Too Many Lines Being Drawn

One of us is Orthodox; the other Reform.

One of us is active in J Street and the other is a member of the Zionist Organization of America.

On matters relating to peace and security in Israel, our perspectives are vastly different.

What draws the two of us together is recognition that we are each deeply committed to the State of Israel, if in entirely different ways. We are also bound by a common concern over the shrillness of the Israel debate.

Also of deep concern is the readiness of too many in our community to demonize and assume the worst in those with whom we disagree.

These danger signs hit home for us over the past few weeks in a direct and personal way.

We are both members of Woodmont Country Club who were disappointed and alarmed by the stridency of opinion surrounding President Obama’s supposed interest in becoming a member of the club.

Despite having profound differences on the former president’s record on Israel, the two of us relished the idea of having the Obama family join the ranks of our club, and we encouraged the club leadership to consider the high personal standards Barack Obama exemplified in office, as well as his numerous endeavors on behalf of the Jewish community.

Most of the members with whom we broached the subject strongly agreed and felt it would be a great honor to welcome any former president. To our mutual chagrin, a vocal minority within the club turned this matter into a referendum on Israel.

We are both saddened and concerned, both for what it means for our club and what it says about our community. It’s troublesome and sadly ironic that a club created as a haven for Jews who couldn’t play golf elsewhere may have effectively turned away the nation’s first black president.

We also worry that admission to our social club has become politicized and a forum for members to advocate their individual views toward Israel, an increasingly fraught topic across the Jewish community.

At a time when Americans are splintered into self-reinforcing bubbles, our community is too often guilty of the same thing. And Israel seems to be the epicenter of these dangerous fault lines.

The Jewish community is multifaceted and diverse. Let’s find neutral space and common ground where we can. Let’s not allow politics to infuse our leisure activities and dominate our social interactions.

Adam August is a Potomac resident and Daniel Kohl is a Bethesda resident. Their views do not express the official view of Woodmont Country Club or its leadership.

Bringing Health Care To The People

Joe DeMattos says the Affordable Care Act will begin correcting disparities  in the health-care system.

Joe DeMattos says the Affordable Care Act will begin correcting disparities in the health-care system.

As the Affordable Care Act is implemented nationwide, millions of uninsured Americans will have a variety of health-care options to choose from. A healthier, insured population will bring a myriad of short- and long-term benefits to Maryland and the U.S.

“Think of the [Maryland Health Benefit Exchange] as Travelocity or Expedia for health care and new health options that are available,” said Joe DeMattos, president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland.
The hurdle, however, is getting the word out and explaining a complex system to a diverse population that has little or no experience with health insurance.

“There has to be a lot of outreach, and you have to meet the people where they are,” said Tracey Paliath, director of economic services at Jewish Community Services, one of many organizations that will be helping the community understand the new options.

It is estimated that about 800,000 people, 14 percent of Maryland’s population of 5.8 million, are uninsured.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Maryland Health Connection, the state’s online insurance marketplace, announced a statewide, multimedia marketing and outreach campaign. The goal of the campaign is to inform Marylanders about the importance of health coverage, plan choices and financial assistance available during open enrollment, which begins Oct. 1 and ends on March 31, 2014. Those who enroll before Dec. 18 will have coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

In addition to radio, print and television advertising, the effort includes a social media campaign and partnerships with the Baltimore Ravens, Giant and CVS. An estimated 180,000 people are expected to enroll in qualified health plans within the first year, and another 100,000 are expected to enroll in Medicaid as a result of the program’s expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Nonprofit HealthCare Access Maryland is tasked with reaching and signing up uninsured Marylanders in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County, approximately 217,000 people.

Kathleen Westcoast, HCAM’s president and CEO, said the goal in the first year is to sign up 18,000 to 20,000 people in the city and about 15,000 in the county. To do that, HCAM and its 16 partners have hired about 107 navigators and assisters. Navigators can sign people up for health plans and Medicaid and assisters can sign people up only for Medicaid. They will be setup with laptops and Internet connectivity throughout the area, so they can register people wherever they are; the community partners will help
determine where the navigators and assisters go.

“We’re relying on organizations that have expertise and tentacles into their communities,” Westcoast said. “We want to tap into their knowledge and expertise.”

Although not a formal partner, JCS is working with HCAM to get the word out in the Jewish community.


