We see the Shuafat refugee camp from the route that we walk around French Hill a couple of times each day. We don''t see tents or low rise mud brick dwellings, but high rise concrete and stone apartment houses that look pretty much like those on this side of the security barrier. If there are donkeys providing transportation or haulage, they have escaped our notice. Instead we see motor vehicles similar to our own.
No one should claim that Israel makes it easy for the Palestinians living on this or that side of the security barrier. There are check points on the roads between here and there, and individuals with permits may wait hours in the line for an examination of their documents and belongings.
There is no security barrier between us and Isaweea, insofar as it is formally within the Jerusalem municipality. We see the dirt roads within that neighborhood from our balcony. The people from that neighborhood use the post office, supermarket, playgrounds, and bank in French Hill, insofar as there are none closer to their homes. Municipal trash collection and Israeli ambulances don''t venture into the neighborhood out of concern for being attacked, and even the police go in only with substantial forces when there is a need. It is virtually impossible for the residents to obtain the permits required for construction, but they build anyway. If they impinge on what the municipality considers to be a site that should be reserved for public use, there will be an application for destruction, the courts will decide, and eventually the bulldozers will do their work.
Calling Shuafat a refugee camp decades after its initial designation is one of the problems in the way of an agreement about two states. The United Nations and the worthies of western democracies continue the fantasy of a temporary dislocation, and reinforce feelings of deprivation into the third and fourth generations with free food and social services.
Israeli and Palestinian representatives have met twice in Amman. Spokesmen of each side are not revealing many details, but are grousing that the other side is not as forthcoming as it should be. There is no end of reasons for the stalemate, that seems likely to continue. Israelis charge that Palestinians have not come to accept their existence. The problem is not 1967, but 1948. Or perhaps the latter part of the 19th century when Jews began coming in increasing numbers. The leadership of the West Bank usually claims to have renounced violence, but at times the same leadership hints at the need for forceful action. The leadership of Gaza, with many supporters in the West Bank, is a long way from accepting Israel''s existence, or abandoning terror.
Israelis do not trust Palestinians, and are not making it easy for them. One can argue if Arab citizens of Israel have it better or worse than minorities living in North American or Western Europe. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are a special case, even more difficult to assess. Only a few accepted citizenship when Israel offered it soon after 1967, or take advantage of residents'' rights to participate in municipal politics as voters or candidates for office.
There is ambivalence on both sides of the ethnic divide with respect to Palestinians'' participation in Jerusalem politics. Their abstention is convenient for Jews insofar as it excuses the lack of resources provided to Palestinian neighborhoods. You get what you vote for, and if you don''t vote you don''t get.
Palestinian friends living in Jerusalem have described the pressure from outside to maintain the status quo of no cooperation with Israeli occupation. One told of going to a meeting in an East Jerusalem hotel called to hear a discussion between leading Palestinians and Israelis concerned to foster dialogue and accommodation, which was broken up by Palestinian thugs before it could get underway.
Extremist Jews, with financial help from overseas, see their religious and nationalist mission as living in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Authorities not only recognize their rights to live where they can justify legal possession, but provide them with 24-7 security. Arab families buying or renting in French HIll and other largely Jewish neighborhoods do so without protracted court cases to establish the legality of possession, and continue without armed guards and security cameras outside their dwellings.
Claims of justice, "who started it?" or who should make the initial and greater gesture in behalf of accommodation muddy the discussion. The history of the conflict, which may have begun in the 1880s, 1920s, 1948, or 1967 incites animosity that gets in the way of discussion. When I heard an Arab intellectual describe Isaweea as a closed ghetto whose residents were caged up and denied the most basic of municipal services, I thought about thefts, break-ins, vandalism, and personal attacks in French Hill attributed to Isaweea residents, and the two cases of near-lynch that occurred when Jews turned the wrong way into Isaweea.
One of the accomplishments of Oslo negotiators in the early 1990s was to discuss "where to go from here?" without reference to "how did we get here?" or "who is responsible?" for one or another problem.
It is common to attribute abject failure to the Oslo process. The second and most severe intifada put an end to further accommodations. However, the Oslo process arranged what still exists as a primary separation between Israeli and Palestinian authorities on the West Bank. Israel is no longer responsible for education, health, policing, or other services in heavily Palestinian areas. The IDF enters occasionally, but that is not the same as pre-Oslo occupation. To speak casually of Israeli occupation is no more accurate than to describe Shuafat and other neighborhoods as "refugee camps." The labels represent Palestinian efforts to color the international discussion. We can fault them for reinforcing Israeli distrust, which is among the elements--but by no means the only element--in the way of further agreements and the two-state solution.