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The issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel's identity as a Jewish state is emerging once again as a controversial issue in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. Israeli and Palestinian political and opinion leaders have been debating this issue publicly, and leaders of the Israeli Arab or Israeli Palestinian community have added their say.
In the process, this issue has become a tool in the hands of those who contemplated to spoil the recent American initiative which began at Annapolis and derail any ensuing peace process.
We wish to add to the public debate our insights based on our joint Israeli-Palestinian Public Opinion Poll (JIPP). This project is an initiative of the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah, and is supported by the Ford Foundation and the Adenauer Foundation. It tracks Palestinian and Israeli public opinion on the conflict and the attempts to resolve it since mid 2000.
We repeatedly examined this hotly debated issue since mid 2003, and not often does one obtain such clear-cut and consistent results as we do here. Our findings have significant implications for the negotiations following the Annapolis conference. They clearly indicate that the best negotiating strategy is one that frames this issue in the context of two parameters: (1) it must be mutual; i.e., Palestinians too must receive an Israeli recognition of the national identity of their state as they grant Israelis recognition of the Jewish nature of their state, and (2) it must come as a crowning step; one that seeks to assure the two sides of future intentions rather than one that seeks to impose an Israeli precondition for future concessions.
IF FRAMED within these parameters, the people's voice thunders a clear "yes" to mutual recognition of identity.
We wish here to expose this silent majority, and turn private opinions of the citizens on both sides into public opinion, and a factor in public discourse.
The question we ask our Israeli and Palestinian respondents draws on the two states for two peoples formula from the Ayalon-Nusseibeh Peace Plan from July 2002.
The question we pose to both Israelis and Palestinians is the following:
There is a proposal that after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute, including the refugees and Jerusalem issues, there will be a mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people. Do you agree or disagree to this proposal?
In nine polls we conducted between 2003 and 2006, our findings show substantial and consistent majority support in both publics for a mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people when such recognition comes at the crowing stage of negotiations.
WHAT IS perhaps even more striking is the high level of support for this formula among Palestinian citizens of Israel. As a matter of fact, the Arab minority in Israel supports this formula at a higher degree than Israeli Jews as well as Palestinians, and the pattern of the findings is highly consistent. Over two thirds of Israeli Jews and Arabs and an average of 60% of the Palestinians over the nine polls support such a declaration.
We believe that the source for the wide support of Palestinians lies in the fact that such a declaration caters to Palestinians' national sentiments and quest for identity which was denied from them so far. Furthermore and most important, it establishes a symmetry between the national sentiments of the two sides. But such symmetry is only possible after the establishment of a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel and an agreed upon solution to the key issues in dispute, including the refugees issue.
Thus it is mandatory to leave the mutual recognition of identity to the end of the peace process, and not raise it as a precondition for the resumption of the peace talks. Introduction of this issue in the early stage of negotiations raises grave Palestinian concerns that Israel seeks to preempt their demand for settling the refugees' issue. But once there is an agreed solution to this issue, such concerns would greatly diminish making the attainment of mutual recognition possible.
The wide support of the Israeli Palestinians in a mutual recognition of identity, points to the great potential that the establishment of a Palestinian state holds for facilitating the identity crisis that many of the Israeli Palestinians have been experiencing over the years.
As to the ongoing debate in Israel over the implications of such a declaration for Israeli democracy, we propose that this formula leaves open the possibility for a reality of equality and mutual respect just as much as for a course of discrimination and exclusion. The turn it will take depends largely on the development and protection of democratic institutions and practices in Israel and in Palestine. Thus today the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel should worry and raise their voice against the attempts to weaken the Israeli Supreme Court and restrict its ability to protect minority and human rights.
Shamir is a senior lecturer at the Department of Communication and Journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is also associated with the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace. Shikaki is director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.
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