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Rabin to Russian Envoy: Nyet to Involvement on Jerusalem Talks

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has rejected a Russian request to be involved in future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the status of Jerusalem.

Rabin turned down the request during a meeting last Friday with Viktor Posovalyuk, Russia’s Middle East peace envoy. Russia and the United States are co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process launched in October 1991 in Madrid.

Arguing for a Russian role in the negotiations over Jerusalem, Posovalyuk cited the sizable number of properties in the city owned by the Russian Orthodox Church.

He also pointed to the substantial following the Orthodox churches have in Israel and to the fact that Russia is home to a large Muslim community.

All these factors, Posovalyuk said, give Russia the right to be involved in any future discussions centering on Jerusalem.

The envoy came to Israel Aug. 25 during the course of a Mideast tour that had taken him to Damascus, Beirut and Amman. During his visit to Israel, which ended Sunday, Posovalyuk met with Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin.

In his conversation with Rabin last Friday, Posovalyuk reportedly pledged Moscow’s support for Israel’s effort to hold high-level and direct negotiations with Syria.

Posovalyuk told Rabin that while there are “pockets of resistance” in Damascus to the peace process, the decision of Syrian President Hafez Assad to seek peace with Israel is widely supported.

‘IT IS BETWEEN US AND THE PALESTINIANS’

On the issue of Jerusalem, Rabin said that Russia, like other parties, had the right to be involved in discussions about religious aspects of the issue, but not in political discussions that would determine the future status of the city.

Peres, who met with the envoy in Tel Aviv, reportedly sought to put a more positive spin on the Israeli stance.

He stressed Israel’s readiness to discuss any claim, demand or request of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding holy places within Jerusalem or regarding its church properties or adherents elsewhere in Israel.

But Peres, too, emphasized that the issue of Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its eternal, undivided capital, was not to be negotiated in the international arena.

“Israel won’t place Jerusalem on the international negotiating table,” Peres said on Israel Radio. “It is between us and the Palestinians.”

Peres noted that Israel’s commitment, under the terms of the declaration of principles signed last September in Washington, was to negotiate the issue of Jerusalem with the Palestinians when the proper time came.

The declaration of principles calls for negotiations on the question of Jerusalem, along with the status of Israeli settlements, to begin no later than May 1996, two years after the official launch of Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank enclave of Jericho.

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