Middle East peace talks rest on a fundamental delusion: that most Palestinians truly want an independent state alongside Israel. Granted, polls have repeatedly shown a majority among Palestinians for this proposition. The majority may be razor-thin (the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center's latest poll put it at 51.1 percent), but it exists.
Yet those who seize on this as proof of Palestinians' desire for peace have neglected to ask one crucial question: When Palestinians say they favor a two-state solution, what kind of two-state solution are they envisioning? And the answer, as both these same polls and past Palestinian behavior make clear, is not a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one -- the only solution that Israel could, or the world should, accept. What they want is two Palestinian states, or at best one Palestinian and one binational state.
The JMCC poll, for instance, found that 69 percent of Palestinians want all 4.4 million refugees and their descendants relocated to Israel under any agreement, dismissing alternatives such as compensation, resettlement in Palestine or a quota for relocations to Israel. Previous polls have consistently produced similar results.
Yet, given Israel's current population of roughly 5.7 million Jews and 1.3 million Arabs, that is a clear recipe for eliminating the Jewish state demographically -- not for living in peace with it.
Such polls are not merely theoretical: Israeli-Palestinian talks collapsed over precisely these issues in 2000-01. Palestinians wholeheartedly supported this outcome.
And that's the principal reason for doubting that Palestinians' true goal is statehood: People who actually want a state do not keep saying "no" when one is offered.
At Camp David, Israel offered the Palestinians approximately 90 percent of the territories, including parts of Jerusalem. Not only did they refuse; they responded with a terrorist war. In December 2000, the offer was upped to 95 percent, including the Temple Mount; Arafat refused again. At Taba the next month, Israel sweetened the offer to 97 percent; Arafat still said no. Yet Palestinian support for him remained undiminished.
Had Palestinians truly desired to "end the occupation," they would not have rejected these offers; they would have acted as the Jews did in 1947, when the U.N. partition plan offered them a state on a mere 10 percent of the territory promised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate. The offer didn't even include Jerusalem, to which Jews have prayed for more than 2,000 years. In short, it was incomparably worse than Israel's 2000-01 offers to the Palestinians. Yet Jewish leaders accepted, believing that given their people's sufferings even a tiny state was better than nothing.
The Palestinians, in contrast, rejected a proffered state that fell a mere 3 percent short of their putative demands, just because it (a) involved acknowledging a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and (b) required the refugees to resettle in Palestine rather than Israel.
In other words, they preferred continued occupation to any deal that accepted a Jewish state.
Far from seeking statehood to assist their refugees, they have repeatedly refused it unless Israel absorbs the refugees in their stead. Such behavior is inexplicable if what Palestinians want is their own state. But it makes perfect sense if the goal is eradicating the Jewish state.
Even on territorial issues, Palestinians' lack of interest in statehood is glaring. The JMCC poll found that 82 percent oppose Israel's retention of any settlements, even "in exchange for equal Israeli land." In other words, faced with a theoretical deal for statehood on the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories, fully 82 percent of Palestinians would reject it solely because it would not expel some 100,000 Israelis from their homes.
Is that truly the response of people who want a state? Or who want to live in peace with their neighbors? The delusion that Palestinians want a state is far from harmless. Indeed, it perpetuates the conflict by diverting Israeli and international efforts into endless vain attempts to satisfy unsatisfiable demands, instead of focusing these efforts on the true problem: Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in any part of this land.
Even worse, it reinforces this unwillingness -- because as long as the world responds to every impasse not by confronting this problem, but by pressuring Israel for more concessions, Palestinians will continue to believe that by standing firm, they can eventually secure a deal that will indeed eradicate the Jewish state. And if so, why settle for less?
Evelyn Gordon is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.