Israelis welcomed the Jewish New Year on Wednesday with optimism, despite a showdown last week between their prime minister and the Palestinian president at the United Nations that made a Mideast peace deal ever more unlikely.
The reason for the optimism may be that Israelis tend to distinguish between their personal lives and their country's politics, said pollster Mina Tzemach, who found that 88 percent of Jews in Israel were in good spirits for the holiday, or Rosh Hashana, and believe the country is a good place to live.
As Jews in Israel prepared to celebrate the religious New Year, Israel's military sealed the West Bank, barring Palestinians from entering Israel and annexed east Jerusalem until Saturday evening. Such a closure is imposed during most Jewish holidays to lower a perceived risk of attack.
Rosh Hashana, which begins at sundown Wednesday, ushers in 10 days of Jewish soul-searching _ known as the "Days of Awe" _ capped by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The holiday is a time for festive meals with family, which traditionally include fish, wine and an apple dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet new year.
Observant Jews prepare for long hours in synagogues over the holiday. Highlights of the ritual include the sounding of the shofar, a trumpet made of a ram's horn.
However, most of those polled were starting the New Year feeling pessimistic regarding chances for a breakthrough to the over 60 year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The poll conducted by the Dahaf agency found that 66 percent of respondents do not believe there will be peace with Palestinians. Another 41 percent of 500 respondents believe Israel will become a better place to live in the future, whereas a greater number, at 45 percent, said they are concerned about the country's future. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave traditional pre-holiday interviews to Israeli media, hammering accusations that the Palestinians are to blame for the deadlock between the two sides.
"The reason that there is no peace is not the existence of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but rather the Arab opposition to the state of Israel," he told the Israel Hayom newspaper.
He made his remarks following U.S., EU and Palestinian criticism of an Israeli decision to approve construction of 1,100 new Jewish housing units in east Jerusalem settlements. The city is home to sensitive Muslim, Jewish and Christian sites.
Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the United Nations to recognize a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. The annexation has not been internationally recognized.
The United States and Israel oppose the U.N. bid, saying a state can only be born out of negotiations. The Palestinians say that, while still interested in negotiations, they cannot return to talks unless Israel freezes settlement construction on occupied land.
Abbas and his aides have said Netanyahu wants never-ending negotiations as a diplomatic shield to delay reaching a deal.
Despite the political impasse, Abbas called Israeli President Shimon Peres to wish him a good year, Peres' office said. Peres told Abbas that he wished an "end to the conflict."