January 19, 1996
Web posted at: 1:45 p.m. EST (1845 GMT)
From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- While Palestinians make final preparations for Saturday's historic election, Israel has sealed off the West Bank and Gaza to prevent attacks from Palestinian militants. But beyond that tangible division, more and more Israelis are cutting themselves off from what is happening in Palestinian society.
"We are seeing a tremendous amount of apathy and indifference which is on the face of it perhaps remarkable," said Israeli political analyst David Landau, "but I think it's encouraging because it shows that a broad mass of the Israeli people have to accept and understand ...that these elections are a very important stage in the peace process."
For years Israelis conditioned themselves to fear the emergence of a sovereign Palestinian entity as their eastern neighbor. Now, in Kfar Saba -- in the center of Israel not two miles from a neighboring Palestinian town -- sentiment seems to go well beyond indifference.
"They should run their own lives," said one resident. "And they have to chance to maybe now prove they can do it in peace with us."
Another Kfar Saba resident said that "a stable Palestinian state near Israel will be the safest position for Israel."
In one Jerusalem neighborhood -- literally over the hill from Palestinian Bethlehem -- there are residual security concerns, but many are looking to a bright future because of Palestinian self assertion.
"I'm dreaming one day just to walk to Bethlehem and just say 'hi,'" said one resident.
Those Israelis whose lives would be most affected by Palestinian statehood are the settlers inside the West Bank. Not unexpectedly, they voice the deepest fears.
Settlers and hard-line nationalist Israeli groups had threatened to protest vigorously against Saturday's elections. Now they say they won't seek to disrupt the West Bank polling. They are most disturbed by the implications of Palestinians voting in east Jerusalem, and Israeli security has been beefed up in the city.
But the possibility of demonstrations persist -- beyond that, the right wing seems distinctly unable to rally the bulk of Israelis into believing that these Palestinian elections are necessarily bad for Israel.
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