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Wistful in Jerusalem

2:10 PM, Jun 15, 2012 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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About the Palestinians relatively little is said—and never wistfully. None of the Israelis with whom I spoke expect President Abbas to sign a final status agreement, ever, leading some to be less outraged than you might expect about his expected formation of a "technocratic" or "national unity" government with Hamas. In the typical Israeli view, Hamas has Gaza and Fatah has the West Bank and none of these Palestinian political shenanigans will change that in the foreseeable future. The stated purpose of the unity government will be to prepare for and hold elections; I met not one single Israeli official or former official who believes those elections will take place. So their shrugs about a new Fatah-Hamas accord reflect the view that things are going nowhere anyway and American hopes for progress in peace negotiations this year or next are foolish.

Israeli politics changed this year when Prime Minister Netanyahu formed a very broad coalition with about three quarters of the Knesset. That weakens the ability of small parties to hold him hostage, for he does not need their votes as he used to, and it means he would have considerable support for big initiatives. But the initiatives being talked about most seriously are domestic: reforming the law that excuses thousands of ultra-Orthodox young men from Army service, reforming Israel's political system, and bringing down the cost of living top the list. An initiative involving the Palestinians isn't impossible if it will make Washington and the EU feel better—releasing some prisoners, for example—and bring President Abbas to the negotiating table. But as Israelis believe nothing will happen at that table, these are more gestures towards allies than consequential peace moves. The Mahmoud Abbas who rejected Olmert's generous peace 2008 offer and who is currently negotiating with Hamas is not widely viewed as a very likely peace partner.

The other big initiative is of course Iran, and the possibility of an Israeli strike is on everyone's mind. Israelis, who lived through wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, Scud missile attacks in 1991, and Hezbollah rocket assaults in 2006, joke about foreigners who call and ask them if it safe to visit in July, or August, or September. It's safe, it's safe, one Israeli explained to me that he tells such questioners. We are all here and we aren't going anywhere; Iran doesn't terrify us. But you know, he added, it won't be fun if we have to do this. You are the superpower. You should force them to back down or hit them if need be; for you it's not such a big deal, look at those B-2s and those huge bunker busters bombs you have and the size of your navy. And your president said they shouldn't have nuclear weapons, didn't he? Maybe we in Israel won't have to do it in the end; what do you think, is it possible, he asked … smiling wistfully.

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