Left Dejected, Right Jubilant, but All Sides Say It’s Not over

The collapse of the talks at Camp David did little to dispel the deep feeling of uncertainty felt by most Israelis over the future of the region.

On the face of it, hard-liners were jubilant and the peace camp was dejected, as could be expected.

But just the same, settlers who oppose any accord know that the peace process is not yet over. There could still be a full or partial agreement that would include giving up most of the West Bank and even parts of Jerusalem.

For doves, the Camp David collapse is not yet the death of their dream, though it has raised serious questions about their conception of the Palestinians as a peace partner.

All of these views were present Wednesday in downtown Jerusalem, which always serves as a microcosm for the mood in Israel. As an indication that confusion remained, there was no open display of passions from either side.

There may have been endless chatter on the radio and television about the ramifications of the summit’s failure, but on the streets, there was no politicking and billboards remained relatively free of propaganda.

Leah Gilboa, a retiree who has lived in Israel for 65 years, said she was extremely disappointed that no agreement had been reached, and was even willing to hand over Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

"But we cannot reach an agreement if the other side is unwilling to make any compromise," she said. "Maybe we were a little naive to think that the Palestinians would declare an end to the conflict. Perhaps they are not ready for peace."

Yet Gilboa has not lost hope. "I’m just a bit more realistic now," she said. "I think, though, that this is just a time out and the talks will continue."

Moshe Beigel, a 41-year-old jeweler who lives in the settlement of Efrat near Jerusalem, said he was upset that the talks had broken down.

"I would like a solution," said Beigel, even though he felt Prime Minister Ehud Barak had gone too far in his willingness to give the Palestinians authority over some sections of Jerusalem.

"If he negotiated an end to the conflict, Israelis would be willing to go a long way," he said. "But I don’t think the Palestinians are ready to go that course."

There are plenty of Israelis who were happy that Barak came home empty-handed, and not all of them live in the West Bank or fit the stereotype of hard-line gun-toting religious settlers.

Hila Pikali, 15, said she was completely opposed to any division of Jerusalem, even the Arab neighborhoods she has never visited.

"It’s good that Barak came home with nothing," she said. "Jerusalem must stay united under Israeli sovereignty – even if it would not make such a big difference in my life."

Others were more vague, concerned that the failure could spark violence, yet uncertain that big concessions would have given Israelis anything.

"If I knew that concessions in Jerusalem would be the end of the conflict then I might have agreed to such a deal," said Rami Levy, a 25-year-old student from Tel Aviv.

"The problem is that today its east Jerusalem, tomorrow it’s all of Jerusalem, and the next thing you know they will want Tel Aviv."

Yet amid the confusion one thing was certain – the permissible boundaries of public discourse in Israel has clearly shifted.

After 33 years in which Israelis have believed unequivocally and across the political spectrum that Jerusalem is the undivided and eternal capital of Israel, it was easy to find people to speak openly about compromising on the city.

Meir Micha, the owner of the Pinati restaurant, said he was very worried that the collapse of the talks could lead to violence, and he would be willing to give up anything for peace – except Jerusalem. However, he immediately explains that for him Jerusalem means the Old City.

"I couldn’t care less about the Arab neighborhoods," said Micha, 47, admitting that nobody dared make such statements in the past.

"A few months ago, I could have been shot for saying that."

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