As Prime Minister Ehud Barak engages this week in Middle East summitry, there is one issue on which he can afford to make the fewest concessions: Jerusalem.
Struggling to hold together the vestiges of his governing majority before leaving for Camp David on Monday, Barak assured the nation on the eve of his departure that Jerusalem would remain undivided under Israeli sovereignty in any peace treaty with the Palestinians.
Barak's office, also, maintained that, along with his Jerusalem stance, the premier made his other principles abundantly clear during his televised address Sunday:
No return to the borders that existed prior to the 1967 Six-Day War; No foreign army inside the West Bank; No Palestinian sovereignty over the majority of Jewish settlers; No acceptance by Israel of legal or moral responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.
Jerusalem and the refugee issue are the two most intractable issues facing the two sides at Camp David.The fact that there will be some changes, though relatively small ones, in the pre-1967 lines is taken in Israel as a given. If Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat sticks to his public demand for a return to the 1967 boundaries, there will be no agreement.
It is also widely believed that the two sides have agreed to a demilitarized Palestinian state and the stationing of Israeli troops at selected key points on the Jordan River.
Similarly, it is also believed that Israel will be able to annex three settlement blocs close to the old border - although the Palestinians are said to be demanding compensatory slices of Israeli territory alongside the Gaza Strip.
This annexation was originally proposed in the "Beilin-Abu Mazen" agreement, an informal accord negotiated during 1995 between Yossi Beilin, now Barak's justice minister, and Abu Mazen, Arafat's second-in-command.
On Jerusalem, the Beilin-Abu Mazen accord envisaged a Palestinian capital, to be called "al-Quds" - or "holy city," the Arabic name for Jerusalem - alongside the city's present boundaries.Those boundaries - drawn up by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan in the wake of the 1967 war and subsequently proclaimed sovereign Israeli soil by the Knesset - do not embrace important Palestinian suburbs such as Abu Dis, Azariya and a-Ram.
These areas, Beilin and Abu Mazen believed, could develop and become a credible Palestinian capital.Since 1995, in a tacit recognition of the acceptability of the Beilin-Abu Mazen scheme, Israel has turned a blind eye to the Palestinians' construction of a large and impressive building in Abu Dis that is intended to serve as their Parliament building.
The Palestinian position on the eve of the summit is that Beilin-Abu Mazen is deficient.They insist on control of the Temple Mount and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. They also insist on control of Palestinian areas within Jerusalem that are close to the Old City walls, such as Sheik Jarrah, the American Colony and Wadi Joz.
Informed Israeli observers said this week that while the question of sovereignty and flags over the Temple Mount is capable of resolution - especially since Jewish religious law forbids entry onto the mount - the question of sovereignty over the Palestinian areas within the city could prevent an agreement from being reached.
The Palestinians must realize, say these observers, that no Israeli government could turn over any of these areas and hope to survive politically.
But the Palestinian negotiators are insisting that the Palestinian people live under their own sovereignty - and this includes not only the 500,000 Palestinians living in the Greater Jerusalem area, but also the 180,000 who live within the present city limits.
But to carve up the city would flatly contradict Barak's pledge of a "united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.''
A solution will require further flexibility and ingenuity if they are to emerge reasonably satisfied - and with their respective declarations of unswerving allegiance to the Holy City intact.