Barbara Gradet says health-care changes are long overdue.

Barbara Gradet says health-care changes are long overdue. (Photo Kirsten Beckerman)

“We want to be trained because we know a lot of people will turn to us,” said Barbara Gradet, executive director of JCS. “The resources are out there, but we need all hands on deck.”

She said JCS has been thinking of ways to use JCC facilities as well as its staff to carry out HCAM’s mission.

Paliath, JCS’s director of economic services, said it’s important that the information comes from within the Jewish community since most prefer to get their human services needs met in a Jewish context. To that end, she envisions JCS benefits counselors as well as organizations such as the JCC, CHAI and the Baltimore Jewish Council working on outreach. In addition, synagogues will be contacted to see how the JCS can best work with them to get the word out. The idea is to make sure no segment of the community is left untouched.
“Not everybody who is a member of a synagogue is a member of the JCC,” Paliath said.

The Baltimore Jewish Council held an interfaith informational session in May at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, where almost 200 leaders across the religious spectrum heard from Congressman Elijah Cummings, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Joshua Sharfstein and various other officials.

“I think everybody is looking for ways to get the information out, the correct information and how to best access the exchange,” said Cailey Locklair, BJC’s director of government relations.

Support for universal health care in the Jewish community goes back long before the Affordable Care Act. Locklair said the BJC adopted a congruent policy in the early 1990s.

“The Jewish community felt it was important to ensure that those, regardless of ability to pay, would be able to access a health-care system,” she said.

She said the BJC will tap into its existing network to implement more community-based health programs to ensure uninsured Marylanders get primary care, one of the most important types of preventative care.
DeMattos, whose organization advocates for long-term care providers, said the Affordable Care Act will begin correcting disparities in the health-care system.

“The exchange and the beginning innovations of the Affordable Care Act expand access to care and provide a standard for credible coverage, but that’s only part of the equation,” he said. “The other part of the equation is increasing the overall wellness of a broad cross-section of Marylanders and Americans. We still, today, have incredible health-care disparity amongst different income and ethnic groups.”
Gradet believes these changes are long overdue.

“This country has been struggling with health care a long, long time, and it’s kind of embarrassing where we are in the world,” she said. “With developed nations, we’re way, way behind.”


How The System Works>>

WYPR Series Examines Obamacare and Its Local Impact>>

How The System Works

The Affordable Care Act mandated that states start their own health exchange systems or participate in a federal exchange. The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE) was created on April 12, 2011, as an
independent, public corporation responsible for developing and operating Maryland Health Connection, the marketplace.

The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange’s nine-member board includes board chair Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; vice chair Darrell Gaskin, associate professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Therese Goldsmith, commissioner of the Maryland Insurance Administration; Ben Steffen, acting executive director of the Maryland Health Care Commission; Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association;?Jennifer Goldberg, assistant director of Advocacy for Health Care and Elder Law, Maryland Legal Aid Bureau; Enrique Martinez-Vidal, vice president for State Policy and Technical Assistance, AcademyHealth and director of State Coverage Initiatives; Thomas Saquella, former president, Maryland Retailers Association; and Kenneth S. Apfel, professor of practice, University of Maryland School of Public Policy.

The Maryland Health Connection is open to all uninsured Maryland residents, including those with pre-existing conditions. All Americans 18 and older are required to have health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a fine.
There are 216,587 uninsured residents ages 18 to 64 in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County, which is the area Health Care Access Maryland is tasked with reaching. Of those individuals, 33.1 percent have incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, 48.5 percent have incomes between 138 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line, and 18.5 percent have incomes above 400 percent of the federal poverty line.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, which is a form of free health care, was expanded to cover all adults under the age of 65 with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, which equates to about $32,500 annually for a family of four. Those making below 400 percent of the federal poverty line, which is about $85,000 annually for a family of four, may be eligible for subsidies.

Maryland residents will be able to use to compare plans, enroll in plans and find out if they are eligible for tax credits or public health programs.

Under the law, plans must cover a wide variety of services, including doctor visits, hospitalization, emergency care, maternity care, pediatric care, prescriptions, medical tests, mental health care and substance abuse treatment. The plans must also cover preventative care at no extra cost, including flu and pneumonia shots, birth control, routine vaccinations and cancer screenings, which include mammograms and colonoscopies.

