The leaders of three of Jerusalem's principal churches have appealed to the parties at the Camp David Middle East summit in the United States not to separate the city's Christian communities as part of a future peace settlement.The heads of the Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches in Jerusalem have set out their concerns in a joint letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.In the letter the religious leaders jointly call for the Camp David summit to ensure that "the Christian communities within the walls of the Old City are not separated from each other."The appeal follows reports that Yasser Arafat has proposed dividing the Old City, putting the Muslim and Christian quarters under Palestinian control, and leaving the Jewish and Armenian sections under Israeli sovereignty.The Jerusalem church leaders—Patriarch Diodoros of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Michel Sabbah of the Catholic Church and Patriarch Torkom of the Armenian Apostolic Church—write that they regard "the Christian and Armenian quarters of the Old City as inseparable and contiguous entities that are firmly united by the same faith."Furthermore, they say the peace negotiations over the issue of Jerusalem should ensure that "the fundamental freedoms of worship and access by all Christians to their holy sanctuaries are not impeded in way whatsoever."The three Christian leaders recommend that the officials at Camp David consider a system of "international guarantees" to safeguard the Christian presence in the Old City, and request the right to send representatives to the peace talks and to future forums dealing with the status of Jerusalem.For centuries, the letter states, the rights and privileges of local Christians have been codified in laws and by custom and tradition, and these should be preserved under any political settlement.The letter adds that the city will remain vital to Jews, Christians and Muslims and that it is important to ensure equality between the three religions.While there has been no response to the statement by the church leaders, their letter reflects the momentum now building up at Camp David over the future status of Jerusalem. In a daring move, Prime Minister Barak has offered for the first time to share sovereignty with the Palestinians over some parts of Jerusalem.An Israeli cabinet minister said that Barak had accepted a plan from the U.S. administration that would mean an end to the total control Israel had held on the city for 33 years.The plan is certain to provoke strong opposition from Jews around the world, who believe that Jerusalem is their eternal capital. But Rabbi Michael Melchior, the Israeli Cabinet Minister for Diaspora Affairs, insisted that the American proposal did not violate Barak's pledge never to divide the city."What's being spoken of is a [US] proposal that is definitely within the red lines [non-negotiable policies] of the Prime Minister, and therefore the Prime Minister agreed to the proposal," Rabbi Melchior said. "It's about administration—plus, perhaps also with signs of joint sovereignty, in the [Arab] neighbourhoods outside the Old City, in the neighbourhoods at the edge of Jerusalem such as Shuafat."He was speaking on Israel radio in response to reports that the U.S. government had placed bridging proposals on the table, under which Palestinians would be allowed to share sovereignty in east Jerusalem. This area of the city was captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a move that has never been recognised by the international community.But the plan falls short of Palestinian demands for sovereignty in the walled Old City of Jerusalem, home to the compound of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock—the third holiest site in the Islamic world, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.An expert on Jerusalem, Professor Moshe Amirav, who is in close contact with the Israeli negotiators at Camp David, said the Americans were attempting to find a formula that would give the Palestinians "symbolic sovereignty" in the Old City and other parts of east Jerusalem.He said sovereignty could be divided into different functions, including religion, politics, civilian administration, and security. Professor Amirav said Israel would maintain security control in Palestinian areas, while the Palestinians would have "functional" sovereignty over civilian matters, politics and religion."That way both sides have limited sovereignty in Jerusalem without dividing the city and neither leader will look like he compromised on the issue."

Copyright © 2000 ENI.See last week's Newsweek cover story, " The Real Jerusalem," for a look at the city that stands at the center of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.See also our past article, " Jerusalem as Jesus Views It" which appeared in our October 5, 1998 issue. It ran as a sidebar to that issue's cover story, " How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend | The amazing story of Christian efforts to create and sustain the modern nation of Israel."