Skeptics and optimists in Israel are squaring off following the surprise reconciliation between the two rival Palestinian factions. The skeptics argue that by mending fences with Hamas, a terrorist organization that denies Israel’s right to exist, the secular Fatah party led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has shown it's not genuinely committed to peace with Israel. The optimists contend that a unified Palestinian leadership presents Israel with a rare opportunity to make peace with the entire Palestinian people -- religious and secular, in Gaza and the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is bringing a hawkish party into his coalition, guaranteeing him the support of 78 members of the 120-seat Knesset and possibly one of the most stable governments in Israeli history.
Had Ariel Sharon been able to continue as Israeli prime minister, his main strategic goal would have been establishing a new long-term border between Israel and the West Bank. That remains the primary aim of his Kadima Party, but last week's violent clashes between settlers and police at the tiny West Bank outpost of Amona show just how difficult achieving it might be.
With Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip scheduled to begin on Aug. 15, escalating right-wing and settler protests threaten to plunge the country into anarchy and could provoke a strong anti-settler backlash.
Protesters last week blocked major highways, poured oil and scattered spikes across a busy road; occupied buildings in Gaza, and threw stones at Palestinians and Israel Defense Forces soldiers. The army and police responded by temporarily declaring the Gaza Strip a closed military zone, ejecting the extremists from occupied buildings and making dozens of arrests.
In an unprecedented spate of interviews and public statements, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned what he called the "hooliganism" of the far right, and vowed that he would not be deterred by it.
However, will authorities be able to maintain law and order in the face of even more extreme protest plans?
Everyone in the Israeli political establishment knows it's only a matter of time before Benjamin Netanyahu challenges Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for leadership of the Likud Party and the country.
It's not every day that Israel's No. 1 soldier expresses doubts about the country's long-term survival. But that was part of a bleak message from Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon that has shaken the country's political establishment.
In a wide-reaching, early June interview in the daily newspaper, Ha'aretz, the retiring Israeli army chief of staff pulled no punches. He put key existential issues on the table, questioned the wisdom of Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, debunked the notion of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said it could lead to a "situation in which there will be no Israel here in the end."
Just three months after it was ushered in at a peace summit in February, there are growing signs that the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians may be on the verge of collapse.
The late February suicide bombing in Tel Aviv shattered a three-month lull in terror and brought key Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking issues into sharp relief.
The terror attack, which came just three weeks after Israeli and Palestinian leaders declared an end to more than four years of hostilities, forced both sides to define their new relationship more clearly.
It enabled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to clarify his policy toward the Palestinians, finger Syria and the Hezbollah as potential spoilers, and re-emphasize his view that there can be no real peacemaking until the Palestinians dismantle their armed terrorists.
The dust is still settling after last week's summit at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik, but early signs on the ground are highly contradictory.
Last week, just 48 hours after the summit, Palestinian terrorist groups fired more than 50 mortar shells at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip -- yet now Hamas, the largest and most important of the terrorist groups, says it's committed to the cease-fire announced at the summit.
As the scheduled start of Israel's Gaza withdrawal approaches, settler leaders are raising the specter of mass refusal by religious soldiers to carry out orders, and are warning of disastrous consequences for the Israeli army and society as a whole.
But high-ranking Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers said settler leaders are exaggerating in an attempt to scare the government and to encourage soldiers to refuse to evacuate settlers from their homes.
The post-Arafat era has begun with high hopes in Washington, London, Jerusalem and even Ramallah -- but many of the obstacles that prevented peace in Arafat's day remain, and it's not clear whether any of the major players has the single-minded determination to make peace happen.
The United States is not as actively involved as it may have to be; the Europeans, who would like to be intimately involved, don't have the necessary political clout; the Israeli leadership, insulated by strong American backing and facing a recalcitrant right wing, sees no need to hurry, and the new Palestinian leaders, hamstrung by radical, violent opponents, may not be able to make concessions beyond what the late Palestinian Authority president countenanced.
President Bush gave an inkling of the ambivalence inherent in American policy after a meeting last week in Washington with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
With opposition mounting among settlers and in his own Likud Party, Ariel Sharon's political future and the fate of his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank may be decided in the Knesset next week.
The Israeli prime minister hopes to win a decisive majority in the Oct. 26 vote on his disengagement plan, laying to rest the debate over its legitimacy and blocking growing pressure for a nationwide referendum. But a victory is not a foregone conclusion, and if he loses, it's difficult to see how Sharon can continue as prime minister.
Under strong pressure from Washington to pull Syrian forces out of Lebanon and prevent cross-border terror against U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq, Syria's President Bashar Assad has again been talking about a readiness for peace with Israel.
Few doubt that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan has the potential to become a watershed event in Middle Eastern politics, and it already is causing major upheavals in both internal Israeli and Palestinian politics.
The International Court of Justice may have ruled it illegal, but Israel's West Bank security barrier has at least one new supporter.
