Public opinion research in Israel shows that a majority of Israelis support
peace with the Palestinians based on “two states for two peoples.” This has been
consistent since the signing of the Oslo agreement 20 years ago this week. The
research also shows that a majority of Israelis (and Palestinians) don’t believe
that it is possible to reach such an agreement.
Both sides put the
responsibility for that sad conclusion on the other side.
Israelis believe that the Palestinians are real partners and are prepared to
sign a treaty which would end the conflict and all of their claims, that would
not include the right of return for millions of Palestinians, few Israelis also
believe that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is truly sincere in his attempt
to negotiate peace with the Palestinians.
Sure, Netanyahu wants peace,
but if he is not even willing to go as far as Olmert went, how could anyone
believe that the Palestinians would accept anything less than what they already
rejected? I am of the opinion that it is possible to reach an end of conflict
and claims treaty with the Palestinian leadership that goes a little bit further
than Olmert went (both Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
concur on this) without the right of return for significant numbers of
Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper. I believe that such an
agreement, which would set Israel’s permanent borders on 78 percent of the land
between the River and the Sea and create two capitals in Jerusalem, will get
majority support among both Israeli and Palestinian citizens.
It is even
possible to agree on the formula under which both sides will ultimately
recognize each other as the national homeland of their peoples. Such an
agreement will also receive about 70 votes in the Knesset. The current coalition
government will definitely fall apart but a majority of the members of Knesset
will stand behind it.
This is one of the biggest questions I am asked by
Palestinians and by most diplomats I meet (Americans included): Is Prime
Minister Netanyahu really sincere about making peace with the Palestinians? If
he is, he must know the parameters of a peace agreement – is he ready to go that
far? I obviously don’t have the answer to that question.
He must know that he will not ever be able to convince
the Palestinians to accept an agreement which does not include Jerusalem. They
will not accept an agreement under which their state is less than 22% of the
land between the River and the Sea. They will not accept a state which is
controlled by Israel and whose entry and exit points are under Israeli
authority. The Palestinians will never agree to end the conflict for a more
benevolent occupation. The Palestinians will also not sell their national rights
and aspirations for money or promises of a better economy (under Israel’s
Did Netanyahu enter into negotiations only with the hope that
they would not produce an agreement and he could then blame the Palestinians for
the failure? There are those who believe that the Palestinians entered the
negotiations knowing Netanyahu is not capable of reaching an agreement only so
that they would not be blamed for the failure.
Both sides are quite aware
that another failure could easily open the door to another horrific round of
violence. It is quite clear that neither side wishes that to be the
Both sides are aware that this may be the last opportunity for a
long time, and perhaps forever, to actualize the vision of two states for two
peoples. There is no onestate option which is possible unless both sides give up
their dreams and aspirations for a territorial expression of their identity.
Neither side is willing to give up the demand to have a state of their own.
Neither people wishes to live in a homogenized state and no one should have the
illusion that a bi-national Jewish-Palestinian state is possible.
in these negotiations means more years of conflict, more pain, more suffering,
more destruction and loss of hope for something better. No one has a better
option than two states for two peoples on the land between the River and the
The horrible irony of our situation is that while a majority of
Israelis and Palestinians would support such an agreement, given their lack of
belief in its possibility, they are not willing to go to the streets to demand
from their leaders that they don’t leave the table without an agreement. It is
possible that without the demand of the public to reach an agreement, the
leaders will not feel the same level of determination to reach one as if there
were thousands out in the streets every day demanding peace.
I would like
to believe that Netanyahu did go into the negotiations after making the decision
that he is fundamentally willing to pay the price.
People who know the
prime minister personally have told me that he seems to have moved in that
direction. His decision to release 104 Palestinian prisoners from before Oslo
almost all of whom killed Israelis seems to indicate that he is in fact truly
behind the Kerry initiative to reach an agreement within nine months.
is impossible to imagine that the man who is so committed to never releasing
terrorists from prison did so only as a gesture or only under US pressure. This
was not for the exchange of an Israeli soldier alive in Gaza. It was a step to
begin negotiations, not for a peace agreement. But nonetheless, Netanyahu seems
to understand the vast significance and importance of the prisoner release for
the Palestinian public.
The negotiations are being held in complete
secrecy and despite what appear to be a few leaks from the Palestinian side, the
continued media blackout around the talks is yet another indication of their
There are very few people involved in the talks. Almost none
of the ministers in the Israeli and Palestinian governments have any real
knowledge of what is going on in the talks. Those who are talking don’t know,
and those who know are not talking.
This is very good. There is no way
genuine Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could take place without this level of
Each side would have to spend most of their time negotiating
within their own coalitions and even within their own parties. As long as the
negotiators continue to meet and they continue to schedule additional meetings,
this is a positive.
Now what is left to do is to convince both publics
that reaching a negotiated agreement is really possible and not to allow our
leaders the opportunity of missing another opportunity.
The author is
co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information,
a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the
secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing
Gilad: the Secret Back Channel, has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in
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