On Israel's 53rd Birthday, Little Hope Of Peace

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

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - On the eve of Israel's 53rd Independence Day, Israelis were reflecting Wednesday on the events of the past year and expressing pessimism that a peace agreement can ever be reached with the Palestinians.

A year ago, expectations were high among a majority of Israelis that they would soon see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the seven-month intifada has dashed the hopes of most that there will be a quick solution to the more than 50-year-old conflict.

Israelis and Jews attending the Memorial Day commemoration at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City were primarily gloomy when asked what they thought about the situation this year compared to one year ago.

"We were always leftwing," said Reuven Israeli, 29, of he and his girlfriend Ravit Galberson, 28. In the Israeli context, "leftwing" is often used to describe a willingness to make sweeping concessions to the Arabs in return for a peace deal.

"[But] this year we did everything we could and didn't find a partner from the other side," he said, in reference to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

"We believe that the solution is much more complex and difficult [than we believed] last year. It's going to take decades," Israeli said, adding that they had hoped it would be much quicker than that.

"Sometimes I'm not sure there is a solution. I hope there is, but deep inside I think probably there is none," said Galberson, who is studying social sciences.

A year ago, Israel and the PA were gearing up for another round of talks and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak had not yet offered his far-reaching concessions to Arafat at the U.S.-sponsored Camp David summit.

Barak went further than any other Israeli leader, offering to give Arafat control over more than 95 percent of the disputed territories and to allow him to extend limited Palestinian control over parts of Jerusalem and religious jurisdiction over the Temple Mount.

Arafat rebuffed the offer, saying he wanted full control over Jerusalem's Temple Mount and the right of return for some four million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, which Israel refused.

Two months after the summit failed to produce an agreement, the PA launched what has now become known as the Al-Aksa intifada, the uprising named for the mosque on the disputed Temple Mount, where two successive Jewish temples stood until 2,000 years ago.

Since last September around 400 Palestinians and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed, mostly during clashes with Israeli troops. Over the same period some 60 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks.

Gila Landau, 29, said she was "feeling very upset" because it seems like even the government doesn't know what to do.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won an overwhelming victory in February elections pledging to restore security to the country after months of violent clashes and terrorism had shaken the country. But the conflict and terrorist attacks have continued and even intensified.

Nonetheless, Avraham, 42, a doctor and father of five who did not want to give his full name, said he felt safer since Sharon took office.

"I feel much more secure now," said Avraham, who lives in a Jewish community in the disputed territories, about a 10 minutes' drive from Jerusalem.

The main road accessing those settlements has been closed about 30 percent of the time since September because of Palestinian sniper fire aimed at passing Israeli vehicles from PA-controlled Bethlehem.

Three months ago, if an Israeli was shot in the head in such a shooting, the Barak government called the death a "sacrifice for peace," he said. Now, the Israelis were realizing that the "enemy" wants the whole country.

The Israeli government complains that the PA incites the Palestinians to violence and continues to promise them "the whole land of 'Palestine" - from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, thus including all of Israel.

Avraham, who came to Israel from the U.S. 11 years ago, said he was a liberal and a conscientious objector, opposed to all forms of violence when he arrived here. "Now I see that there is a time to defend yourself," he said.

The son of a good friend, also an American citizen, was killed in a terror attack, while working as a security guard, he said. "We've all lost people now," he added.

An Iraqi-born Jew, David, 67, has been in Israel for 51 years. He does not believe there can ever be peace with the Arabs.

"I'm against giving away Jerusalem ... They also want Tel Aviv."

"I'm much more depressed [than last year]," said Mirit Haybi, 22, a psychology student. "Things are really desperate. There is fear in our lives every day."

Her friend, 22-year-old sociology student Lilach HaLevy, said she doesn't have any hope left in the peace process.

"I'm just trying to accept the situation ... I think there is going to be a war," HaLevy said, adding that she really hoped this would not be the case.

Harvey and Sheila Hecker are retired and live in Toronto, Canada. They are not Israeli, but visit several times a year, and said their view of things had changed very much since last year.

"I'm very disappointed [Israel and the PA] couldn't arrive at agreeable terms, particularly after the concessions Barak made," Harvey said. "The ultimate bottom line for Arafat was the return of refugees - [that means] the death of Israel," he said.