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Do Israelis Want Peace?

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"Do Israelis Want Peace?"

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israeli palestinian flagsIsraeli Ambassador Michael Oren takes to the L.A. Times op-ed page today to respond to last week’s TIME cover story, which claimed that “Israelis are no longer preoccupied with” the peace process. From the TIME article:

They’re otherwise engaged; they’re making money; they’re enjoying the rays of late summer. A watching world may still define their country by the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land and whether that conflict can be negotiated away, but Israelis say they have moved on.

While this actually tracks with what I’ve heard from a large number of both conservative and liberal Israelis, the article has been condemned basically for trafficking in the slander that Israelis are more interested in living life and having a good time than in worrying about foreign policy. Which is to say, slandered as being human.

Oren acknowledges, “Yes, many Israelis are skeptical about peace, and who wouldn’t be?”

We withdrew our troops from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in order to generate peace, and instead received thousands of missiles crashing into our homes. We negotiated with the Palestinians for 17 years and twice offered them an independent state, only to have those offers rejected. Over the last decade, we saw more than 1,000 Israelis — proportionally the equivalent of about 43,000 Americans — killed by suicide bombers, and tens of thousands maimed. We watched bereaved mothers on Israeli television urging our leaders to persist in their peace efforts, while Palestinian mothers praised their martyred children and wished to sacrifice others for jihad.

I understand that it’s Oren’s job as ambassador to offer the Israeli point of view, but framing the issue as “Israeli mothers want peace/Palestinian mothers want death for their children” is pretty disgusting. Is there a deeply objectionable culture of martyrdom rooted in Palestinian society? Yes, there is. It’s amazing what decades of being treated like cattle can do to a people. Oren asks us to sympathize with the Israeli experience of living under terrorist threat, and I completely agree that we should, but so should we try to understand the Palestinian experience of having their daily lives prescribed by a brutal and byzantine system of military law designed specifically to divest them of their land and prevent them securing their national rights.

As for the idea that Israel withdraw from Gaza “in order to generate peace,” this claim has been so conclusively discredited that I’m actually stunned that Oren thinks he can get away with it. Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza explicitly in order to forestall peace. Or, as his senior adviser Dov Weisglass put it to Haaretz, “The significance of the [Gaza] disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process”:

“And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.” [...]

The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” he said. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

So, either Weisglass was lying then, and the Gaza withdrawal was actually a clever triple-bank shot attempt by Ariel Sharon, a lifelong opponent of the peace process, to move the peace process forward, or Oren isn’t being straight now.

As to the larger issue of Israel attitudes toward peace, Coteret’s Didi Remez cites an article and poll in leading Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot. Compare these two answers:

Q: Do you believe that a resumption of construction will derail the negotiations with the Palestinians?
Believe construction will derail negotiations: 68%
Do not believe construction will derail negotiations:24%
No response/don’t know: 8%

Q: Should Netanyahu extend the settlement construction freeze after September 26, or should construction be resumed?
Extend construction freeze: 39%
Resume construction: 51%
No response/don’t know: 10%

According to this poll, a majority of Israelis believe that resuming settlement construction will derail the peace talks. A majority also think that settlement construction should be resumed anyway. Would it be fair to surmise, based on this, that a majority of Israelis are against peace? Yes, it would. Would it be correct? Probably not. What I think the poll (reproduced in full below) shows, as others have, is that Israelis are deeply ambivalent about the prospects for peace, and unenthusiastic about making what they see as big sacrifices for as yet intangible benefits. This goes both ways, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. But it’s also important to note the continuing and fundamental imbalance here — Israelis have the luxury of acting as if the conflict and the occupation don’t exist. Palestinians do not.

Full text of the poll below.

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 3) by Dahaf Polling Institute –

Q: Should Netanyahu extend the settlement construction freeze after September 26, or should construction be resumed?
Extend construction freeze: 39%
Resume construction: 51%
No response/don’t know: 10%

Q: Would you support a compromise in which construction in the territories is partially suspended—in other words, for there to be construction only in the settlement blocs?
I would support such a compromise: 42%
I am opposed because the construction freeze should be comprehensive: 20%
I am opposed because the construction freeze should be ended: 32%
No response/don’t know: 6%

Q: Do you believe that Netanyahu is serious in his intentions to reach an agreement, or do you believe that he has entered negotiations because of American pressure?
Because of American pressure: 56%
His intentions are sincere: 36%
No response/don’t know: 8%

Q: Do you believe that the Palestinians are serious in their intentions to reach an agreement, or do you believe that they have entered negotiations because of American pressure?
Because of American pressure: 70%
Their intentions are sincere: 23%
No response/don’t know: 7%

Q: Do you believe that a resumption of construction will derail the negotiations with the Palestinians?
Believe construction will derail negotiations: 68%
Do not believe construction will derail negotiations:24%
No response/don’t know: 8%

Q: Do you believe that there is a chance that the negotiations Netanyahu is holding with the Palestinians will lead to a peace agreement?
I believe they will lead to a peace agreement: 25%
I do not believe they will lead to a peace agreement: 71%
No response/don’t know: 4%

Q: There is a plan stipulating that in the framework of a peace agreement in which the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Israel will concede most of the territories in Judea and Samaria but the settlement blocs will remain in Israeli hands, in exchange for which Israel will return to the Palestinians territory of comparable size from within the State of Israel. Do you support such a plan or are you opposed?
Support: 45%
Am opposed: 48%
No response/don’t know: 7%

The results of the above poll are based on the responses of 501 respondents, who constitute a sample cross-section of adult Israeli society. The margin of error is +/-4.5%

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