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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Israel wants a realistic peace

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, weighs in on the controversial Time Magazine article that questions Israel's desire for peace.
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.

Given our experience of disappointment and trauma, it's astonishing that Israelis still support the peace process at all. Yet we do, and by an overwhelming majority. According to the prestigious Peace Index conducted by the Tamal Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and released in July, more than 70% of Israelis back negotiations with the Palestinians, and nearly that number endorse the two-state solution. These percentages exist even though multiple Palestinian polls show much less enthusiasm for living side by side in peace with Israel, or that most Israelis believe that international criticism of the Jewish state will continue even if peace is achieved.

Indeed, Israelis have always grasped at opportunities for peace. When Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat or King Hussein of Jordan offered genuine peace to Israel, our people passionately responded and even made painful concessions. That most Israelis are still willing to take incalculable risks for peace — the proposed Palestinian state would border their biggest cities — and are still willing to share their ancestral homeland with a people that has repeatedly tried to destroy them is nothing short of miraculous.
At the Wonk Room, a part of George Soros' Think Progress blogging empire, Matt Duss is skeptical about Oren's response to Time and Israelis desire for peace.
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.
No, it doesn't go both ways, but first, let's put those numbers in context by looking at some of the other questions Matt was kind enough to provide at the end of his post:
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 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 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%
What the responses to these questions indicate is that Israelis are willing to compromise - an attribute the 'Palestinians' are sorely lacking (name me one concession the 'Palestinians' have made since 1993 - we are consistently negotiating with ourselves). But they are only willing to compromise when they see a genuine willingness to compromise and desire for peace on the other side. That has been lacking from Day One of the so-called Oslo Accords.

In the mid-'90's, Israelis were falling all over themselves to make concessions to the 'Palestinians' in the hope that we would live in peace with them. We were willing to overlook any and every sin that was committed against us in the hope of putting aside what was then about 100 years of hostilities. We were burned. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We've been fooled at least twice (2000, 2005) and probably a few more times as well (1993-96, 2008). Israelis don't intend to be fooled again.

P.S. For those who have never been to this blog before, and wonder why I put the term 'Palestinian' in scare quotes, I suggest you read this post and learn about the true history of the Arab inhabitants of this country.


At 8:04 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

For over a century, the Arab side has repeatedly rejected a compromise peace with the Jews.

I don't see that attitude changing in my lifetime - or yours.


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