For Sammy Masrawa, it was more baptism by fire than conversion, after Masrawa witnessed a bombing that killed an Israeli woman and wounded at least 20 others in Tel Aviv on Sunday.
Bruised after a humiliating defeat in his own party, Ariel Sharon is considering dramatic moves to regain the political upper hand.
The state prosecutor's recommendation to indict Ariel Sharon on bribery charges came just as the Israeli prime minister was putting the finishing touches on his plan for Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
No one believes Israel is a safer place just after the assassination of Sheik Ahmad Yassin, leader of the terrorist group Hamas.
The question is whether the assassination and continued Israeli pressure on Hamas will contribute to stability over time.
If Israel pulls its troops out of Gaza, how can Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon be sure that Hamas won't seize power in the ensuing chaos?
In announcing a plan to evacuate nearly all of the Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is signaling that he's serious about creating large blocs of Palestinian territory free of Israelis -- and that he is willing to gamble with his political future.
When the Palestinian Authority prime minister warned recently that Palestinians might abandon their goal of an independent state and instead seek a single state of Arabs and Jews, Ahmed Qurei was playing one of his trump cards in the conflict with Israel.
In a single passionate interview recently, Ehud Olmert, Israel's deputy prime minister, managed to do what most politicians only dream about -- recast a nation's political and diplomatic agenda.
After its gala launch in Switzerland this week, the unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal known as the Geneva accord is rapidly picking up international support.
In the nearly two months since Mahmoud Abbas resigned as Palestinian Authority prime minister, the United States has stepped back from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the meantime, Israel has adopted a two-pronged policy, taking bold unilateral moves while encouraging Abbas' successor to form a government with which Israel can negotiate.
With Israel and the Palestinians seemingly on the brink of a new round of terrorism and response, calls for the speedy completion of the barrier between Israel and the West Bank are growing.
After President Bush's late July meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, one thing is clear: Ariel Sharon no longer will have things all his own way in Washington.
After years of mutual distrust and periodic acrimony, there are signs of a thaw in relations between Israel and Europe.
Next week's vote for mayor of Jerusalem will be unprecedented: For the first time since the reunification of the city in 1967, no major national figure is running.
The war in Iraq may not be Israel's war, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon likes to say -- but the stakes for Israel could hardly be higher. If the United States wins a convincing victory, it could assure Israel's place in a more stable Middle East for years to come. If it does not, Israel could find itself the prime target of emboldened Middle Eastern radicals and face far greater threats to its existence than it does today.
Israeli officials are hailing the choice of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian prime minister as a potential watershed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that creates new hope for a cease-fire and a new political process.
As the Israeli army mounted a major operation in the Gaza Strip this week, questions were being asked about the ability of Israel's new, right-wing government to advance the peace process with the Palestinians.
Will a post-Saddam Middle East herald a new promise of regional peace or dire consequences for the Jewish State? As the anticipated American showdown with Iraq nears, the Israeli defense establishment is sounding increasingly optimistic about the outcome.
Even if he is reelected, the financial scandal dogging him could spell the end of Ariel Sharon's political career.
This week's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv has made terror even more of a central issue in Israel's upcoming election -- and highlighted the major parties' different prescriptions for ending the violence.
The smart money says Israelis won't have to wait until next January's general election to know who their next prime minister will be: Nearly all the pundits agree it will be the winner of the Nov. 28 Likud Party leadership primary between Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.
On the face of it, the struggle between Israeli troops and a group of unruly young settlers for control of a windswept West Bank hilltop does not seem all that important.
On the face of it, sending in tanks and bulldozers to demolish most of Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Launched in the shadow of Sept. 11, the Jewish year 5762 was marked for Israel by two developments directly related to those terrorist attacks: a tightening of ties between Israel and the United States and a growing American disaffection with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
srael may soon become a testing ground for the proposition that good fences make good neighbors.
It's no secret that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to challenge Ariel Sharon for leadership of the Likud Party and, he hopes, succeed Sharon as prime minister of Israel. So when Netanyahu moved to have Likud's Central Committee vote May 12 against the establishment of a Palestinian state, it seemed he had found the perfect weapon to accelerate Sharon's political demise
When Ariel Sharon decided to isolate Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, he realized he would be accused of deliberately blocking diplomatic channels if he didn't find an alternative form of dialogue with the Palestinians. Sharon's answer: A regional conference of Israel, moderate Arab states and Palestinians -- but not Arafat -- to be convened under American auspices.
When Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser swept into Khartoum for an Arab summit less than three months after the Arab debacle in the 1967 Six-Day War, he was greeted like a hero.
Newsweek ran a cover story titled, "Hail to the Conquered!" The summit passed the notorious "three no's" defining future relations with Israel: No negotiations, no recognition and no peace.
In July the following year, Nasser took a young Yasser Arafat, traveling on an Egyptian passport under the name of Muhsin Amin, with him to Moscow on an arms shopping spree.