Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has made clear that comments by the country’s defence minister, in favour of dividing Jerusalem between Israelis and Arabs were not the policy of the Israeli government.
"Ehud Barak’s comments were not co-ordinated with the prime minister," an official in Netanyahu’s office said on Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"They represent the long-held views of the defence minister but do not represent the views of the government as a whole," he said.
Addressing the Saban Center for Middle East policy in Washington on Friday, Barak, a former prime minister from the Israeli Labour Party, had said Jerusalem’s Jewish neighbourhoods should remain part of Israel, but Arab sectors should come under the sovereignty of an independent Palestinian state.
The comments were in line with the "Clinton parameters" – proposals for the city’s future outlined by Bill Clinton, the former US president, in 2000, after the failure of the Camp David peace summit, which would see Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu holds that all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector and the Old City with its holy sites, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, is Israel’s "eternal and undivided capital".
This is the second time Netanyahu has had to distance himself from remarks made by a senior minister in recent months.
In September, he issued a statement saying that a speech given by Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, at the UN General Assembly – which outlined controversial proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement including making mostly Arab regions of Israel part of a future Palestinian state – did not reflect the official Israeli position.
Meanwhile, George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, arrived in the region on Monday in an attempt to push stalled peace efforts forward.
An Arab-Israeli peace deal has eluded the region for more than six decades.
The United States on Wednesday dropped its bid to persuade Israel to renew a freeze in West Bank settlement building, saying that weeks of efforts to broker a new freeze and resuscitate the peace talks had gone nowhere.
The freeze is a key Palestinian demand for returning to the talks stalled since an earlier slowdown in construction expired in late September.
In a speech in Washington on Saturday – just days after US-brokered direct talks with Israel came to a halt – Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the United States alone cannot bring peace to the Middle East, and that it was up to the parties themselves to forge a deal on the settlements issue.
Clinton expressed frustration with the impasse and made it clear that the parties themselves are ultimately responsible for settling their long-standing conflict, but insisted that the US administration will "not lose hope".
(Aljazeera and Agencies)