As Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams sit down together for the first time since 2010, there are mixed opinions in Israel.
On one hand, a strong majority of 62 percent of the public supports in principle a two-state solution, according to a poll conducted in June by the Harry S.
Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.
At the same time, Israelis are skeptical regarding the chances for peace. In the same poll, 68% of Israelis viewed the chances for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the next five years as low or nonexistent.
A similar question posed by an Israel Hayom poll found that 73% were pessimistic.
For demographic reasons, Israelis understand that the status quo, which is essentially a one-state solution, is not viable. Even within the Green Line, about 20% of the population is Arab. (If foreign workers and non-Jewish emigrants from the former Soviet Union are included, the proportion of non-Jews living in Israel is even higher). In the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem there are about 4 million Palestinians.
Even if this estimate is high and even if you do not include the Palestinians of Gaza, the Jewish majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River remains slim. Such a large Arab minority, antagonistic to the very concept of a Jewish state, could never be integrated into Israeli society, nor can it be denied full democratic rights for long.
Unfortunately, the obstacles that stand in the way of implementing a two-state solution that would provide Palestinians with national self-determination while protecting Israel’s Jewish majority and democratic system seem insurmountable. And this is not just because the technicalities of splitting Jerusalem, a city shared by Arabs and Jews, would be a “cartographer’s nightmare,” as one AP reporter put it, or because it is impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state without dismantling major settlement blocs.
The true obstacle to peace is the intransigence of Palestinian political leadership. While Israel agreed this week to the painful and highly unpopular move of releasing 104 terrorists from the pre-Oslo era, many of them responsible for the deaths of innocent men, women and children, Palestinian leaders remain strongly opposed to negotiations.
Obviously, Hamas, an anti-Semitic terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel and the restoration of the caliphate, and which continues to enjoy strong support from Palestinians since it won the parliamentary elections in January 2006, is adamantly opposed to any direct negotiations with Israel.
But even more “moderate” political parties have voiced their disapproval at the renewal of talks with Israel. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Peoples’ Party, all members of the PLO, which is headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have all spoken out against Abbas’s willingness to sit down at the negotiating table with Israel. Even within his own Fatah party, Abbas has no support. As pointed out by Khaled Abu Toameh, The Jerusalem Post’s Palestinian affairs correspondent, “among Palestinians, it was impossible to find one individual or faction or movement that welcomed [US Secretary of State John] Kerry’s announcement about the resumption of the peace talks.”
And instead of trying to convince his people that the time has finally come for peace and reconciliation with Israel, Abbas is busy making antagonistic statements.
While in Egypt this week the PA president declared that any Palestinian state would be judenrein: “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.”
Most Israelis are vividly aware of the need to reach a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians, not only, or even principally, out of a desire to normalize relations with an international community opposed to Israel’s “occupation,” but rather out of a desire to maintain Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.
The conflict can only be resolved, however, through dialogue and a willingness to compromise, a quality severely lacking on the Palestinian side.