- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

TEL AVIV — Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank has buoyed hopes in the United States and elsewhere for a resuscitation of peace efforts with the Palestinians.

But within Israel, the pullout has sown a deep rift within Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud party, destabilized the ruling coalition and sparked fears that domestic turmoil will negate any near-term moves toward a permanent peace.

“With all the good intentions of the Americans and the road map, I can’t see that happening at least for another year and a half to two years,” said Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University.

Much of the uncertainty centers on how long the present government can survive.

“The timing of the election is quite unclear, and it’s unclear even who will participate. It’s safe to say that nothing will happen before the elections,” said Yuli Tamir, a parliament member from the Labor Party, which is part of Mr. Sharon’s government.

“For a major move to take place, you need a sense of political stability,” Ms. Tamir said.

Fears of renewed fighting between Israel and the Palestinians also add to doubts that peace talks can resume anytime soon.

A Palestinian Kassam rocket fell in the southern Israeli city of Sderot yesterday, a day after Israel said it killed five wanted Islamic Jihad activists in the West Bank city of Tulkarm.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of deliberately escalating tensions and militants vowed to renew attacks on Israel in retaliation.

Analysts said that Israeli security chiefs will want to wait several months to examine the fallout from the disengagement and the Palestinian response before agreeing to any new concessions.

“It’s going to be difficult to start putting pressure on Israel when the Palestinians are saying they’re going to continue the armed struggle,” said Shmuel Bar of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

Elections for a new Palestinian legislature are scheduled for the end of January, a vote that could sweep Hamas into power as a powerful minority in the parliament.

An Israeli vote, originally scheduled for November 2006, could be held as early as next spring.

Mr. Sharon, who needs to placate bitterness among hard-liners over the disengagement, will be reluctant to make any dramatic gestures toward the Palestinians in the interim, analysts said.

“Some kind of major shake-up is unavoidable because the political system doesn’t represent the Israeli political reality now,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank.

“The political system reflects Oslo,” he said, referring to the failed peace attempt that preceded the five-year-old Palestinian uprising.

“The new Israeli majority sees Oslo as a disaster, but accepts the inevitability of a Palestinian state. And there’s no political party that I can think of that includes those ideas.”

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