Encountering Peace: From the top down

It is hard for us all to imagine such a process taking place given the present leadership in Israel and Palestine.

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, in Ramallah. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, in Ramallah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An overwhelming majority of Israelis want peace with our Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians.
A majority of Israelis support peace with the Palestinians based on the two-state formula, knowing that the Palestinian state will be established on most of the land that Israel conquered (or liberated – chose your own word) in June 1967. The problem is that almost all Israelis (and Palestinians, by the way) do not believe that peace is possible, because they do not believe that there is a partner for peace on the other side. If they believed it was possible, a significant majority would be willing to make significant concessions for that peace to be achieved. That is what most serious public opinion research finds. I also find the same results when I travel all around Israel and speak to citizens from all walks of life.
I believe that up to 30% of Israelis would vote “no” in a referendum on any peace deal with the Palestinians, almost regardless of what it includes. There is almost no possibility of changing or influencing the positions of that (large) group of people. Their arguments include rational political and security issues, but mostly they focus on deep religious beliefs that no rational argument or claim can change. If you believe that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish People and only to the Jewish People, and that the results of the war that took place 50 years ago were the direct result of divine intervention, then rational arguments regarding why Israel needs to compromise with the Palestinians and share the land between the River and the Sea cannot be convincing.
Up to 70% of Israelis (this includes the Palestinian citizens of Israel) could potentially vote “yes” in a referendum in support of a genuine peace deal with the Palestinians that would even include two capitals in one open Jerusalem. But prior to that, there is almost no chance that the Israeli public will take to the streets to demand that the government enter into serious negotiations with the Palestinians. I have long believed that little can be done to create a public swell of pressure on the Israeli government to entice it move forward with the Palestinians. There is no evidence that a mass grassroots peace movement in Israel or Palestine can be created to effectively pressure the Israeli or Palestinian government to move forward on peace.
Effective pressure could come from the international community, but that is unlikely to happen in the near future, given the state of affairs in the Middle East and the position of US President Donald Trump. The lack of clear signs from the Palestinian leadership on it readiness to take serious steps toward peace also reduces the chances of effective international or local pressure on the Israeli government.
I do believe that it is possible to reach a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, if there was leadership to do so (but there is not). All of the issues which have to be resolved can find solutions in which both sides compromise. Security mechanisms can be found which will answer Israel’s needs. Regional contributions to peace, widening the circle of security and economic development beyond Egypt and Jordan, could provide significant incentives for both Israel and the Palestinians. But negotiations can only take place in secret because both sides suffer from fragile internal political constellations.
If the prime minister and Palestinian president were to reach an agreement, they would not have too much of a problem to market it to their publics. Both sides would have their entire national security establishment behind them. It is unlikely the prime minister could reach an agreement without the support of the defense minister, IDF chief of staff and key generals, the head of the Mossad, the head of the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) – basically the entire security establishment.
In that case, up to 70% of the public would support it.
If Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas presented a genuine agreement to his public, even lacking public support after 12 years serving a four-year term, the agreement would be supported by up to 70% of the Palestinians.
The same is true for whoever will come after Abbas as president of Palestine. There is little chance of a “bottom-up” peace process succeeding in Israel and Palestine. If there is to be progress in the coming period, it will be “top-down.”
It is hard for us all to imagine such a process taking place given the present leadership in Israel and Palestine.
But that can change. Netanyahu and Abbas will not be the leaders forever. It can also change because the unpredictable American president may decide to take his own statements seriously regarding “the ultimate deal” or because he will be in dire need for a serious distraction from his own problems within the United States justice system.
Change is on the horizon and both the Israeli and Palestinian people will have to accept end-games that may seem unacceptable today when they seem so far away, but which are inescapable. Eventually our leaders will enter into negotiations and eventually there will be an agreement. We should all begin to recognize the even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved.
The author is the founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives. (www.ipcri.org)