinians for international support.

In the absence of direct, U.S.-mediated peace talks, Palestinian officials have focused on ways to bring their case before the United Nations and the European Union, prompting intense lobbying over the language used in different texts and over the terms of European and other involvement in the region.

The 27 E.U. foreign ministers met this week amid heightened international concern over Jerusalem's future.

Last month, a group of E.U. envoys to the Palestinian territories issued a starkly critical report about what they deemed Israeli efforts to isolate the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem from the West Bank, increase the Jewish presence in key Arab areas of the city and "incrementally render a sustainable two-state solution unfeasible" by preventing establishment of a Palestinian capital there.

The diplomats recommended several potentially sensitive steps to bolster the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, including steering European tour operators away from sites linked to "pro-settler organizations," discouraging Europeans from buying property in East Jerusalem and possibly denying E.U. entry to "violent settlers" in East Jerusalem.

Israel distinguishes between Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and its settlements in the occupied West Bank, but many international organizations describe both as settlements.

The envoys' document was intended as a "sober, serious and factual account" of trends in East Jerusalem, said a European diplomat, who spoke off the record because the document has not been publicly released.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers in Brussels were debating a resolution meant to assert a more forceful European voice in a process that, under the Obama administration, has ground to a halt.

Israel has called for a resumption of negotiations, but the Palestinian Authority has said it will not participate unless Israel imposes a full freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements and neighborhoods in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- beyond the partial, 10-month freeze recently put in place.

A draft E.U. resolution referred to creation of a Palestinian state "with East Jerusalem as its capital" -- language that, to Israel, appeared more decisive than the long-standing European and U.S. policy of supporting a negotiated resolution to the competing claims over the city.

The phrase was deleted from the final text, issued Tuesday, which called for renewed talks and said Jerusalem's future status as a dual capital should be addressed "through negotiations."

Israel annexed the city's eastern neighborhoods and some surrounding areas after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The move has not been recognized internationally.


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