Jerusalem's Arab residents skeptical of summit success

Much like their Jewish neighbors, Arab residents of Jerusalem voiced pessimism on Tuesday over the success of the US-sponsored peace conference, suggesting that the proposed division of Jerusalem was unlikely anytime in the near future, given the realities on the ground. "It's all talk, there will be no peace," said Farez, a 29-year-old shopkeeper in Jerusalem's Old City, of the first major international peace conference between Israelis and Palestinians in seven years. "The Jews think the same thing." The realistic and sobering atmosphere on a balmy November day in the Holy Land clashed with the festive pictures coming out of Annapolis, the colorful banner headlines in newspapers and the special TV broadcasts. Seven years after the failure of talks at Camp David, where some of the same issues were raised, the mood on the cobblestoned streets of the Old City was far from hopeful. "What peace are you talking about? It is all a political game," said Halil, an Arab taxi driver who, like all those interviewed for this article, declined to give his last name. "Nobody believes in this peace, and anyone who does is a sucker," he said. Voicing a sentiment shared by many in the Arab world, he said that the US was hosting the conference simply to show it could make peace and not just war, and that it was meant to shift negative sentiment away from the war in Iraq. A Palestinian poll released last week found that 57 percent of Palestinians don't believe the conference will lead to progress in peace talks. Similarly, more than 70 percent of Israelis don't believe the talks will advance peace, according to a poll published in Yediot Aharonot. Even recent Israeli talk over a possible division of the city has failed to impress Arab residents of Jerusalem, with the offer falling far short of Palestinian claims for all of east Jerusalem, including the city's holy sites. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has suggested ceding as many as six Arab neighborhoods on the periphery of the city as part of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, while Vice Premier Haim Ramon favors handing over all Arab neighborhoods of the city except those around the Old City. Israeli public opinion polls have shown that a majority of Israelis are against any division of Jerusalem, while even the city's Arab residents offer mixed views over such a move. About one-third of Jerusalem's 750,000 residents are Arabs. Meanwhile, as the sun set on another Jerusalem day, one 40-year-old Arab shopkeeper, Awni, offered perhaps the most realistic hope for the future. "If the people want peace, then it is possible," he said.