Defusing distrust

There's one thing Jews agree on: Palestinian intentions and bad faith.

US israel 88 (photo credit: )
US israel 88
(photo credit: )
The most recent Survey of American Jewish Opinion, published by the American Jewish Committee last week, told us what we already knew about American Jews. Two-thirds think America should have stayed out of Iraq. Just under a third feels relatively unconnected to Israel, while those who affiliate with Jewish institutions and synagogue life tend to feel much more connected. And 98 percent think anti-Semitism is a problem in the Muslim world. The predictability of these figures meant that the survey received little notice, and even then only for the slight advantage American Jews gave to Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani among the presidential contenders. Not every survey need make waves, and when there's apparently no news, why report it? But American Jews, Israelis and - we would argue - Palestinians should read the short survey carefully, for buried in the 38-question document is an important sign that American Jews have reached significant conclusions about the Palestinians. Asked if, "in the current situation," they favor the establishment of a Palestinian state, 46% of American Jews say they are in favor, with 43% opposed. Yet when the same poll asked whether the Arabs' goal was the "return of occupied territories" or the "destruction of Israel," 82% agreed with the latter description. In addition, the survey found that 55% of American Jews say there will never be a time when "Israel and its Arab neighbors will be able to settle their differences and live in peace." These findings are tellingly similar to a survey conducted in Israel in early December, the latest monthly "peace index" of Israeli public opinion published by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University. According to that survey, 62% of Israeli Jews view "the Palestinians' demand for an independent state as justified," and 58% are sure or think "Israel can allow itself the establishment of an independent Palestinian state." At the same time - this is the crux of the matter - 61% of Israeli Jews "hold the pessimistic assessment" that a two-state solution to the conflict "will not constitute the end of the historic conflict for the Palestinians." Thus it is unsurprising that, in the event of a two-state peace agreement, 53% of Israeli Jews want the Israeli-Palestinian border to be a closed border, with only 26% in disagreement. American Jews and Israeli Jews, so politically, religiously and linguistically different from each other, share an almost identical opinion of Palestinian intentions and bad faith. What is the source of this deep distrust among the 80% of world Jewry measured in the two surveys, which strangely coexists alongside a willingness to establish a Palestinian state? When, in mid-November, chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Israel Radio that the Palestinians wouldn't recognize Israel as a Jewish state, since "no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity," he wasn't merely uttering a brazen lie - Iran has "Islamic" in its official name and the Palestinian Authority itself sees Shari'a as the main source of legislation. He was also telling the world's Jews that for the PA leadership, not unlike for Hamas, Jewish self-determination in the Land of Israel is and will remain illegitimate. The same surveys on both sides of the Atlantic show that the Jews, unlike the Palestinians regarding the Jews, have largely accepted that there is justice in Palestinian national rights. With a reincarnated peace process upon us once more, and an American president preparing a visit to our region to advance it, it would behoove all sides, and the Palestinians first of all, to consider the ingredient that has been lacking in the long, sad string of failed peace initiatives in recent years - not Israeli willingness, but the Palestinian recognition that there is legitimacy in Jewish statehood. The current Palestinian logic is a self-made trap. When the leadership announces that it is pursuing peace with an illegitimate enemy, it is understandably viewed by its own people as traitorous, and by that enemy as untrustworthy. Only when the Palestinian leadership believes and says that it is negotiating with an enemy that has some justice on its side can the Palestinian people begin to believe that such negotiations are in its own long-term interest. And, perhaps, the world's Jews could be convinced that peace means not only a closed border between independent polities, but the beginning of real reconciliation.