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My Clock Is Better Than Yours

Only in the Mideast.
Switching from daylight-saving time to Eastern Standard Time in Israel has become a political act.

Israelis switched early to promote religious redemption. Palestinians decided to wait two weeks, citing patriotism.

As a result, the region has operated on two clocks - throwing a lot of people off schedule: Businessmen were kept waiting, peace negotiators double-checked their schedules, diplomats found their parties pooped.

It apparently even muddled terrorists, who killed themselves instead of their targets when their bombs detonated an hour early.

Palestinian cab driver Muawia Bureidi was still seething over a passenger who asked to be picked up at 10 a.m. Bureidi presumed Israeli time, and when he arrived, the client was long gone. "I lost 150 shekels ($35)."

Israel made the switch overnight on Sept. 2 to accommodate "Slihot," or Apologies, pre-sunrise penitential prayers that run from a week before the Jewish New Year through the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

Orthodox parties in government have for years insisted on a switch that precedes the rest of the northern hemisphere by at least two weeks, saying that 5 a.m. sunrises discourage synagogue attendance.

Palestinians chafed at switching early to please religious Jews.

That led to tensions before Palestinians and Israelis talked peace. Palestinians who adjusted to Israeli time were derided by their neighbors for "living on Zionist time." Israeli soldiers would check Palestinian wrists: Timepieces set an hour ahead would sometimes get smashed.

The breakthrough 1993 Oslo peace agreement didn't change much.

"The Palestinians told us it is a matter of national pride, that they have to choose their own time and be seen to be doing so," recalled Shlomo Dror, a high-ranking official in the outgoing Israeli administration of the West Bank.

Israeli negotiators understand, he said, but there have been some diplomatic snafus.

"Yesterday we hosted a dinner. Israelis came an hour late," said Charles Winnington-Ingram, the British deputy consul-general, who called the problem "irritating."

Ask a Palestinian the date of this month's breakthrough Sharm el-Sheikh peace accord, and he'll name Sept. 5, just past midnight. An Israeli will say Sept. 4, just after 11 p.m.

Issues of national pride affected preparations for this week's ceremony launching final status talks.

"We agreed that the ceremony should begin at 8:00 and they asked, `Yours or ours?"' Dror recalled. "So we said, `Ours.' Then we had to fix a meeting of officials earlier the same evening to make the final arrangements. They suggested five o'clock. So we asked, `Yours or ours?' And they said, `Ours.' So we compromised - one according to their clock, the othe according to ours."

The peace process may have been saved by the gap, when two car bombs exploded simultaneously in different Israeli cities the day after the Sharm el-Sheikh signing - apparently timed by Islamic militants to scuttle the new accords. The only dead were the three Israeli Arabs in the cars.

One theory reportedly being considered by police is that the Israeli drivers had made the switch to standard time, while the Palestinian bombmakers set the device according to summer time. The cars appeared to be headed toward crowded areas, although they exploded well away from crowds.

The result: no Israeli dead and minimal anti-peace process outrage.

Other effects have been less dramatic. George el-Hadwah, a receptionist at a Palestinian hospital, said he appreciates an easy ride to work. "When both sides have the same time, the roads are often congested."

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