Maryland Health Connection will offer 45 different medical plans from companies such as CareFirst, Evergreen, Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealthcare. Of those, 36 of the plans include pediatric dental benefits and 24 offer statewide coverage. There are 20 standalone dental plans from Delta Dental, DentaQuest, Dominion Dental and United Concordia. Twelve of the plans offer family coverage, and eight of them offer pediatric dental benefits only.

According to figures provided by Maryland Health Connection, premiums can range from $73 for a 20-year-old single non-smoker to more than $2,000 for a family of four with varying deductibles. The plans will be categorized based on how costs are shared and will be known as bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans. Bronze plans will have lower premiums and higher deductibles, with silver and gold in between.

Take Action


President Barack Obama meets with congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House to discuss a military response to Syria. (Photo by Larry Downing / Reuters /}

On Tuesday, a Google search for the word Syria resulted in 349,000,000 entries. About one week until Congress returns from its break to dialogue about a potential missile attack against the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad, for its purported use of chemical weapons, analysts are debating — and citizens are rallying — for or against this rebuttal.

But amid the cries for retaliation, the talk of red lines crossed and uncrossed, there is one point that many experts feel is being lost in the noise: the suffering of the Syrian people (more than 100,000 dead; two million refugees and four million displaced people) and the potentially increasing suffering of those living in Syrian border states.

“At the end of the day, Syrians want freedom, dignity and democracy, just as any other human being on this Earth would want. They want to raise their children in a country whose leaders do not torture, oppress and kill. They deserve a chance to be free,” said Rasha Othman, public relations director of the Syrian Expatriates Organization.

But how to achieve that dream is still unclear. Othman’s organization was out last week protesting in front of the White House, calling on the president to “take action against a ruthless dictator.”

“The only way to deter Assad from killing more civilians is through a military strike against regime targets that will ultimately help remove him from power,” said Othman, noting that Assad has made it clear he is not interested in anything other than demolishing any challenge to his rule and that the leader has enlisted terrorist organizations and states — Iran and Hezbollah — to assist him in staying in power.

Othman is in constant contact with her family and friends in Syria.

“They are terrified,” she said. “A dear friend of mine in Damascus, where the bulk of the [American] missile strikes are expected to take place, told me, ‘Even if the American missiles takes my life with it, I pray they destroy the military complex near me. I don’t mind dying. Just please stop them!’”

But other Syrian American groups feel differently. The Syrian American Forum sent out a news release inviting the community to join it on Sept. 9 to protest against bombing Syria.

“The administration now wants direct bombing of Syria based on foreign intelligence reports. This will lead to the following: More killing of innocent Syrian civilians, further destruction of Syria and its infrastructure, further demolition of Syria’s social fabric and prolonging the war already going on in Syria,” it said in the release.

Like the latter group, recent polls indicate the American people are leery — and weary — of war.

A latest NBC survey found that 50 percent of 700 U.S. respondents said the U.S. should not take “military action” in Syria, while 42 percent said the U.S. should. Asked their opinion about a mission “limited to airstrikes using cruise missiles launched from U.S. Naval ships that were meant to destroy military units and infrastructure that have been used to carry out chemical attacks,” 50 percent said they would support such an action, while 40 percent said they would not. A full 79 percent, meanwhile, said President Barack Obama should be required to gain approval from Congress for any kind of strike against Syria.

As of Aug. 27, a Reuters five-day tracking poll of 2,293 Americans found similar opposition to attacking Syria in response to its suspected use of chemical weapons: 28 percent said the U.S. should intervene, 42 percent said it should not, and 30 percent said they didn’t know.

(Just before Rosh Hashanah, handfuls of Jewish groups came out in favor of an attack. Those ranged from the World Jewish Congress to the National Jewish Democratic Council.)

Over the last week, hundreds of people came out in Baltimore and Fredrick, Md., and in Washington, D.C., to stop Obama from moving forward with a missile strike.

“We believe it will cause more suffering and destruction,” said Sharon Black, one of co-coordinators for the International Action Center for Baltimore and D.C. She told the JT that her organization finds the administration’s argument that a missile strike won’t lead to bloodshed “on our side” to be cynical.

“There may not be direct bloodshed, but every missile launched is a cut back in services to the American people. It costs $1.5 million to launch a missile. With that money you could build 11 schools.”

Black also noted that while the talk may be of a single missile strike, “one thing leads to another, and there is no end to it.”

