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There is no other place in the world like Jerusalem, which is at the core of the identity of all three monotheistic religions in the world. For Jews, it is the location of their ancient Temples, and the place where God tested the patriarch Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac.For Christians, Jerusalem is the site of the resurrection of Jesus, the central event of their faith. And for Muslims, Jerusalem is where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven on his Night Journey. The Arabs renamed the city al-Quds, the holy one. It is at the core of what it means to be a Palestinian, at the core of the identity of what it means to be an Israeli.

From 1948 to 1967, Jerusalem was a city divided. For nineteen years, concrete walls and barbed wire sealed off one part of the city from the other. Its eastern section, including the Old City, was annexed by Jordan, and ruled from its capital, Amman. The western sector of Jerusalem became Israel's capital.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move the international community has not recognized. UN Security Council Resolution 242 called on Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, which would include a complete withdrawal from the West Bank and all of East Jerusalem. Israelis say they have allowed Christians and Muslims free access to their holy sites since they took control of all of Jerusalem in 1967. Palestinians disagree, and say the only way to guarantee access is if they have full control.

Israel insists that Jerusalem be its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent Palestinian state. At the 14-day July 2000 Camp David Middle East peace summit, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians sovereignty over some predominantly Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. But Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected them, demanding full sovereignty over East Jerusalem. Arafat was especially angered over Israel's refusal to grant Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem's walled Old City - offering only access to the Al Aksa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

Israel has not been willing to concede sovereignty on the Temple Mount, or Haram as-Sharif, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. The first Jewish temple was built there by Solomon and then subsequently the second temple reconstructed after the Babylonians had destroyed the first. The massive limestone rock at the center of the Dome of the Rock mosque also figures in Jewish tradition. It is known as the place from which the universe itself was created. The stone according to Jewish tradition is known in Hebrew as Even ha- Shetiyah, the Foundation Stone from which the whole universe was created. It is where the idea of the nexus between Heaven and earth originates within the Jewish tradition.

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