According to a new report by the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation assessing alternative solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that average Israelis and Palestinians would support, “mistrust, broadly defined, is likely the greatest impediment to peace.”
What’s thus needed now – perhaps under the auspices of the new Biden administration and ahead of scheduled Israeli and Palestinian elections – is a new path to build trust between the two sides.
The RAND report is based on a series of innovative, structured discussions in 33 focus groups as well as interviews of 273 individuals – West Bank Palestinians, Gazan Palestinians, Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs – in 2018 and 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report focuses on five plausible alternatives: a two-state solution, a one-state solution, a confederation approach, Israeli annexation of the West Bank’s Area C, and the perpetuation of today’s status quo.
It found that almost all parties are extremely pessimistic about the chances of peace. About 60% of Israelis said the status quo could feasibly continue, while many others believe it is manageable and preferable to the risk of any alternatives. Peace is considered a “romantic notion” that is simply not attainable at this time.
The report suggests that the Biden administration’s recent reaffirmation of US policy to support a “mutually agreed two-state solution, one in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state,” faces a difficult road ahead.
“One of our key goals was to determine if there were areas of overlap in opinions and feeling among Israelis and Palestinians that might offer avenues for negotiation, leading the parties closer to peace,” said Daniel Egel, the lead author of the report. “Sadly, the data show the opposite. The data highlight the deep distrust and profound animosity of each side for the other.”
The research found all of the groups skeptical on a two-state solution. Egel said he was surprised to find that “across the [Israeli] political spectrum, there was not really an impetus or a desire to take the risk of a two-state solution. I expected it from more conservative groups, but... we talked to groups on the political Left that said a two-state solution is great but not worth taking the risk.”
One key finding is that getting Israeli Jews to support any alternative to the status quo would require a shift in both domestic and international politics. Researchers found that among Israeli Jews, there are two major impediments to anything but the status quo: a lack of trust in Palestinian objectives, and a general belief that none of the alternatives is feasible. The lack of trust results in fear, xenophobia and a willingness to forgo basic principles of democracy when it comes to the rights of Palestinians.
Another key finding is that Palestinians will likely require international security guarantees for any peaceful resolution. Palestinians perceive all five alternatives as biased against them, primarily serving the interests of the more powerful Israelis.
“The data highlight the deep distrust and profound animosity of each side for the other,” said C. Ross Anthony, director of RAND’s Israeli-Palestinian Initiative. “In light of our findings, it is hard to imagine a departure from present trends and where they lead – unless and until strong, courageous leadership among Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community articulates a desire for a better future for all.”
It is clear that action must be taken – even small steps – to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to come up with new confidence-building measures and innovative ways to create an atmosphere of trust that could lead to a return to the negotiating table.
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have common enemies: terrorism, extremism and the pandemic. Both sides have resumed security cooperation, and the Israeli government is now providing vaccines against the virus to the PA.
Trust is not something any outside party – especially the US – can demand, but clearly needs to be advanced by the parties themselves, first and foremost its leaders.
As Shimon Peres once said: “Peace is very much like love. It is a romantic process – you have to be living it, you have to invest in it, you have to trust it. As you cannot impose love, so you cannot impose peace.”