A row has erupted about the future status of Jerusalem following the signing of the Israel-Jordan joint declaration in Washington on 25 January.

The declaration acknowledged Jordan’s historic role in administering the holy shrines of Jerusalem and said the kingdom’s role would be given ‘high priority’ when the final status talks on the city began (see page 33 for the full text of the joint declaration).

King Hussain referred directly to the city in his speech to the US House of Representatives on 26 July (see Cover Story). ‘Religious sovereignty should be accorded to all believers of the three Abrahamic faiths in accordance with their religions, and this way Jerusalem will become the symbol of peace and its embodiment as it must be for both Palestinians and Israelis when their negotiations determine the final status of Arab East Jerusalem,’ he said.

Palestinians immediately complained that the declaration could pre-empt talks about the final status of Jerusalem which are to take place within the Israel-Palestinian track of the Arab-Israel peace process.

They are also concerned that this has given Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin the chance to divide talks on Jerusalem into separate economic and political tracks.

Following the declaration, which included a formal ending of the state of war between Israel and Jordan, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat telephoned Arab leaders to enlist their support for the Palestinian position. They included King Hassan of Morocco and Saudi Arabia’s Defence & Aviation Minister Prince Sultan Ibn Abdel-Aziz. The PLO says it wants Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. ‘We want the Arab League to say that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine,’ PLO chief negotiator Nabil Shaath said in Cairo on 27 July.

Israeli leaders are showing little sympathy for the Palestinian argument. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said on 26 July before addressing congress that the Palestinians had no case for opposing the US-Israel acknowledgement of Jordan’s key role as a guardian of the Islamic sites. He also said the city must remain united under Israeli sovereignty.

The joint declaration has cleared the way for a full Israel-Jordan peace. King Hussain said in an interview broadcast by Israeli television that a peace treaty could be signed before the end of the year.

The declaration has drawn a lukewarm regional response. Syria said that it will not be rushed into any agreement. The government daily Tishreen said on 25 July that any attempt to exert pressure on Damascus to reach an agreement because of the latest developments would not succeed.

Talks continued in Cairo on 27 July between Israel and the Palestinians about handing over control of five areas of civilian authority to the self-rule authority that will cover the whole of the West Bank. Shaath said the two sides were close to agreement on the education system. This would be followed by talks about the health service. Other areas which will come within early empowerment talks are direct taxation, tourism and social affairs. Local elections will also be discussed before elections due to be held in October.