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As Israeli-Palestinian talks sink, fringe ideas gain traction

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No appetite for compromise in Israel

The key number regarding settler evacuation is not the more than 300,000 Israelis who live in the West Bank but the 80,000 to 100,000 of them who reside in isolated settlements far away from the future border. Though uprooting them is feasible for the Israeli government, it is unclear if there are leaders willing to clash with the settlers powerful political constituency.

"The question is not what is happening in the settlements, it’s what is happening in Israeli society in general," says Dror Etkes, a human rights activist and settlement monitor who sees Israel growing more conservative. "It's not a physical question, it’s a political question."

To be sure, a recent joint poll showed that a clear majority of Israelis and about half of Palestinians still support the outline of the two-state compromise proposed by former President Bill Clinton 11 years ago.

But they are becoming increasingly queasy about taking the risks for such a deal, and most public opinion surveys indicate that if elections were held today the new parliament would likely be run by a coalition of parties opposed to such a compromise.

"To get to a two-state solution, Israelis know exactly what kind of costs they will have to pay," says Dahlia Scheindlin, a Tel Aviv-based public opinion expert. "They don’t see the benefits outweighing the costs. They are realists. In general, Israelis fear that everything around them is turning into a radical Islamic takeover" because of Islamist electoral victories in the wake of the Arab revolutions.

Palestinians are similarly gloomy: 78 percent oppose a resuming peace talks without a freeze in settlement construction and only 17 percent believe that Israel intends to withdraw from the West Bank, according to a survey from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

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