Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1429, (7 - 13 February 2019)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1429, (7 - 13 February 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Hopes for peace

A joint poll conducted between Palestinians and Israelis in 2016-17 shows consensus around certain baselines that could become the foundation for a larger political settlement, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Whether or not the “Deal of the Century” is unveiled after the Israeli elections, what counts is that Palestinians and Israelis need to reach an understanding in order to give any deal meaning. Each side consists of complex and diverse spectrums of beliefs and attitudes, from the far left to the far right, from secularist to religious, from hawks to doves, etc. In 1993, the two sides actually managed to reach a deal known as the Oslo Accords. Then, after a quarter of a century of negotiating and haggling, they arrived at their present impasse. 

Despite the revival of the “Palestinian question” that occurs from time to time, especially when word goes around of an imminent US peace initiative, the actual preparations for solving that question begin with knowing where both peoples stand with respect to the essence of any agreement, namely the “two-state solution”. At the same time, it is important to understand how Palestinians and Israelis are practically dealing with the current reality which has more in common with a single state despite traits that fall under the headings of apartheid and colonialist domination. Through the concrete proximity and interactions between them, there have arisen conditions that may offer other options.

The “Palestinian-Israeli Pulse”, a joint poll conducted in 2016 and 2017 on the role of public opinion in the perpetuation/solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is the type of serious research work that helps provide a more accurate picture of Palestinian and Israeli public opinion. The report is the result of the collaborative endeavours of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah, the Tami Steinmetz Centre for Peace Research (TSC) at Tel Aviv University, and the Israel Democracy Institute, with funding from the EU, the Netherlands, Japan and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). 

The final report, which is authored by Khalil Shikaki and Dahlia Scheindlin, compiles the results of five surveys conducted through face-to-face interviews with Israeli and Palestinian respondents from June 2016 to June 2017. Essentially, it found that if Palestinian and Israeli leaders had reached an agreement during the last two years, they would have obtained the support of both peoples. On the other hand, it found that grassroots support for a two-state solution has declined considerably, even though it remains stronger than support for alternative solutions. The question then was what kind of incentives would it take to rebuild enough grassroots support for a two-state solution that would pressure leaders into reaching an agreement. 

According to the report, from 2016 to 2017, Palestinian support for the two-state solution fell from 71 to 43 per cent and, in Israel, it fell from 68 to 49 per cent. The downward trajectory could continue because the least support came from young people. In Israel, only 27 per cent of people aged 18 to 34 supported it, compared to 51 per cent among people over 55. Among Palestinians the gap was narrower, with support at 41 per cent among youth and 55 per cent among the older generation. The declining support is mirrored in attitudes towards a kind of “detailed combined package for a permanent settlement” based on the principles and proposals put forward by Clinton (2000), the Geneva Initiative (2003) and bilateral negotiations between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (2007). 

One factor that accounts for this declining support is the shift in the balance between secularist and religious forces. Another is the profound loss of mutual trust. Both sides accuse the other of either not wanting peace to begin with or the lack of will to respect the terms of a peace agreement were one to be concluded. A third reason is the belief that even if the two sides could reach an agreement on the basis of the two-state solution, it could not be implemented due to de facto realities on the ground. In left-wing and centrist circles in Israel, hopes for a two-state solution have declined to the extent that some are considering other options that include apartheid scenarios. 

The single largest difference between the Palestinians and Israelis polled relates to perceptions of the status quo. Among the latter, around half of those interviewed felt that current conditions were satisfactory while only 18 per cent found them bad. The inverse was the case among Palestinians of whom only 15 per cent said that they were satisfied with the current conditions in contrast to 61 per cent who felt that they were bad. 

The Palestinians and Israelis polled also differed sharply on core issues connected with the two-state solution, most notably the questions of the demilitarisation of the Palestinian state, the return of Palestinian refugees, the partition of Jerusalem and final borders. 

Even so, out of all options, the two-state solution remains the preferred choice among public opinion on both sides. In Palestine and Israel combined, it has the support of 43 per cent of the population. The solution that calls for a single democratic state for both peoples is preferred by nine per cent of Palestinians and 19 per cent of Israelis, while eight per cent of Palestinians prefer a purely Palestinian state in which Jews would have no political rights and 15 per cent of Israelis would prefer a purely Jewish state in which Palestinians would have no political rights. 

Both sides need incentives to win them back to the two-state solution. The study found that the release of Palestinian detainees would bring support for a combined two-state solution package up to 73 per cent, provision for joint economic ventures would change the minds of 27 per cent of those who said no, while Israeli recognition of the Palestinians’ roots in historic Palestine, an Israeli apology for suffering the conflict has inflicted on the Palestinian refugees, the establishment of a democratic order in Palestine and Marwan Al-Barghouti’s declaration of support for the two-state settlement package would, to varying degrees, encourage greater Palestinian support for the two-state solution.

As for incentives that would induce many in Israel to change their minds, they include Palestinian recognition of the right of Jews to visit Al-Haram Al-Sharif, Palestinian commitment to continuing current security cooperation arrangements, Palestinian recognition of the Jewish character of the Israeli state, compensation for Jews from Arab countries, guarantees of the democratic nature of the Palestinian state, that the US, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would act as guarantors for the agreement, making the agreement part of a larger regional peace based on the Arab Peace Initiative, and a Palestinian agreement to change school textbooks to remove incitement against Jews. 

The potential effects of such incentives indicate that, regardless of the distance between the two sides, there are three points of convergence: that the Palestinian state must be democratic, that the US and Arab states furnish guarantees for the agreement and that complete normalisation is achieved between the Arabs and Israel so as to assimilate Israel into the Middle East region in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative. 

These points encouraged those conducting the survey to combine the incentives into a formula for a two-state solution that would include the mutual recognition of the historic roots of the two peoples in the land, recognition of the Jewish identity of Israel and recognition of the Arab and Islamic identity of Palestine, Palestinian acceptance of Jewish settlers as “residents” in Palestine in exchange for the acceptance of the return of Palestinian refugees who would have the right to live as “residents” in Israel, continued security cooperation between the two sides, rights to visit the holy sites in each other’s territory, compensation for Jews from Arab states, the removal of incitement in school textbooks, Israeli recognition of and apology for its role in the “Nakba”, an end to Palestinian boycott campaigns against Israel and an end to Israeli opposition to Palestine’s membership in international organisations. Such a package increased support for the two-state solution among Israelis and albeit to a lesser extent, among Palestinians. 

For those interested, the report contains many more details which, despite their intricacies, show that there do exist ways out of the Palestinian-Israeli predicament.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies. 

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