Israeli Public Opinion and the Peace Process

The recent breakdown in negotiations is nevertheless a setback and the Israeli refusal to renew the construction freeze in the settlements does seem to demonstrate bad faith on Israel’s behalf -- but only if one disregards the previous 10-month settlement freeze which was totally ignored by the Palestinians and the international community. Instead of pressuring the Palestinian leadership to enter into direct negotiations at the beginning of the freeze, pressure was perversely applied to Israel to extend the moratorium just as it was running out.

The refusal to talk during the settlement freeze illustrates the pattern of rejectionism and maximalist demands which the Palestinian leadership constantly pursues in order to duck negotiations and compromise. Last year, Palestinian negotiators were not willing to accept Israeli construction in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, despite the fact that they will never be part of a Palestinian state. Last week we learned that the senior Palestinian leadership is not willing to compromise on the right of return for Palestinian refugees. And critically, in 2008 Abbas was not willing to accept the comprehensive and far-reaching deal offered him by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert .

Because of this continual obstructionism, the polls reveal that Israelis simply don’t believe that a deal is possible with the Palestinians because of the nature of their demands. The maximum that Israelis are ready to give up ostensibly does not reach the minimum the Palestinians are prepared to accept.

Despite all this, the international community continues to enable Palestinian rejectionism, whether it is Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay who all unilaterally recognized a Palestinian state this month, or the EU which threatened to do likewise. These developments and the ongoing failure to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table risk perpetuating the conflict for a generation. A poll conducted in October this year showed that 58 percent of the Palestinian population see a state in the West Bank and Gaza as merely a stepping-stone to a Palestinian state on the entire territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. If the Palestinians are permitted to establish a state unilaterally, it will permanently absolve them of any requirement to accept an end-of-claims agreement and thereby justify for perpetuity further demands for territory and other perceived rights.

It is not impossible to revive Israeli confidence in a peace deal but the international community will have to be a great deal more resolute than it has been up till now. Israel must be convinced that Iran will not be able to set up a guerrilla army in the West Bank, and that should Israel need to defend itself, it will not be pilloried by the world for doing so. And the Palestinian leadership must be dissuaded from the notion that they can establish a state unilaterally, without compromising and without accepting an end-of-claims agreement. If this is achieved then the Israeli public may well come back around to the more whole-hearted support for a political resolution that was witnessed before 2006. If not, the conflict will simply endure.