Israelis, Palestinians happy to continue status quo
By JOEL BRINKLEY, Providence Journal, May 24, 2010
A new poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza provides a startling conclusion: Fully one-third of the population no longer wants a separate state of their own. No, these Palestinians now say they want to live in one state alongside the Israelis, in what they call a bi-national country.
The number of Palestinians calling for this has increased by 60 percent since the last poll was taken 10 months ago. Israel is not likely to accept a solution like this, afraid of what might happen if Palestinians eventually outnumbered Jews. But that’s not the point here.
When I left Israel almost 20 years ago after my first assignment there, lots of people asked me: When will Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement?
My answer then: Not in my lifetime.
Now the United States is conducting what it calls “proximity talks.” Special envoy George Mitchell is shuttling from Jerusalem to Ramallah and back, carrying messages between Israeli and Palestinian leaders — the latest iteration of American-sponsored peace talks. Ask that same question about a peace agreement today, and my answer remains the same: Not in my lifetime, but for a different reason this time. Now, it’s apparent, no one really wants a peace agreement, except maybe a few officials in Washington.
If you look at the problem strategically, the “peace process” (by now, truly an oxymoronic phrase) involves four key players: Israel, the Palestinians, the Arab world and the United States. Europe and the United Nations are not significant actors. With some justification, Israel views both of them as hopelessly biased in favor of the Palestinian cause.
Why wouldn’t Israel want a peace agreement? For one thing, the state is calm and at peace right now. Israel’s “security fence,” the wall around most of the West Bank, makes it difficult for militants to cross into Israel and attack a bus, a market or a nightclub. For that reason and others, the attacks have virtually ceased. All is quiet; the state is prosperous. People ride buses again and sip cappuccinos at outdoor cafés.
Why risk a peace agreement? After all, when Israel pulled out of Gaza five years ago, look what happened: Hamas seized control and began firing hundreds of missiles at Israel. What is to say that a new Palestinian state would not be the same? That’s how many Israelis view it.
The Arab world has been championing the Palestinian cause for more than 40 years. Even now, Arab leaders talk about little else. Look at the front page of most any Arab newspaper. A few days ago, for example, Al-Ahram in Egypt offered two stories on this subject out of five. One said Israel was continuing to build settlements even as peace talks begin. The other described Israel’s “3-year-long Draconian siege of Gaza.”
Most Middle East analysts believe Arab leaders continually promote this view primarily as a means to distract their subjects from the sorry state of their own lives. For now, these leaders say, all our resources must be devoted to fighting the Zionists, freeing our Palestinian brothers!
This mantra is pervasive, unshakable. If Israel and the Palestinians reached a peace agreement, removing that issue from the region’s political equation, how long would it be before Arabs began looking at their own problems instead? Peace would not be good news for Arab dictators.
As for the Palestinians, Israel has removed most of the checkpoints in the West Bank. New businesses are opening in Ramallah, Nablus. The Palestinian economy is growing. A telling statistic: Cement production is up 20 percent. Life is somewhat easier now.
True, many Palestinians are still quite angry. But it appears many are simply giving up. Forty years of peace talks, two intifadas, what has it gotten them? Nothing at all.
One-third of them now say they simply want to live with the Israelis. In that random-sample survey of about 1,200 Palestinians, by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, a Palestinian organization, fewer than half now say they support a two-state solution, a sharp decline since last year. Just 18.4 percent hold any faith in peace negotiations.
Washington wants peace for its own reasons, primarily because an agreement would remove the angry grudge Arab leaders, and terrorists, throw up at every turn. But then Obama, like his predecessors, would also like to wear that badge: The man who finally settled the Arab-Israeli dispute.
But if none of the other players really wants a settlement, what chance do peace talks have? The sad truth is: None at all.
Joel Brinkley is a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and now a professor of journalism at Stanford University.