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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is always a fresh topic

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Writing this column can be a challenge, at least if I want to keep it up to date. I’ve been burned before. In December 2008, I wrote a piece about the need to overhaul Israel’s electoral system, knowing that it would be published in early January, weeks before Israel’s general elections. Pretty topical, no? So what was I to do when the government decided to embark on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza a few days after my deadline, making my column completely irrelevant in the midst of that military operation.

Thus, I won’t devote this piece to the only story presently interesting Israelis of all persuasions: Iran’s nuclear arms program and questions relating to it, i.e., if, when and how Israel will attack the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities. I won’t, because by the time this is published, those questions might be moot or, as is par for the course in this neck of the woods, some other drama could be unfolding.

In my search for a topic certain to remain current in the two-plus weeks between writing and publication, one that’s been off everybody’s radar for the past couple of years, the answer was obvious – that nuisance called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

True, every once in a while, this conflict rears its ugly head. Here and there, missiles are fired from Gaza by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, or more recently by Bedouins in Sinai affiliated with even more radical Islamic groups. Several Palestinian terrorist attacks are perpetrated yearly against Israelis, mostly by West Bank Palestinians against Israelis living in Judea and Samaria, since these days it’s harder for terrorists to get into Israel proper because of the much-maligned, but effective, security barrier. And we also endure Jewish terror – there’s no other word for it – against Arabs and their property, carried out by extremists as “price tag” attacks, on those rare occasions when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government actually dares to enforce the rule of law against settlers.

But for the time being, none of these occurrences have reached a critical mass sufficient to cause further escalation between the two sides.

The world seems content with this situation. The Americans are too busy with their elections and, as it is, both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are preoccupied with another Mideast issue, that being Iran. The Europeans are in over their heads with their own woes, mostly financial. And the Arab world is trying to contain the Arab Spring’s fallout and to figure out what happens next in places such as Syria, or the next time some idiotic film or cartoon defames the Prophet Muhammad.

Closer to home, both Israeli and Palestinian leaders also seem to have no particular interest in moving closer to a resolution of the conflict. That’s certainly true about Ismail Haniya, leader of Hamas in Gaza, who never hides his aspirations to wipe the Zionist entity off the face of the earth. Hamas and other like groups are taking advantage of the lull in action to arm themselves to the teeth with plundered weapons from Libya’s erstwhile stockpiles and other dubious sources.

And when someone actually mentions the need to renew dialogue, there’s no sense of urgency, and neither Palestinian Authority nor Israeli leaders appear ready for bona fide negotiations, each exhibiting their own brand of intransigence. Security co-operation continues, but there is little trust between Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Besides, after several years of apparent prosperity, Abbas and his Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, are dealing with a mini Arab Spring of their own, with demonstrations taking place in different locales across the West Bank.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, seems content with the status quo. He’s ideologically opposed to relinquishing more of the biblical Land of Israel, and his government’s policy is to bolster Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.

But all that will change. The Palestinians will continue their roundly supported quest for statehood. Obama will likely win a second term as president, and his unfettered new administration will force Israel’s hand on the issue. Cast Lead II in Gaza will be a different story with Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt.

Iran’s threat might be existential, but let’s hope Netanyahu has someone preparing a game plan for the Palestinian issue. It will continue to affect our lives as much or more than Iran will. And it will remain topical!

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