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April 16, 2017 1:00 pm

Will the World Come Around to Israeli Public Opinion on Palestinian Statehood?

avatar by Ariel Ben Solomon / JNS.org

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at the White House on February 16, 2017. Photo: Netanyahu’s Twitter account.

JNS.org – While the international community clings to visions of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli public opinion is unified in asserting that the establishment of a Palestinian state is unrealistic and undesirable.

Only 12 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that withdrawing from the West Bank would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to a survey published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs at the end of March.

Overall, Jewish support for withdrawal from the West Bank has decreased from 60 percent in 2005 to 36 percent in 2017. The survey also found that 79 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that it is important to retain a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Such a stance is at odds with the international community’s oft-mentioned two-state plan of dividing Jerusalem and making it the capital of both Israel and a proposed Palestinian state.

An ongoing wave of Palestinian terrorism since the fall of 2015 — most recently, the murders of British exchange student Hannah Bladon in a stabbing attack and Israeli soldier Sgt. Elhai Teharlev in a car ramming — has apparently cooled the Israeli public’s appetite for a deal involving a Palestinian state.

“The Palestinian insistence on having their capital in Jerusalem is the true obstacle to peace,” Professor Efraim Inbar of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies told JNS.org.

Inbar also emphasized the significance of Jewish Israelis’ “large support for Israeli control of the Temple Mount,” the eastern Jerusalem holy site where Jewish prayer is currently banned, but where the Israeli government maintains security control.

“Jews in the Diaspora, as well as many Christians, also sympathize with Israel’s positions on Jerusalem,” Inbar said. “Therefore, Israel’s insistence on Jerusalem will put the onus of failure on the Palestinians.”

Inbar wrote in an April 5 article that, “The only approach that can succeed in Israel’s current conflicts is a patient, attritional, repetitive use of force. … Israelis should take comfort that time is on Israel’s side.”

America’s role

In February, President Donald Trump broke with the longstanding American stance of wholeheartedly supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state. During a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said that “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like,” demonstrating an openness to alternatives to Palestinian statehood.

Ido Zelkovitz, an expert on Palestinian society and a research fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa, told JNS.org that although the US wants to see progress on the peace process, it understands that there is a lack of trust between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“The first thing a leader needs for a deal is public support and without this, I don’t see Netanyahu moving towards a deal,” Zelkovitz said, referring to Israeli public opinion about Palestinian statehood.

“The classic Israeli maneuver is to go along with American-sponsored talks, [while] expecting the Palestinians to say no again,” added Zelkovitz.

At the same time, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas might be open to a deal if he receives most of what he demands from the Israeli side, Zelkovitz argued, explaining that the 82-year-old Abbas is likely nearing the end of his political career, and might want to leave the legacy of creating a Palestinian state.

Yet there are Palestinian obstacles to an agreement — such as Abbas’ lack of control over Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, and the fact that Israel is unlikely to grant all of the Palestinians’ demands.

Israel’s position

Yuval Arnon-Ohana — an Israeli expert on Palestinian affairs — said that while Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed up to this point, he does not rule out the possibility of Trump creating a breakthrough that would result in an agreement.

Yet even if no peace agreement is reached, Arnon-Ohana is optimistic about Israel’s future.

“One-hundred years ago, there were only around 60,000 Jews in Israel; now there are over 6 million,” he said. “We will continue to have babies and build the country.”

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