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An island surrounded by a sea of uncertainty

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By Arnaud De Borchgrave
Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 8:59 p.m.


The continued occupation of the West Bank to block the creation of a Palestinian state wasn't even an issue in Israel's elections.

Benjamin Netanyahu continues as Israeli prime minister with a broadened coalition and diminished majority in the Knesset. Unspoken but understood is the indefinite military occupation of the West Bank — the lesser of two evils next to the prospect of a Hamas-dominated Palestinian regime whose next objective would be a frontier on the Mediterranean Sea or the death of the Jewish state. Or both.

Israel is now an island of prosperity — fueled by an economic boom — in a sea of Arab crises.

Syria and Israel have fought four major wars — 1948, 1967, 1973, 1982 — and Syria itself is torn asunder by a civil war under way for almost two years. But the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights remains quiet. Some 580 square miles — officially annexed by Israel — are dotted with 41 Israeli settlements.

Egypt is now ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. President Mohamed Morsy says he wasn't referring to Jews when he said, two years ago, “the Egyptians must learn to hate Jews.” Now he tells visitors, including a U.S. congressional delegation, “that was obsolete campaign rhetoric.”

Morsy is desperate for $1.3 billion in U.S. aid previously pledged to the Egyptian army under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Whether the Muslim Brotherhood wants to live in peace, knowing the check is in the mail, or gives in to its radical brand and impulses of Islam is unknown.

And in Jordan, King Abdullah called for elections ahead of schedule. In the first election since the “Arab Spring,” turnout was low (56.6 percent of 2.3 million registered voters), and the bulk of the seats in parliament went to pro-monarchy tribal leaders and independent businessmen.

Surveying these events, Israelis are in no hurry to negotiate a Palestinian settlement.

Both Egypt and Jordan maintain full diplomatic relations with Israel. And as long as King Abdullah remains in charge, relations with the United States are safe.

Israel is protected from West Bank intruders by a 430-mile barrier of separation. It ranges from 26-foot-tall concrete walls to vehicle-barrier trenches that snake in and out of 10 percent of West Bank territory. Paved West Bank roads link some 120 Jewish settlements with a population of 350,000, which has doubled in 12 years, a 4.5 percent increase in 12 months.

West Bank Arabs aren't authorized to travel on Israeli roads, forcing them to take long detours on dirt roads.

What strikes Palestinians as a long-range Israeli policy tantamount to annexation has favored the extremist organization of Hamas. Based in Gaza, its influence in the West Bank has far surpassed the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas tells the Palestinian Authority's forward helpers that they have allowed themselves to be swatted into irrelevance.

Many are still pleading for another chance, but Hamas has a different game in mind.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor-at-large of The Washington Times and United Press International.

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