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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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New Moves toward a Peace Agreement Must Consider Israeli Public Opinion

Filed under: Israel, Israeli Security, Palestinians, Peace Process

New Moves toward a Peace Agreement Must Consider Israeli Public Opinion

A poll conducted by leading Israeli pollster Dr. Mina Tzemach for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs to examine the attitudes of the Jewish public in Israel regarding the conflict with the Palestinians found a significant decline in support for the Clinton parameters (including the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state and a division of sovereignty in Jerusalem), from 59% support in 2005 to 29% today. 69% do not believe that negotiations will lead to an agreement in the coming years, and only 29% think there is a chance for an agreement. 57% oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state even if Israel keeps the settlement blocs and 37% support a Palestinian state. 77% oppose a Palestinian state in all the territory of the West Bank, 17% support it. 71% favor conditioning a peace agreement on Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, while 20% do not believe such recognition is essential. 81% attribute importance to continued Israeli security control of the Jordan Valley in any arrangement, and only 8% believe that this is not important. As for Jerusalem, 41% support transferring the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty within the framework of an agreement, while 50% oppose this, and 83% oppose the transfer of sovereignty over the Temple Mount from Israel to the Palestinians.

On the Palestinian side, on the other hand, efforts continue to promote the Palestinian narrative, according to which the Jews aren’t a “people” with an actual history of sovereignty in the Land of Israel, so that the Palestinians have exclusive rights to a state over the entire land. Therefore, their struggle against Zionism is not terrorism but a legitimate struggle for national liberation. In his visit to Berlin on March 24, Abbas again presented the Palestinians as the direct descendants of the Canaanites, and the Palestinians continue with their preoccupation with the demand that Britain retract the Balfour Declaration. At the Arab summit in Amman, the Palestinians will try to convince their Arab brothers to separate terror against the West – which is to be universally condemned – and the Arab struggle against Israel. They also continue to pay – according to Palestinian law – salaries to Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel and to the families of “martyrs” killed in the struggle against Zionism. This is despite the legislative progress in Congress of calls for the cessation of American economic aid as long as these payments continue. This is also despite the declaration by the Israeli Defense Minister branding the Palestinian National Fund (the PLO’s Ministry of Finance) – which makes the payments on behalf of the Palestinian Authority – as a terrorist organization.

Without support from the Israeli public for an agreement that would meet the Palestinians’ minimum demands (an independent state on almost all the territories occupied in 1967, including east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and the solution of the refugee problem without recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people – i.e., without really ending the conflict), it is difficult to see how such an agreement can be reached.

The survey shows that the Jewish public in Israel is much more suspicious of Palestinian intentions and much more aware of the security dangers stemming from Palestinian intentions and the regional reality. Abbas understands this trend well enough and in order to curb its escalation, exactly a year ago he ordered the end of the wave of car-ramming and stabbing attacks for fear that the center and left spectrum of the Jewish public would withdraw their support for the Palestinian version of the two-state solution – i.e., two states, but not for two peoples if one of them is the Jewish people.

Against this backdrop, the new American administration is trying to examine ways to resolve the conflict or at least to deal with it. There are three options: promoting a comprehensive settlement through direct negotiations or through regional negotiations, acceptance of unilateral moves that will change the status quo without an agreement (whether in the form of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal as proposed by various elements in Israel; or in a format that the Palestinians are trying to promote, i.e., unilateral European recognition and international pressure on Israel to stop building and accept Palestinian positions without negotiations; or annexation that the Israeli right proposes), or to preserve the status quo, while encouraging specific changes, especially in the economic sphere, considering that any deviation from it is liable to create an even more dangerous reality or reward Palestinian intransigency.

The results of the survey should clarify for those who wish to promote an agreement that if they want to succeed, unlike their predecessors, to promote a comprehensive settlement, the first step needs to be to improve the Israeli public’s confidence in the chances for success of any agreement and thereby increase its willingness to make concessions. The only way to achieve this is to attempt to get the Palestinians to change their narrative, avoid unilateral action in international frameworks, and stop the payments of salaries to terrorists and their portrayal as heroes and role models in the framework of Palestinian incitement. Any international attempt to ignore the ugly reality of the Palestinian position will harm the chances of achieving this goal and will encourage the Palestinians to continue their violent approach.

In the meantime, it appears that the administration’s pressure is focused only on the settlement issue, but it has avoided explicitly endorsing the two-state solution, and its refusal to state that “it is impossible to maintain the status quo” may indicate a better understanding of the complex reality. The new administration has also refrained from making use of the worn-out and false warning, which was adopted by Obama, that the status quo would require Israel to decide between its Jewish identity and its democratic nature, as if there was a possibility of one-state solution in which Israel would simply annex Gaza and the Palestinian Authority territory in the West Bank. There is no such possibility!

The survey provides the American administration with a picture that accurately reflects the views of the Jewish public in Israel, which is the key factor in shaping policy for the future. I hope that Washington will draw the right conclusions from this survey.