Since the beginning of the Oslo talks, the negotiations have tended to take place, quite understandably, behind closed doors. After a brief period of euphoria under Rabin, an even briefer one under Peres, the Israeli public witnessed a long freefall into conflict starting with Netanyahu’s first term. Both sides utterly lost confidence in the other and the public at best witnessed occasional gestures of good will, such as release of prisoners or friendly speeches. At worst, random killings or outright wars have brought Palestinian -Israeli relations to new nadirs. Even when reports indicated that progress was being made, the public was never privy to the details and rarely if ever saw any evidence that real peace was any closer. Moreover, some of the hardest issues, notably Jerusalem, were always said to be being left for later stages.
Perhaps this approach is wrong. Certainly negotiators cannot update the public on the details of their positions on a regular basis, and not until agreement has been reached, but the fact that so little is known makes the public reticent. Apart from the dismatlement of some checkposts, the Palestinians have seen little or no improvement in their situation and Israelis are little aware and take for granted the success of the cooperation that has brought about a sharp decrease in terrorist activity, apart from attacks by individuals in the months since the summer’s war.
Perhaps it is time to try a new approach. Instead of trying to re-open talks on border issues that will reach the public only in the distant future, Israel and the Palestinians could try tackling was has been said to be one of the harder subjects but would make any progress visible.
Jerusalem is not now and never has been a united city; to anyone familiar with it this is obvious. Since the summer the divide in the city has become all the clearer as police and border troops blocked the entrances to several large Palestinian neighborhoods and effectively put them under siege. Rather than continuing to postpone addressing the issue of Jerusalem, Palestinians and Israelis should start discussing practical ways to prepare for reseparating it and providing the basis for a two state solution.
Seeing is believing. Both sides could make a real difference in re-starting the peace process by tackling the most visible problem in a practical way. Palestinian neghborhoods could be given independence from Israel’s Jerusalem municipality in a way that would have little or no effect on West Jerusalem but would give everyone a lot more confidence in one another and therefore — also in peace.