Gaza Strip Hamas Israel Middle East peace process Palestinians two-state solution

The myth that “Israel has no partner” for peace

The claim that “Israel has no partner for peace” is often trotted out by Israeli and American Jews. Sometimes it is backed up by the argument that the Palestinians are in political disarray, and that relatively moderate Palestinians don’t have the power to stop violent extremists from wrecking any agreement.

That argument deserves to be taken very seriously, although it ignores the promise shown by Palestinian security forces who –with Israeli and American help– have squelched violence and terror in the West Bank. And it ignores the fact that, as noted by Reuters, Hamas has been clamping down on Islamic Jihad’s rocket fire and that its leaders insist they are willing to accept a long term “truce” with Israel. Still, the premise that Palestinian leaders cannot enforce a peace agreement even if they wanted to is very reasonable and troubling, and should not be blithely dismissed. And no peace agreement should even be on the table unless there are security guarantees [for both peoples] that go well beyond what was attempted during the Oslo peace process (NATO troops? American monitors with the clout needed to call each side to task if they violate agreements?). It’s important to note that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip also will need security guarantees and some kind of protection from the Israelis.

What does not deserve to be taken seriously is the oft-heard notion that the Palestinian people don’t want peace. Pollster Dahlia Scheindlin has another great article in the current issue of Jerusalem Report that, sadly, is not available on-line. She went to Ramallah, talked to Palestinian pollsters, and analyzed opinion research on a host of issues. It’s worth buying the magazine just to read her. Here are some of her insights:

This myth [that Israel has no partner] has run its ignominious course. Palestinian public opinion repeatedly shows support, sometimes more, sometimes somewhat less – but very similar levels to Israel, for a peace agreement.

An easy and consistent majority of Palestinians support the general notion of reaching a peace agreement – 66% in June (Near East Consulting July Time Series). A broad 68% majority of Palestinians think Hamas should stop calling for the elimination of Israel…

…Trends among women remain worrying: they are simply less supportive of peace. Only 58% said Hamas should change its position – compared to 78% of men. (NEC)

But there is no evidence that the overall support is lip service – it’s backed by substance. Absolute majorities in both Gaza and the West Bank support freezing all rocket fire (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research): 51% and 57%, respectively. Nearly seven in ten (68%) of Gaza respondents said it is very or somewhat important to release Gilad Shalit (GQRR).

Palestinians support the substance of agreements as well. Sixty-six percent prefer the “Arab Initiative” to the status quo (International Peace Institute). Likewise, top Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki’s August survey for the Joint Israel Palestine Poll for the Truman Institute (or JIPP), 1270 Palestinians, face-to-face, +/-3) showed 64% support for the Saudi plan – up from 57% in June.

IPI showed an absolute majority supporting each component of the Geneva/Taba accords. Only the compromise on Jerusalem received less than majority support (46%; 52% opposed). But in most Israeli polls, only about one-third agree to sharing the capital. Here’s a polling pitfall alert: the August JIPP Israel survey showing that only 32% of Israelis support a Jerusalem compromise also shows, in Shikaki’s Palestinian version, that only 31% of Palestinians support it (JIPP Israel: 602 sample, conducted by Yakov Shamir, August 2009)…

…The “no partner” myth is so strong here [in Israel] that it sunk in there. The clearest mirror image related to peace is the finding that fully three-quarters of Palestinians think they have no partner for peace in Israel (77%). Fully three-quarters (75%) believe that the Palestinians are a partner for peace. (NEC, July 2009)

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