The Corner

National Security & Defense

Why Peace Is Not at Hand

One of the things that will certainly not happen during the waning days of the Obama administration or even in the next administration is conclusion of an Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement. A new poll, the “Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll” undertaken recently by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, shows why.

Relentless optimists have long argued that Israel and the Palestinians are an inch apart and, as former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put it in 2011, peace can be attained if they would “just get to the damn table.” Wrong.

Pollsters asked Palestinians and Israeli Jews if they support a two-state solution. The answer was a weak “yes:” Only 53 percent of Israeli Jews and 51 percent of Palestinians even support this in principle. But IDI then got down to brass tacks. A deal would require compromise, so pollsters asked each side about specifics.

Take Jerusalem, for example: Would people accept the division of Jerusalem, under which West Jerusalem would be Israel’s capital and East Jerusalem would be the capital of a new Palestinian state? Just 30 percent of Palestinians supported such an arrangement and 32 percent of Israeli Jews. Majorities were opposed. Majorities on both sides said sovereignty over the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif was critical to them: 55 percent of Israeli Jews said this was a deal-breaker, as did 57 percent of Palestinians (in other words, a compromise wherein the Jews get the Western Wall and the Palestinians get the Temple Mount is opposed by majorities on both sides.)

Or how about the refugee issue? Pollsters asked about a compromise where Palestinian refugees would go to Palestine, not Israel, except for 100,000 who could go to Israel under some sort of “family reunification” arrangement. Acceptable? Nope: acceptable to only 17 percent of Israeli Jews and to 49 percent of Palestinians — and to only 43 percent of Palestinians living in the West Bank.

A third key item that makes no one happy is giving Palestine sovereignty over its air space, land, and water resources but allowing Israel to maintain two early warning stations in the West Bank for 15 years. Israeli Jews found that too much to take, with only 38 percent supporting it, while Palestinians thought it was too little and only 33 percent backed it.

And on other issues, predictably, one side says yes and the other says no. A deal that would mark a final end to the conflict and an end to claims was supported by 64 percent of Israeli Jews, but only 40 percent of Palestinians. Making the new Palestinian state entirely demilitarized gets the backing of 61 percent of Israeli Jews but only 20 percent of Palestinians.

So “just getting to the damn table” will not solve the problem, because Israelis and Palestinians are deeply divided on all the major issues. Moreover, majorities simply don’t trust the other side. Eighty-nine percent of Palestinians think Israeli Jews are untrustworthy and the feeling is mutual: 68 percent of Israeli Jews think Palestinians are untrustworthy.

There are two items on which Israeli Jews and Palestinians agree. First, only 43 percent on each side thinks the other side wants peace. Second, 77 percent of the Israelis and 73 percent of Palestinians think chances for a peace deal leading to a Palestinian state in the next five years are low.

There are some other interesting findings. If an Israeli–Palestinian peace deal would include an offer from the EU that Israel could join it, only 12 percent of skeptical Israeli Jews would change their minds and accept the deal. Europe, with its growing Muslim communities and anti-Semitism, today isn’t much of a lure. But if a peace deal would mean peace with all the Arab states, 26 percent of Israeli Jews would change their negative view and vote yes.

And here’s a striking finding: 29 percent of Palestinians would change their minds and accept a deal if the new Palestinian state and Jordan became a confederation. It’s interesting that the pollsters included this sensitive question, and remarkable that confederation with Jordan is viewed positively by so many Palestinians. The old Palestinian Authority/PLO leadership in Ramallah doesn’t want to talk about such a possibility, for many reasons. Their gravy train would end if the Jordanian government ran things. And the idea that every Palestinian heart pines for sovereignty in a separate Palestinian state, which has been the key PLO demand for decades, is obviously undermined by finding that Palestinians may be more pragmatic than their “leaders” about what the future may hold.

What it doesn’t hold is a quick trip back to the table to sign a peace deal. Next year is the 50th anniversary of Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, when it conquered the West Bank and Gaza. People have been saying “the occupation is unsustainable” for a half century, but it isn’t going to end soon.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy national-security adviser.

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