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Alliance and defiance

"Alliance and defiance" Continued...

Issue: "No way out," May 13, 2006

"We are witnessing a potentially dangerous deterioration of the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," UN envoy Alvaro de Soto told the Security Council at the end of April. "Lawlessness, already endemic, is worsening amid uncertainties concerning command and control of the security forces . . . and signs of a struggle, still unresolved, between the presidency and the new government."

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Iran appear to be in lock step. The three entities met in April during a Palestinian solidarity conference just days after Iran announced its acquisition of enriched uranium. Iran has repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel.

Russia recently launched a technologically advanced spy satellite for Israel designed to monitor Iran's nuclear facilities, but on that same day confirmed its intention to sell 29 air-defense missile systems to Iran.

Israel, meanwhile, is in a state of transition, concession, and caution. Mr. Olmert did not order a retaliatory strike after April's suicide bombing, even though the attack was the deadliest in four years. Many blame that decision on the controversial defense minister. Coupled with the Gaza pullout last August, the formation of Kadima amid a somewhat lackluster voter turnout signaled a shift in the nation's fight for survival-made more difficult by former prime minister Ariel Sharon's shift in policy, followed by a stroke that left him incapacitated. "On the Israeli side there has been a messianic fervor to resettle the territory and capture the whole territory for Israel. The pullback from Gaza put a damper on it," Mr. Hose said. The new party, he said, confused voters.

Neither the shakeup nor the intransigence of Hamas has overtly changed U.S. policy, which is to oppose unilateral moves by Israel: "The whole final status has to be resolved in negotiations between the parties," U.S. Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said in Tel Aviv. "No unilateral initiative will contribute to President Bush's vision of two states living side by side in security."

But in the current political shakeup, the defining borders of those two states remain uncertain. Many Palestinians want Israel to concede any land acquired during the 1967 war-this includes all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Mr. Hose says a return to pre-1967 borders is no longer realistic. There are too many homes that would need to be moved, he says, and Israelis would have to travel in a large semicircle when going from the north to the south. Many Israelis also remember being prohibited from visiting their holy sites in Jerusalem during pre-1967 Arab rule over the city.

Demographics factor into border drawing as well. With the Arab birthrate much higher than its Jewish counterpart, mapping certain towns out of Israeli borders is necessary now to keep Jewish concentration high. "The Israelis have realized they have a demographic time bomb, and they might not have a Jewish state in 20 years," said Mr. Hose.

Winning international support is key to forward momentum on both sides. Mr. Olmert has scheduled a three-day visit in May to talk with President Bush about the stalled peace process and the growing threat of Iran to Israel. In June he plans to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose country has been a strategic ally in recent years. With death wishes coming from all sides, Mr. Olmert has a long road ahead of him, and allies will be crucial to the nation's survival.

During a recent trip to Oslo, Mr. Abbas urged the international community to help aid future peace talks and to prevent a humanitarian crisis in areas under Palestinian authority. The United States, Israel, and Europe are all boycotting the new Hamas-led government in an attempt to force the terrorist entity to change its stance. Several Arab and Muslim countries, including Iran, have pledged aid packages, but the money has not yet reached Palestinian coffers and is far short of the amount needed to keep the government afloat.

Faced with what looks like intransigence on both sides, longtimers are skeptical as Israel celebrates its independence on May 14. As his mind drifted back to the war he fought as a 16-year-old and the injuries he incurred in Beit Hanun-now a Gaza launching pad for Qassam rockets-Mr. Hose said, "My generation is no longer optimistic. Optimism belongs to the youth."

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