How Fading Mideast Peace Hits Two Homes

A son mourns missed chances for peace, while his mother says Netanyahu's tough line is 'the best way'

Beneath the cool shade of gnarled, green pine trees, atop Israel's Mount Herzl national cemetery, lies the grave that is attracting increasing numbers of liberal Israeli pilgrims.

They come to the tomb of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin - killed last year by a right-wing Jewish assassin - to mourn what they see as the end of the Mideast peace process.

The number of visitors has increased dramatically since last week, when Palestinian police and Israeli soldiers turned their guns on each other, killing more than 70 people and further damaging the peace process.

Jewish congregants and tourists now mingle, placing stones on the white-and-black sculpted slabs that mark the grave. Candles are lit, notes of praise and love are left behind, and wreaths mark the passing of the leader's dream of peace.

But all keep back when a solemn young man named Avie Livnat pays his respects at the grave: A look of purposeful worship spreads across his face, he genuflects slowly, and mouths a prayer for peace.

His Jewish yarmulke tilts back, as Avie makes a final appeal and lifts his face to the setting sun. The tourists wait until he leaves, then converge again on the spot with their point-and-shoot cameras.

Despite this emotive moment, Avie says that he alone among his family would visit Rabin's tomb this way. Other members - right-wing supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has dramatically slowed the pace of peace talks with Palestinian and Arab leaders since he assumed power in June - visit to pay their respects, but not to show reverence.

"The solution for Israel is not in the peace process," says the sportswriter for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "We Jewish must be at peace with ourselves. After what happened last week, we blame both sides. This is not the way."

Though Avie says he has no ideas about the peace process, he supported Rabin - "a great man: statesman, soldier, and leader; he was everything." In last May's election, he voted for the Labor Party candidate and architect of the peace, Shimon Peres.

Divided family, divided nation

For his family, however, the peace process has led to differences of opinion that mirror the widening gap between peaceniks and right-wing hard-liners in Israeli society. It is a divide that Israelis - who were stunned by last week's violence as much as the Palestinians - are working hard to bridge.

"I believe we have to make peace with all Arabs," he says, his gold-rimmed glasses framing a youthful face. "I don't believe we have to take it by war."

Avie says that most of his friends at home in Tel Aviv are more right-wing than he, and that the recent killing has pushed them further that way.

But Avie's anxiety is made clear when asked if he believes that Mr. Netanyahu wants peace. The pause before he answers is long: "That is a hard question," he says. "I don't think he knows himself yet."

Older generation: 'All Zionism'

There is little such hesitation on the part of Avie's mother, Miriam Klopman, an elementary school teacher. Her father brought her from Russia when she was a child, though many in her family were killed during the Holocaust.

Her education, she says, was "all Zionism." Netanyahu's tough stance with Palestinians is the "best way," and Rabin - her son's hero - "went too far.

"He had a good aim, to make peace, but now we have a great problem," she says.

Israeli Jews can never live with Palestinians, she says, so a limited independent Palestine may, in fact, be the only answer.

"But that will not help us, because they will want more and more. They want to push us into the sea, to murder us," she says. "I'm very pessimistic, but I know they are people. They have women and children, who are crying and frightened. They have a heart, like I have a heart."

The violence - which she believes was sparked by Palestinian gunmen firing first on Israelis - proves to her that at such close quarters, the Palestinians must be treated with great suspicion.

And what would be her message to a Palestinian family? "I don't hate them, and I don't educate my children or pupils to hate them," she says.

"But they hate us, and they want to murder us. Maybe I am wrong, but this is my opinion."

For those who come to the grave of Rabin, such as Avie - leaving memorial stones and candles behind - it is such beliefs that have dissolved Israel's chances for peace.

The note Avie left behind was written "for the people," he says, imploring them to "love Rabin, and think only of the good things."

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