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A little over 40 years ago, in another one-issue corner of the world, in another place that was too stiflingly hot, too historically traumatized, too politically paralytic to comfortably support human life, it was the question of racial segregation that occupied every cell of the resident subconscious.

So overwhelming was the issue, that protest signs and lapel buttons for opposing sides needed bear no more than a single word. For civil rights activists, Now was more than enough. For segregationists, it was Never.

If the past week is any indication, we here in the Holy Land can now make do with even less. At this point, a little under 40 years since the war many believed would be the Mideast conflict to end all Mideast conflicts, Never appears to be the only button left.

Unlike its well-established dovish counterpart, the Peace Never movement does not have mailing lists, officers and offices, a familiar logo, researchers, a website.

Nonetheless, Peace Never can boast wide support on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

Given the bleak diplomatic and security landscape, it is safe to say, and easy to comprehend, that sizable numbers of onetime believers in peace, among them adherents to Peace Now, have tacitly decamped to Peace Never.

For many, the allegiance to Peace Never is nothing new. For some, Jew and Arab alike, secular intellectuals, religious fundamentalists, white collar or blue, Diaspora or domestic, the ideology of Peace Never is a congenital given: There can never be peace between Jews and Arabs in historical Palestine, and thus there never will be.

For others, among them, politicians, settlement activists and real estate developers, Peace Never serves an additional, functional role. For them, Peace Never means no conceivable need for future concessions. Peace Never assures that life can go on as it is, forever.

In a wider sense, there has always been something about Peace Never that appeals to Israelis and Palestinians both. Something about Peace Never makes many on both sides feel righteous, empowered, it gives them a stronger sense of self, of belonging, of historic mission, of place. It is not only the primordial pleasure inherent in the understanding that Real Men Never Make Peace. After all, women are very well represented among the fanatics on both sides.

The appeal also comes from this firm belief: If our side says Never long enough, the other side will eventually cave, and our side will be the winner who takes all.

On the Palestinian side, the primary exponent of the Peace Never movement is currently Ismail Haniyeh. In a speech that saw him faint from the combined effects of a Ramadan fast and the Gaza City heat, Haniyeh felt it so crucial to stress that Hamas would not recognize Israel, that he said it three times in succession.

On the Israeli side, the sudden leader of Peace Never is none other than the Chameleon of Cremieux Street. It was only two months ago that Ehud Olmert predicted that Israel would leverage a victory in the Lebanon war into a further withdrawal from the West Bank. By this week, his transformation was such that the prime minister was talking partnership with Avigdor Lieberman, perhaps the standout segregationist of the Israeli far-right.

Does the popularity of Peace Never mean that there will never be peace? Ironically, no. Just listen to Hamas' purported chief rejectionist, Khaled Meshal, quoted this week as saying he could live with a Palestine along the pre-1967 war borders. Lieberman, also, has been expansive in drawing possible lines for separate states for Israel and Palestine.

In the interim, though, who can blame the convert to Peace Never? How much can you expect believers in peace to take?

Our militaries, Palestinian and Israeli, have beaten peace to a pulp. Year after year, we cluster bomb it from the air, suicide bomb it from buses, pick it off with sniper rifles, pulverize it with Qassam after Katyusha after Fajr after Zelzal. We settle it to death. We strangle it with walls, we crush it with bulldozers, we smother it by refusing to recognize the other side, talk to the other side, budge from our mental bunkers.

You can't blame many believers in peace for giving in and going to Peace Never.

How many years can you be expected to hold your breath, waiting for change, demonstrating for change, voting for change?

How many peace plans can you watch go unaddressed?How many special envoys, Secretaries of State, Gulf state princes, can you watch leave with that same look on their face?How much fury can you swallow?How much disheartening can you stand?How many generations have been raised hoping that the next will be the first not to go to war?

How many years can you hold your breath?

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