Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The mood in Jerusalem, circa January 2014

While in Jerusalem this January, I tried to get a sense of the mood on the street. It was interesting for me to note that the ongoing negotiations brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry played no role whatsoever in my conversations. No one I talked to was optimistic or expected anything to come of these negotiations. There was practically no interest among people I spoke to and barely any coverage of it in the news, which were dominated by the decline and death of former PM Ariel Sharon. The mood in the Arab shuk eerily resembled that among liberal Israeli pundits: Sharon was the only person who could have made peace or forced the concessions necessary to make peace. On the other hand, I observed a degree of pragmatism and mutual penetration of Arabs and Israelis that went hand in hand with a clear and open affirmation of completely opposed national visions. The Arabs of East Jerusalem are now openly nationalistic, but they know they need to find a way of operating within the system imposed by the Israeli agenda. The prevailing attitude on the Israeli side was summarized by Ethan Bronner when he spoke at BU back in November, namely, conflict resolution has given way to conflict management. The prevailing attitude among Palestinians that I spoke to was that they simply wanted to prevent things from getting worse and finding ways of holding on rather than losing more of their young and of their entrepreneurial middle class to Ramallah, radicalism, or places abroad. In other words, the discourse I encountered, on both sides, was thoroughly focused on making Jerusalem work as an urban environment that, for better or worse, is shared by Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Curiously and without saying so, those who try to pry Jerusalem's future away from the competing national agendas and increasingly fundamentalist trends among Jews and Muslims are returning to the old vision of this city as a space in its own right, a vindication of the erstwhile notion of a corpus separatum.