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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Palestinian Vote, Israelis Find Hope

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Arie Schmidt stopped on Saturday to place a pebble on the memorial to the 21 dead at the Dolphinarium disco, killed in a suicide bombing by Hamas in 2001. The dead were mostly teenagers.

Schmidt sighed, then chained one careful word to the next on what it means that Hamas is now the official Palestinian power. "I tell you," he began, "we think it is actually the best thing that can happen to Israel.

"Because now we see the real face of the Palestinians," said Schmidt, 56, a computer engineer from Haifa who considers himself neither on the left nor the right. "From their vote, we can understand their theory to destroy the state of Israel is not a theory but a fact.

"So," he said, in a conclusion that may not seem immediately logical to outsiders but was repeated again and again in interviews here, "I think it is the best chance for peace. I think Hamas can understand there is no way to destroy the state of Israel and will take a course to peace.


Among Israelis already reeling from having a prime minister in a coma, there is no lack of shock and anger that Palestinian voters overwhelmingly chose a radical Islamic group with a deadly r?sum?: 21 dead at the disco here in 2001; 19 dead on the No. 32A bus in Jerusalem in 2002; 23 dead on the No. 2 bus in Jerusalem in 2003; a double bombing on buses in Beersheba in 2004, killing 16 and injuring 100. And that is only a small, and recent, part of the list.

Still, from conversations in Tel Aviv, where the palm trees and beaches can still create the illusion that violent reality is far away, anger was not the strongest emotion. Rather, there seemed to be satisfaction, not with the result itself, but with how it put issues into plain view.

In electing Hamas, many Israelis here said, Palestinians could no longer hide behind figures like Yasser Arafat, who talked about peace but, they said, worked to undermine it until his death in November 2004. His Fatah faction now lies beaten, its monopoly on official power ended.

In contrast, Hamas stands quite clearly for the destruction of Israel. Now the rest of the world, Israelis said, can see that this is the program supported by most Palestinians.

"Finally, we are standing and confronting the real thing," David Chen, 45, an Israeli government employee, said as he walked by the Dolphinarium monument, which honors, as the inscription says, the "many youngsters whose lives were cut by murderers in a bloody terror attack."

"It is the moment of truth," he said.

That moment still hangs in the air, unresolved. Since Hamas' victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections on Wednesday, many on the Israeli right have said that talks with terrorists are impossible, and that Hamas' election gives Israel far more right to use force.

But Tel Aviv is generally more moderate, and opinions here on a quiet Sabbath, where sun and storm seemed in tight balance, were more layered. The general thought was that, at least in the short term, the results were worse for Palestinians than for Israelis. For one, nations friendly to Palestinians may have trouble dealing with Hamas or giving it money. There is also the real possibility of factional fighting, already scattered in southern Gaza.

"There is going to be a big explosion between Hamas and Fatah," said Joseph Brenner, 58, a gardener sitting with friends in Rabin Square. "It's good for Israel. And God is the director. We didn't have to do anything. God did all the work for us."

His friend, Ilan Farhi, 43, a driver, said he felt that Hamas, as the official representative of a people who want a state, will now have no choice but to moderate if it does not want to increase Palestinians' suffering.

"They will -- they have -- become official now," he said. "Now they are part of the world. They have to be like normal people."

In the interviews here, the main point of division seemed to be whether such moderation would lead to real negotiations with Israel.

Brenner, the gardener, was deeply skeptical: Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist, will not renounce violence and will not rest until Jews are pushed from the land. "They want Tel Aviv," he said. "They want Haifa."

But many expressed, in the most tentative way possible, another theory: that Hamas is, in the end, more pragmatic than it seems, and that its strength -- now bolstered by the clear support of the Palestinian people -- will allow it some day to negotiate with Israel with a confidence that Fatah never could.

"There is a little bit of hope that things might change," said Shamai Kidron, 50, an engineer out for a jog near the beach with his wife, Shoshi. "The hope is not based on a solid fact. Their history is very bad. I guess it's human nature to hope for the best."

Nearly everyone interviewed said they felt that any improvement, or even real talks between Israel and Hamas, could not come quickly: the wounds here are fresh, and are spread wide and deep.

Like perhaps most Israelis, Riva Klein, 42, knows people who have lost family members in suicide bombings: in her case, the friend of a daughter, as well as the husband and two children of a co-worker, were among the 15 killed in a Hamas suicide bombing at the Matza restaurant in Haifa in March 2002.

"I see her every morning, and I can't imagine how she can continue to live with this hurt," Klein said, referring to her co-worker.

But, she said, she thought the Palestinians did not want to fight forever. "They want a country for themselves," she said. Asked if she thought Hamas would be the group, finally, to achieve that, she said, "Yes. Maybe."