Jerusalemites Not Optimistic About the Future

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Jerusalemites were gloomy on Tuesday about the prospects of a change for the better in Israel and peace between their country and the Palestinian Authority, as polling stations reported the lowest ever turnout in Israeli elections. asked Israelis if they believed that the security situation would change in the country after Tuesday's elections. Opinion polls have indicated that opposition leader Ariel Sharon will win a landslide victory over Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

"I don't believe it will be better," said Tomer, 23, a religious Jew who said he had voted but would not reveal his choice. "Everyone has his own viewpoint," he said of Sharon and Barak.

"Right now it is a very bad situation," said 24-year-old Moshe. "Barak is responsible for this. Barak went too far and [now] it's very hard to fix it," said Moshe, who is a student.

"I know the Arab mentality. I wasn't surprised. After Camp David, I started waiting for this to happen," he said of the summer peace summit.

Barak offered to hand over to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, 95 percent of the disputed territories and control of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, holy to both Jews and Muslims. Arafat refused the offer and two months later terrorism and violence erupted between Israel and the Palestinians, which has left nearly 400 people dead over the last four months.

The Israelis and Palestinians are not ready for this kind of an agreement, Moshe explained. They've had two generations of war. "Maybe the next generation," he offered.

Carolina, 23, and Karen, 22, both immigrated to Israel from Argentina during the last few years. They believe that Sharon can improve the situation.

"The last year gave me a chance to see what Barak can do," said Carolina.

"Barak didn't have the political experience [to run the country]," said Karen.

However, Ruth, who is nearly 60-years-old, said that Israelis are not remembering the "many good things" that Barak did.

"They forgot that Barak brought us out of the mire of Lebanon, which we were in since 1982," Ruth said, about Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon last May. Sharon, on the other hand, she added, had "caused many sorrows to the people of Israel."

"It's the worst era Israel has ever seen and also it's the worst the society has ever been," said the seventh generation Jerusalemite, who was born in British-ruled Palestine before the State of Israel was founded.

Disillusioned with the peace process, Ruth said, that she now favors a complete separation from the Palestinians. Barak began to re-float the idea recently of a unilateral separation from the PA if no agreement could be reached soon.

Touching on the two explosive issues between Israel and the PA, Ruth said that Israel can't get rid of the mosque from the Temple Mount and if she has the Wailing Wall to pray at it would be enough for her. As far as the return of Palestinian refugees goes, she said she didn't believe that any politician, no matter how left wing he is, would ever agree to the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Hava, who is 48 and works in a bookstore on Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem's main pedestrian mall, thinks that Israel will be facing new elections in six months.

"If Barak stays [in power] we will have the same again. If Sharon wins he won't be able to form a government," she said. "All these elections are a waste of money," she added.

For Hava it is "hard to believe" that there could be peace. Israel can never give enough to satisfy the Palestinians, she said. She envisions Jerusalem under the control of the three major religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

An Arab Jerusalemite in the eastern section of the city, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that as long as the Palestinians get everything they are demanding then there will be peace.

"If the Palestinians won't get Jerusalem, then the intifadah [uprising] will continue," said the 21-year-old merchant. If Israel does not turn over the sovereignty on the Temple Mount, he said, then it will become an issue for the entire Arab world.

The young man said he was not allowed to vote because he is not an Israeli citizen. Arab residents of Jerusalem have special residency and most rights of citizens but they are allowed to choose whether or not they will become full-fledged citizens with voting rights and Israeli passports.

In any case, he said, he would not have voted for Barak or Sharon. "Both of them are the same. They are different faces on the same coin," he said.

Ben-Zion Borochov, 75, was born in the building over the barbershop he opened two weeks after the 1967, Six-Day war. He now lives across the pedestrian walkway on Yoel Salomon Street and says he has seen thousands of shops come and go on the street where he has operated his business for more than 33 years.

Borochov is mixed bag. He said he voted for Sharon for one reason only: security. Barak, he said, is much more clever but the Palestinians are afraid of Sharon.

"It will not be quiet here," Borochov predicted. There will always be "action" between the Israelis and the Palestinians - like a fire simmering under a pot.

The two people need to live together and the Arabs deserve their rights but they could never manage their own state, he said. "We can't live without the Arabs and they can't live without us," he said.