Who would have thought that a harmless custom such as a conversation over a cup of coffee between the municipality and representatives of the Arab neighborhoods or skipping that custom altogether could turn into a major issue? At first, one would think that a cup of coffee, whether skipped or not, couldn’t really be at the bottom of such a crucial issue as the nature of the relationship between the Jerusalem Municipality and its Arab residents. And yet this is apparently one of the major reasons for the mistrust that still exists between a large part of the Arab population and the city’s leadership and establishment. Perhaps not so much the coffee itself but the cultural gap that underlies the deep misunderstanding.

Toward the middle of his first term in office, Mayor Nir Barkat announced that in accordance with his political position – that the city was and should forever be united under Israeli sovereignty – he would take accountability (a term Barkat is particularly fond of) over the Arab population. His vision was rather simple. Barkat offered a “new deal”: More rights (investment and development) in exchange for a requirement to fulfill civic duties. In other words, Barkat offered the Arab population a significant improvement in their quality of life (as far as the municipality was concerned) in return for their obligation to pay their taxes and cooperate with the municipality apparatus. Sounds good so far. And it is actually working, although, of course – and Barkat is the first to admit it – more than four decades of neglect cannot be eradicated in one or two years. The problem lies somewhere else: in a cup of coffee and what it may symbolize.

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