Some of the hesitation is likely because of the freshness of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, two-thirds of Americans judge these wars to be failures.

“That is a harsh judgment and makes Americans more leery of future military intervention,” she said.

There is also the issue that the American people don’t trust the White House’s conclusions — and that also partly because of the Iraq war. Robert Parry, founder of, said, “President George W. Bush misled the world on Iraq’s WMD” and called Bush’s case for war “bogus.” He said the Obama administration’s report on Assad’s use of chemical weapons, released last Friday, had, “no direct quotes, no photographic evidence, no named sources, nothing but ‘trust us.’”

Parry said the U.S. should have learned from the Iraq war that it cannot trust defectors or even other countries’ intelligence services at face value — they have their own self interests.

“Unless Obama tells us what he knows and how he knows it, it is hard for the American people to assess what the administration is telling them,” said Parry.

Impact On Israel

Israelis are dealing less with America’s right or need to attack Syria and more with what the impact of such an attack might mean for the Jewish state.

An Israel Democracy Institute poll released late last week showed that 46 percent of Jewish Israelis think that if the U.S. and its allies attack Syria in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Syria will carry out an attack against Israel.

Parry described Israel’s relationship with the Assad dynasty as complicated. Witte said, “Assad has been no great friend [to Israel]. On the other hand, that border for many years was the quietest border Israel had. … There was a degree of predictability with Hafez and then Bashar. But since March 2011, those days are over. Israel does not face the choice of going back to the status quo.”

David Bedein, who runs Israel Behind the News, put it bluntly: “Any intervention by the U.S. in Syria, even a surgical strike, will cause the Syrians to react with a missile barrage on Israel.”

He said he is opposed to American action.

Victims of an alleged chemical attack lie in a makeshift morgue on the outskirts of Damascus. (Photo by Diaa El Din / UPI / Newscom)

Victims of an alleged chemical attack lie in a makeshift morgue on the outskirts of Damascus. (Photo by Diaa El Din / UPI / Newscom)

Karen Furman, formerly from Baltimore who now lives in Karmiel in northern Israel with her husband and five children, expressed similar sentiments. The family picked up its gas masks last winter and has been storing them in a closet. She said for now, “We are going about our daily lives.”

A teacher, Furman said her school held a chemical weapons emergency drill earlier this week. Her 9-year-old daughter’s school did, too. Furman said the Israeli government can’t do much to prepare the people, but she knows that in the event of emergency, instructions for assembling and putting on her mask will come through on the Internet and the radio. She is not afraid — and her daughter, who also spoke with the JT, said she is not scared, either. But she does think the U.S. should “mind its own business. I think the U.S. should let countries deal with their own problems.”

Speaking on Army Radio earlier in the week, President Shimon Peres said, “I have full faith in President Obama’s moral and operational stance. I recommend patience. I am confident that the United States will respond appropriately to Syria.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Net-anyahu had instructed his government ministers to refrain from publically criticizing or praising Obama for his decisions regarding Syria. At the beginning of the week, Israel’s military sent home many of the reservists called up to deal with the threat from Syria, keeping them on “high alert.” The decision came after Obama said he would seek congressional approval before moving forward with a strike.

Moral Obligation

Most analysts say any move will be more of a political maneuver than a game changer. Witte said the kinds of strikes the administration is considering will not make much of a difference to the balance on the ground in Syria. And, while the strikes discussed are limited, there is a worry that one strike could lead to many.

“[Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin] Dempsey said one of his concerns about getting involved is the fact that once military action is initiated, it is hard to know where it will go and whether it will spin out of control,” said Parry.

But there is an issue of messaging. Obama drew a red line. The red line was allegedly crossed.

“Now, this is not just about Syria. It is about other actors like Iran and terrorist organizations that may be contemplating using weapons of mass destruction — now or in the future,” said Witte. “It is partly about deterring and persuading other actors not ever to go down that path.”

Witte said it is far-fetched to envision Syria directly attacking the U.S., but not inconceivable that Syria could supply terrorist organizations with WMD to use against American targets — in the U.S. or abroad.

Rabbi Donniel Hartman, a Jewish Israeli Modern Orthodox rabbi and educator, penned an essay recently on the question of whether there is a moral obligation for the world to retaliate against the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. He told the JT he wrote the piece while contemplating how difficult it is to play the role of policeman — that the role is “morally problematic, practically problematic, and balance [in this role] is hard to achieve.”

