Israelis want peace, but only if it’s free

Posted: May 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Polls, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Even with this extreme rightwing government at power, the conventional wisdom is that “Israelis want peace”. Most of the polling shows more than 50 percent of the public supporting the two state solution, and even parting Jerusalem is no longer taboo with Jews. The mystery is how with such a dovish public, Israel is still building settlements and using every trick in the book to postpone what seems like an inevitable evacuation.

Gadi Baltiansky, Director General of the Geneva Initiative in Israel, offers an explanation in an article on Foreign Policy:

Consider the following: about two-thirds of Israelis support the evacuation of most settlements as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Yet at the same time, only 30 percent believe that this is the opinion held by the majority (…)

Thus, a majority that supports the evacuation of most settlements as part of a peace agreement sees itself as a minority, while, perversely, a small but vocal minority that is against the evacuation acts as if it represents the general will. The majority’s mistake derives not only from its silence and preoccupation with other things, but from the reluctance of its leaders to offer a convincing sense of urgency to the issue at hand. The minority’s strength is in turn derived from the voluminous way it expresses itself, its focus on one issue only, and of course, from the trepidation displayed by the leaders of the majority.

One might add that Israeli leaders – as well as most journalists – are simply lying to the public, leading it to believe that we can reach an agreement while keeping settlements which are deep into the Palestinian territory, such as Ariel and Maale Edomim; that we can have a peace settlement without parting the holy basin in Jerusalem; or that we can make Hamas disappear (and when all of these fail to materialize, they blame Arab rejectionism). Akiva Eldar just had an interesting piece in Haaretz on the damage of baseless believes on both sides.

But the failure of leadership is only half the story. The real problem is the fact that Israelis are unwilling to pay the price that the implication of the two state solutions involves. As I’ve written before, the status quo is simply too comfortable for us, and there is no real incentive to go through the difficult internal confrontation – not to mention obvious security threats – that a withdrawal from the West bank might bring.

This is why I only partly agree with Baltiansky’s conclusion – that a foreign leader who wants to make progress should communicate itself to Israelis. Communication is important, but it will be all but useless without applying real pressure on Israeli leaders, such pressure that will make it clear that the current situation cannot go on.