Dennis Ross has a piece today on The New Republic‘s website in the form of a memo to President Bush recommending that “baby steps” be taken by Israelis and Palestinians in order to build on the “momentum” created by Annapolis. Because Ross remains convinced of the solubility of the conflict through diplomatic finagling, he is forced to portray America’s mission as one, more or less, of psychological counseling:
Both the Israeli and Palestinian publics have to be willing to take a second look at peacemaking. Today, their doubts overwhelm their hopes. A majority of Israelis and Palestinians say they believe in a two-state solution, and in almost equal numbers, they say they don’t believe it will ever be achieved — not, by the way, because of their own unwillingness, but because of what they perceive as the inability or ill will of their neighbor.
And so the cure for this mutual distrust is a set of incremental confidence-building measures pushed ever onward by American engagement in the peace process. His evenhandedness is slightly deceptive, though, as it glosses over important differences between Israeli and Palestinian public opinion.
For one, the Israelis who put little faith in a two-state solution are not people who will attempt to sabotage the advancement of a two-state solution through a campaign of shootings, bombings, and abductions. (Instances of Israeli terrorism are incredibly rare–off the top of my head I can think of only one recent example, that of Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 attack in Hebron.) There is certainly a healthy level of skepticism about the peace process among Israelis. But it is largely the same as any other western people’s skepticism of an endeavor they find implausible or foolish, such as European mistrust of the EU or American leeriness of socialized medicine: there are no suicide bombings in the offing if the skeptics don’t get their way.
Palestinian public opinion, in contrast, is vastly more complicated–and dispiriting. It’s true that support among Palestinians for a two-state solution is often a majority position, but super-majorities (sometimes over 75 percent) have always maintained the “right of return” for descendants of Palestinians who fled in 1948, a condition which would accomplish the demographic destruction of Israel–making a two-state solution in practice a one-state solution.
More importantly, what Ross doesn’t tell his readers is that support among Palestinians for terrorism against Israel also remains a majority position. I invite anyone who doubts this to spend a little time on the websites of the Jerusalem Media & Communication Centre, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (important caveat), the Arab World for Research and Development, the International Republican Institute, and Birzeit University — none of which, it’s worth noting, are Israeli or American polling organizations.
The picture that emerges from these opinion polls is indicative of why diplomacy has accomplished virtually nothing in the history of this conflict. To take just a few examples: in 2006, 56 percent of Palestinians said they supported “armed attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel.” The same poll found 69 percent support for the most recent suicide bombing. Another poll found that 77 percent of Palestinians supported the abduction of Gilad Shalit from Israel, and 66.8 percent said they favored continued abductions of IDF soldiers.
The truth about Palestinian public opinion is that it is syncretic: majorities simultaneously support a peace process with, and continued terrorism against, the state of Israel. Ross is right, though, that baby steps must be taken. But those steps involve the internal reformation of Palestinian culture, which continues, despite the fervent wishes of would-be American peacemakers, to nurture a deeply-ingrained admiration for terrorism.