Rabbi Hartman said a leadership role is often not one to which you are appointed, but one for which you stand up. He said taking on a role like the one American has taken on in the world is wrought with responsibility and challenges. He said he fears that leaving Syria to continue in its current path of destruction could result in an ever-more dangerous environment — for the local people and for Israel.

“In the long term, you could have al-Qaeda sitting on Israel’s border. That would make Gaza look like Disneyland!” Rabbi Hartman said. “When you believe all people are created in the image of God, you are not allowed to be indifferent. … We have a moral responsibility to face evil.”

Find Peace

And that is what Parry is saying, too.

Parry said he wants to know “why there isn’t more pressure for peace talks.”

“If we are going to continue with a war of this sort, inevitably civilians will die. … Shouldn’t the U.S. be
focused more on getting those peace talks than on far-off missiles? … The focus has been on whether to fire missiles or not, and it should be on, can this larger civil war be brought to a conclusion?” Parry said.

Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, urged Jews to keep Syrian refugees in their thoughts and prayers this Yom Kippur. He told the JT that currently there are two million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq — “the numbers are unsustainable” — and another four million people who have been displaced in the country.

“This is the most massive refugee crisis since the end of the Cold War,” said Hetfield, who noted that HIAS is helping as much as it can, being a Jewish organization that is often unwanted or unable to be too visible in Arab countries. His group is working with the U.N. to resettle some of the refugees in America. He told the JT that of the two million, one million are children.

“We need to think about and care about and pray about this for sure,” said Hetfield, noting that the Torah commands Jews 36 times to treat the stranger as ourselves. “In doing any attack, any strategy, it is just as important to keep in mind the impact this will have on those already displaced and on future displacements. Intervention is certainly understandable, but intervention needs to be thought out and planned as to what the outcome will be. … The priority needs to be to find a peaceful solution and end the conflict.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief

Obama: Spineless on Syria >>

At Peace

Earlier this week, Palestinian and Israeli leaders met in Washington to launch a new round of peace negotiations.

Secretary of State John Kerry hosted an Iftar dinner for Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (right, center) and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (next to Linvi) this past Monday at the U.S. Department of State in Washington.

Secretary of State John Kerry hosted an Iftar dinner for Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (right, center) and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (next to Linvi) this past Monday at the U.S. Department of State in Washington.

There is a cynical and skeptical Palestinian and Israeli public, but the parties agreed to meet nonetheless.

As Secretary of State John Kerry stood before the media on July 29, he told listeners that he was under no delusions.

“It’s no secret this is going to be a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago,” he said.

There are many who question Kerry’s intentions. Why now? Who wants this, and who is ready for this?

There is no question that Kerry —and the Obama administration — is ready. The question is whether the
Israeli and Palestinian publics, and their leaders, want it as much as Kerry does.

“One would have doubts,” said Herb Keinon, diplomatic correspondent for The Jerusalem Post. “My doubts would be more on the Palestinian side than the Israeli side, though the Israeli side is not jumping up and down either.”

Keinon cited the pre-agreement back-and-forth as an example of how pressured the two parties felt. He said that when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas first presented Kerry’s proposal to the PLO, the group said no. Kerry had to fly back and forth between Amman, Jordan and Ramallah to strike the deal.

“The Palestinians didn’t want to do it, but were dragged into it because they were afraid of incurring American wrath if they didn’t come to talk,” said Keinon.

David Makovsky, Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute, expressed similar sentiments about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He said the prime minister does not want to further isolate Israel by refusing to negotiate, and one can tell from his recent addresses that he is viewing Israel’s willingness to engage in this process not as one based on good will toward the Palestinians but on the self-interest of the Israeli state.

On the American side, however, there’s real value.

“It is an American national security interest to have Arab-Israeli peace,” said Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland.

Keinon explained that the Arab-Israeli conflict is “the only place in the Middle East where the U.S. can be proactive instead of reactive. It could have a beneficial impact for the U.S. if they are able to move something. It is important to America at a time when its whole Middle East policy is, as some would say, muddled.”

Makovsky cautioned, however, that solving this issue will not be an open sesame to solving Syria, Iraq and other conflicts. He also said that while thought-leaders in Jordan and other parts of the Arab world told Kerry the Arab-Israeli conflict is the core issue of instability in the news, if Kerry believes that, he is “being blind to reality.”

