- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 25, 2012

JERUSALEM — Peacemaking with the Palestinians, once the main issue by far in Israeli politics, has been strikingly absent from the campaign for next month’s general election.

After years of public frustration with failed peace efforts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s badly divided challengers are trying instead to tap the economic angst of the middle class and a widespread resentment of perks enjoyed by fervently devout Jews.

Shelly Yachimovich, the ex-journalist leader of the Labor Party, traditionally the main grouping on the center left, has appeared especially determined to ignore the Palestinian issue in favor of socialist-tinged economic proposals — and she has started to draw fire from her allies as polls show Mr. Netanyahu and his allies maintaining a significant lead.

The calculation appears to be that too many Israelis have concluded that the gaps with the Palestinians are unbridgeable.

From the Israeli perspective, twice in the past 12 years, the Palestinians have been presented with exceedingly reasonable territorial offers, without result.

Centrist party founder Yair Lapid says, “I want [to be] someone who ... more >

The Palestinians reject that narrative, but it has set in within Israel, making peace advocates seem naive and out of touch to many.

“Most politicians think, rightfully so, that Israelis don’t believe in peace anyway,” said Tom Segev, a left-leaning historian who has chronicled regional events for decades. “This is a generation of Israelis who have been talking about peace for the last 45 years, and not much has happened. So they don’t believe in it anymore.”

Deadlocked

Israeli lawmaker Danny Danon of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party found himself in rare agreement with Mr. Segev on the issue.

“The public in Israel has understood that no matter who leads the country, there won’t be a peace process in the near future so the issue isn’t even on the agenda,” Mr. Danon said. “We have to focus on conflict management instead of conflict resolution.”

Mr. Netanyahu has complicated the equation by accepting, in a 2009 speech shortly after he was elected, the principle of a Palestinian state. In appearing to reverse his long-standing position, he stole the left wing’s thunder.

But he risked little because his terms, far less generous than those offered by his more accommodating predecessors, fell well short of Palestinian demands. They have never been tested in his four years of power, typified by deadlock and the absence of real negotiations.

On the other hand, Mr. Netanyahu’s tough persona strikes many as appropriate in a region that has grown increasingly uncertain and dangerous, given the turbulence sweeping the Arab world, the rise of Islamists in neighboring countries, and fears about Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel, the United States and allies think Tehran is seeking to develop atomic arms, although Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The economic front

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