Israeli Jews unapologetic this Rosh Hashana

JERUSALEM -- It's supposed to be a time of deep reflection -- of leaving behind past rancor, asking forgiveness, starting anew.

But there's a decidedly unapologetic feeling in Israel this year on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year that began at sundown Friday, exactly two years on the Jewish calendar since fighting erupted and torpedoed Mideast peace.

Most Israelis blame only the Palestinians for the morass.

The fighting has transformed the country, which was once evenly split between the "peace camp" and those dreaming of a Greater Israel from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

The violence has pushed political sympathies sharply to the right. But there's also a growing belief among Israelis that holding on to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the 3.2 million Palestinians clamoring for independence, is ultimately a liability.

"The right understands today that there is no chance of realizing the dream of Greater Israel and the left understands that no angel is going to descend and take them in his arms into a New Middle East," former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who led failed peace efforts, said in a holiday interview with the Haaretz daily.

Apples and honey

Israeli Jews this week are buying apples and honey and exchanging gifts of candy -- traditional symbols of hope for a sweet New Year.

Yet with the Mideast peace process in shambles, few expect the year 5763 to be sweet. Most are bracing for a continuation or worsening of the violence that has killed more than 1,800 on the Palestinian side and more than 600 on the Israeli side since September 2000.

Hearts have hardened on both sides.

The so-called Oslo accords that brought hope for Mideast peace in the 1990s are a memory. Yesterday's words of hope have given way to a lexicon of war: suicide bombings, shootings, deportations, targeted killings, expulsions.

It's hard to find Israelis willing to acknowledge any Israeli responsibility for the current impasse, but in the run-up to Rosh Hashana, a few have called for reflection.

"It is much easier to blame someone else than to deal with it and to judge yourself," said Israeli political commentator Akiva Eldar.