Possibilities of Peace, Under Certain Conditions

Forty years ago, following weeks of unimaginable anxiety regarding the continued existence of Israel, the Israel Defense Force swept across the Sinai, the Golan Heights and the West Bank — not only taking the world by surprise, but also the Israelis themselves.

The amazing military victory also brought with it renewed hopes for the possibility of peace with its neighbors. Now, 40 years later — and after a peace treaty with Jordan and a failed peace process with the Palestinians — peace with Israel's immediate neighbors seems to be even more remote than at any other time in the past.

New public-opinion research conducted by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information has shown that fear of the Palestinians, lack of trust in their aspirations and ability to be partners for peace are the greatest obstacles to Israeli willingness to move ahead toward a peace process and making concessions.

Fear and lack of trust may be greater obstacles to achieving peace than reconciling the compromises Israel will have to make. But the research also shows that there are ways in which the Palestinians could change Israeli attitudes. Although similar research on the Palestinian side has yet to be conducted, from intimate knowledge of Palestinian public opinion it's easy to assume that similar results would be found regarding the lack of trust they feel toward Israelis.

Ultimately, Israelis express willingness for the overall outlines of a peace settlement. Although the problems of refugees and Jerusalem remain a sticking point, a majority would still support an agreement based on the proposals put forward by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in July 2000.

Despite political willingness for compromise in principle, 62 percent of Israelis believe that Palestinians want to establish their state on all the territory from the Jordan to the sea. Some 56 percent believe that Palestinians want such a state without Jews. Only 33 percent feel that Palestinians want a state beyond the green line, meaning all or part of those territories.

The same majority — 63 percent — believes that only very few Palestinians are willing to make concessions to reach a final-status peace accord with Israel. A majority — 56.2 percent — believed few or hardly any Palestinians would be partners. The results of the study point to deep anxiety among Israelis regarding their neighbors.

On a positive note, the research also shows that Israelis are open to changing their attitudes toward Palestinians, and could be convinced that they are partners for peace and willing to make compromises. Clearly, as the study shows, if Palestinians took steps to help Israelis to view them as partners, those steps would have significant impact on Israeli public opinion. Teaching peace in schools and mosques, and perhaps going out to demonstrate for peace, would make strong impressions on Israelis.

When presented with a scenario where the Palestinian Ministry of Education removes all textbooks from the curriculum that incite against Israel — and replace them with textbooks educating for acceptance of the State of Israel and the importance of living with it in peace — nearly 70 percent of Israelis said that it would increase their trust that the Palestinians want to make concessions for real.

When presented with the following: A number of influential Palestinian religious leaders, including in Hamas, declare on Palestinian television in Arabic that according to Islam, Jews have the right to live in their historic homeland and Palestinian Muslims must accept this, almost 60 percent of Israelis said that it would increase their trust in that the Palestinians want to make concessions.

A similar number said that they would trust the Palestinians more if they were to hold mass demonstrations, where they call for historic compromise with Israel, two states for two people, an end to the occupation and an end to the conflict.

During the week of June 5 marking the anniversary of the Six-Day War, Palestinians were expected to work with Israeli counterparts to organize a campaign not only against the occupation, but also for full peace with Israel on the basis of two states for two peoples. These young people — many who had spent years in Israeli prisons for fighting against Israel — had received the blessing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

This would be the first time since the beginning of Oslo that thousands of Palestinians would demonstrate for peace. A road of hope lies before us, waiting for people on both sides to step forward toward to meet each other.

Gershon Baskin is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.


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