Much has justly been written about the Obama administration’s mishandling of Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s important to remember that the real barrier to an agreement isn’t flawed American diplomacy but rather the Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist. Nothing better illustrates this fact than a stunning new poll by The Israel Project.
Like every other poll in recent years, TIP found that a strong majority of Palestinians (60 percent) accept a two-state solution. This unvarying finding is often cited as proof that Palestinians do, in fact, accept Israel’s existence.
But unlike any other poll I’ve ever seen, TIP thought to ask the all-important follow-up question: is the goal a permanent two-state solution, or is the goal “to start with two states but then move to it all being one Palestinian state?”
Only 30 percent chose the first option, while fully 60 percent deemed two states a mere stepping-stone to Israel’s ultimate eradication. In other words, the PLO’s “Phased Plan” of 1974 is alive and kicking.
That plan called for Palestinians to gain control of any territory they could and then use it as a base for further assaults on Israel until the ultimate goal of the Jewish state’s destruction is achieved. Theoretically, the plan was superseded by the 1993 Oslo Accords, in which the PLO ostensibly recognized Israel and accepted the two-state solution. But it turns out that most Palestinians still view two states as a mere way station on the road to Israel’s ultimate destruction — just as the Phased Plan advocated.
This finding also explains another consistent polling anomaly: though all polls show that most Palestinians accept a two-state solution, they also show that most Palestinians oppose any deal that could realistically be signed.
TIP’s poll, for instance, found that only 24 percent support the Clinton parameters, which most Westerners still deem the basis for any agreement. A recent poll by the Arab World for Research and Development similarly found that while most Palestinians say a two-state solution is acceptable in principle, a whopping 85 percent oppose it if it requires “compromises on key issues (right of return, Jerusalem, borders, settlements, etc.).”
Since any realistic agreement will require compromises on these issues, that means most Palestinians oppose a two-state solution in practice. And at first glance, this seems schizophrenic: why support something in principle if you oppose it in practice?
But in light of TIP’s finding about the Palestinians’ ultimate goal, it makes perfect sense. If the two-state solution is intended solely as a stepping-stone to Israel’s eradication, then the compromises entailed by any realistic agreement are indeed unacceptable, because they undermine the deal’s ability to serve this purpose. A deal that gave Israel defensible borders, for instance, would reduce its vulnerability to attack, and one that nixed the “right of return” would make it harder to convert Israel into a second Palestinian-majority state.
Until most Palestinians give up the goal of Israel’s ultimate destruction, even the smartest diplomacy in the world won’t produce a deal. All it will do is waste a lot of time, money, and diplomatic capital that would be better spent elsewhere.