Robert Novak

"It's like a bad marriage," Ambassador Yoram Ben-Zeev, a veteran career diplomat who heads the Foreign Affairs Ministry's North American Division, told me. "It needs a divorce." Two other well-placed Israelis used the same word -- divorce -- in describing the new Israeli-Palestinian arrangement.

When I told Abu Mazen (as Abbas is commonly called) about the desire for divorce, he and his staff members laughed. "Divorce with the Israelis?" he asked. "I never even knew we had a marriage. We don't want a marriage but to have a normal life." Some Israelis I talked to also thought the divorce metaphor was inappropriate. Brig. Gen. Ilan Paz, three days from Army retirement, said of using the word divorce: "It's stupid. We can't get divorced because there are so many children and we really can't get away from each other."

A unilateral two-state solution resulting in a fragmented, economically unviable Palestinian state concerns thoughtful people on both sides. Although terrorist violence has been at a minimum since the Hamas election victory, the prospect for renewed violence in the future worries Abu Mazen in the absence of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Several Israelis told me they never had seen such hostility on both sides in the Holy Land.

Asked who was going bail out the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas answered quickly: "Nobody but the Americans." He also would like to see President Bush press Israel to return to the peace process and abandon unilateralism. But nobody here believes that is going to happen, which accounts for a pervasive sadness in the holy city of Jerusalem as the three great monotheistic religions celebrate sacred festivals.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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