If anything, said Makovsky, it takes that card away from the hands of those who use it to carry out terror attacks.

Jewish American organizations have certainly jumped on the bandwagon. Overnight, most of the major Jewish organizations came out with statements supporting the talks.

“This is a great achievement for Secretary of State Kerry, who invested so much time and diplomatic effort in finally bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table,” said Jewish Council for Public Affairs President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “Two states for two people cannot be achieved without strong U.S. leadership, and we are thankful.”

“The resumption of talks …. brings hope of new opportunities to move toward a peaceful resolution and an end of the conflict that has taken such a heavy toll,” said the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in a statement.

But as talks resumed and the parties met in Washington, D.C., one reality became apparent: The two sides likely are not ready to deal with final status issues.

“Do we want to bring both sides to the table and force them to make choices when they are not ready to make them?” asked Keinon.

This is especially true, given the concessions that each side already has had to make — some that are causing upheaval in their home communities.

In Israel, Netanyahu agreed to release 104 prisoners in four batches, many of whom have blood on their hands (see accompanying story, ‘You Start To Give Up,’ on page 32). This decision, which passed in the cabinet by a wide 13-to-7 margin (after a nearly six-hour meeting), has spawned a multitude of rallies — and outcry by victims of terror and their families who stand to see their loved ones’ murderers set free.

“You had a situation where Abbas had been telling the Arab public that unless Netanyahu commits to talks based on the pre-’67 lines, and unless Netanyahu agrees to a complete freeze [of construction] in the settlements, he is not going to deal with him. He had to back off from those demands,” said Makovsky. “So he said, ‘Let me have this.’”

Moreover, Makovksy noted, the Palestinian Authority had to contend with Israel’s trading 1,000 terrorists for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. Israeli teenagers get lost in the West Bank all the time, and the residents there don’t hold them hostage; the PA wanted to be rewarded for that.

On the flip side, the Palestinians committed to not bringing any charges against Israel to the U.N. during the course of the negotiations. That frees Israel from some pressure, enabling it to focus international intention on issues such as a nuclear Iran.

Neither Abbas nor Netanyahu are as strong as the leaders of the past (Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Rabin), said Makovsky. With Abbas opposed by a virulent Hamas and both leaders looking over their right shoulders and averse to risk, public support will be vital to move the process forward.

What happens when the two sides hit a brick wall? Hopefully Kerry can massage the thing, and maybe there can be efforts to go to an interim agreement. Maybe.

The challenge is that both publics, said Telhami, don’t believe a two-state solution is possible.

“They may be open to it,” said Telhami, but the majority doesn’t think it is possible anymore. The return to negotiations does not address the profound mistrust and absence of faith in a deal.”

A poll released on July 24 by the Tel Aviv University and the Dialog Institute showed that 39 percent of Israelis would vote for a peace deal if it were brought to a referendum (which was a condition Netanyahu put forth when agreeing to talks), while 16 percent said they would probably vote for a deal. Five percent said they would likely oppose it; 20 percent were unsure.

Worse still, while Israelis report wanting peace, most feel achieving it is unlikely. An Israel public opinion poll, fielded by the Dahaf Institute and released by the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution in May, revealed that 51 percent of Israelis are saying that lasting peace with the Palestinians will never happen; 40 percent say it is inevitable but will take more than five years. If the two-state solution collapses, 13 percent think it will lead to the one-state solution, 37 percent say that the status quo will remain, 35 percent expect intense conflict for years to come, and 6 percent expect that the Palestinians will give up.

In the meantime, there is a nine-month window to try to make this work. And at the helm will be former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. Assisting Indyk will be Frank Lowenstein.

Nine months?

It’s not a deadline, said Makovsky, but it is the belief that the parties need to sit together long enough to ascertain if this is possible. The Israelis also need assurance that 2010 won’t repeat itself; in that year, the Palestinians sat for three weeks, determined they had heard enough and then went to the U.N.

Telhami said he thinks nine months sounds right. He also thinks that now is the right time.

“The people observing this situation for years are divided into two groups. One says it is too late already for a two-state solution. The other says that soon it is not going to be possible anymore,” he said. “No one says we have all the time in the world.”

See also, ‘You Start To Give Up’