(photo credit: AP)
To understand just how surreal all the talk of Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic momentum is, two recent polls suffice.
One is the latest Peace Index poll, published this week, which found that for the first time in years, a majority of Israeli Jews oppose a broad West Bank withdrawal, even under an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. Asked whether they would quit the entire West Bank, except the settlement blocs, for such a treaty - something most Jewish Israelis previously supported - 53 percent said no; only 42 percent said yes.
The other is the latest Pew Global Attitudes poll, published two weeks ago. It found dramatic, almost across-the-board drops in Muslim countries' support for suicide bombings. Only 34 percent of Lebanese, for instance, backed such bombings, down from 74 percent in 2002; in Jordan, the figure fell from 43 to 23 percent. Indeed, in 15 of the 16 Muslim countries surveyed, majorities deemed suicide bombings rarely or never justified. The sole exception was the Palestinian Authority - where a whopping 70 percent considered suicide bombings sometimes or often justified. Only 6 percent of Palestinians said they were never justified.
Obviously, these polls are closely connected: It is precisely because Palestinian enthusiasm for murdering Jews remains undimmed after 14 years of "peace process" that Jewish Israelis have stopped believing territorial concessions will bring peace.
This process has included five signed agreements in which Palestinians pledged to halt terror, Israeli withdrawals from all of Gaza and parts of the West Bank, the complete dismantling of 25 settlements and Israel's offer of Palestinian statehood on about 95 percent of the territories, including east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Yet not only has none of this dampened Palestinian enthusiasm for killing Jews; it has stoked it.
For Israelis, every stage of the "peace process" has produced less actual peace. In the two and a half years following the 1993 Oslo Accord, Palestinians killed more Israelis than during the entire preceding decade. In the four years following Ehud Barak's statehood offer at Camp David in 2000, Palestinians killed more Israelis than during the preceding 53 years. In 2006, the first full year following the August 2005 disengagement, the number of rockets launched from Gaza at pre-1967 Israel more than tripled compared to 2004 (the last full year pre-disengagement).
IN SHORT, the Palestinians have used every bit of territory they received as a launching pad for more attacks on Israelis. Moreover, they have sacrificed their own economic well-being to do so: In response to this escalating terror, Palestinian workers were barred from Israel, formerly their main employer; other Israeli defensive measures, such as checkpoints and border closures, have strangled internal and external Palestinian commerce. Consequently, Palestinian gross domestic product plummeted while unemployment soared. Yet as the Pew poll shows, none of this dampened Palestinian enthusiasm for suicide bombing. Economic distress is evidently a price they are willing to pay for the privilege of killing Israelis.
Thus the astonishing thing is not that Israelis have concluded the obvious: that more territorial withdrawals would merely create more launching pads for terror, no matter what the Palestinians promise, and that quitting most of the West Bank would therefore be suicidal. The astonishing thing is that it took them 14 years to do so. It is a testimony to Israelis' desperate longing for peace that they ignored the evidence for so long.
BUT THE talk of diplomatic momentum becomes, if possible, even more surreal when another issue is considered: the refugees.
Israel's one nonnegotiable condition for a final-status agreement is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants not relocate to Israel. Yet in 14 years of "peace process," successive Israeli retreats on other issues (borders, Jerusalem) have yet to produce even a hint of reciprocal Palestinian concessions on this issue.
Professional peace processors blithely declare this adamancy a mere negotiating tactic, not the "real" Palestinian position. Ordinary Palestinians, unfortunately, are still not in on this secret: Polls consistently show large majorities opposing any concession on the "right of return." But last week, for the first time, an actual test case arose: Israel agreed to allow 41 Palestinian refugees from Iraq into the PA if they turned in their UN refugee cards, thereby declaring their refugee status ended.
This was supposed to bolster the Mahmoud Abbas-Salam Fayad government: Palestinian Iraqis, whose support for Saddam Hussein made them loathed by other Iraqis, suffered greatly after Saddam's fall; thus Abbas, Fayad and Ehud Olmert all naively concluded that the Palestinian public would applaud an asylum offer for their wretched countrymen.
Instead, Abbas and Fayad were assailed for this deal - not only by Hamas, but also by senior members of Abbas's own Fatah party, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian press and smaller Palestinian factions. Why? Because, opponents explained, he forfeited these refugees' "right of return" to Israel.
Against this backdrop, the recent talk by Olmert, Abbas and Condoleezza Rice about concluding a "framework document" of "agreed final-status principles" before this fall's international peace conference cannot be defined as anything but surreal.
These principles, as all veteran peace processors agree, must include an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank, which most Jewish Israelis oppose; a Palestinian halt to anti-Israel terror, which most Palestinians oppose; and a concession of the "right of return" for 4.4 million Palestinians (UNRWA's figure), which Abbas cannot even concede for 41 wretched Iraqi refugees without a public outcry. Even in the unlikely event that Olmert and Abbas actually sign such a document, how, under these circumstances, would it be worth even as much as the paper on which it is printed?
If the world wanted actual progress rather than the mere illusion of momentum, it would have to address Palestinians' twin addictions: to murdering Israelis (which turns Israel against territorial withdrawals) and to the "right of return." Unlike "framework documents" and international conferences, that would actually contribute to solving the conflict. But it would produce no instant photo-ops; the fruits would be reaped only years later.
And given a choice between genuine progress and a photo-op, Olmert, Abbas and Rice evidently prefer the latter.