The Shifting Sands of Israeli and Palestinian Public Opinion
Gershon Baskin and Hanna Siniora *
Common Ground News Service, November 11, 2005.
Jerusalem - It is said that the “two states for two peoples” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a time limitation to its viability. Most analysts and publicists who claim this argue that the time limitation is linked to the increased settlement activities of Israel which is continuously integrating parts of the West Bank into Israel proper. The transference of Jewish Israelis from Israel to the West Bank has led to massive building of road infrastructures. These create separate and unequal transportation networks that enable Israeli settlers to live in the heartlands of the West Bank and to feel as if they are living within the State of Israel proper. The argument follows, as a result of the integration of the West Bank into Israel there is an emerging demographic crisis where within a short period of 10-20 years there will be a Palestinian majority in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. This argument has done wonders in the changing Israeli public opinion rather rapidly over the past decade in support of the two-state solution. Most Israelis do not want to live in the same state as Palestinians and are therefore willing to make territorial concessions on the homeland, previously thought to be impossible, in order to ensure a significant Jewish majority within the State of Israel.
Over the past two decades, Palestinian public opinion has also shifted significantly. The difficulties of physically separating Israel from the West Bank are having a significant impact on Palestinian public opinion. In the past, Palestinians called for the option of the “secular democratic state” in all of Palestine – what we will call here the “one-state option.” But the aggressive Israeli settlement agenda in the West Bank has had an impact on Palestinian public opinion that has led Palestinians to accept the two-state option as a way of getting Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza. The drive to change public opinion was led by Palestinian intellectuals, who, after the mid 1970s, came to the conclusion that the Palestinian national movement should recognize Israel and accept the two-state solution.
The failure of the Oslo process, the continued aggressive Israeli settlement policy, believed by many Palestinians to be on the rise, and the post Gaza disengagement situation, are now the driving forces behind the new intellectual discourse amongst many Palestinian intellectuals. That discourse is now heading back to the one-state option. The discourse is taking place behind the scenes and the wider public is not yet engaged. The wider public is still supporting the two-state option, but the intellectual discourse supporting the one-state option is gaining steam, and if there is no political movement towards the implementation of the two-state solution, there will be a spill over from the intellectuals to the Palestinian street.
The time frame limitation of the two-states-for–two-peoples-option is largely linked not only to the physical viability of the Palestinian state in the face of the Israeli settlements, but also directly to the possible future shift of Palestinian public opinion influenced by the intellectuals who today are campaigning for the one-state option. If the conflict once again becomes “hot” and the violence and repression increases, Palestinian public opinion will be influenced rapidly by the intellectual one-state discourse. The argument of this discourse is very compelling to many Palestinians because it removes completely the need for Palestinians to grant moral recognition to the rights of the Jewish people to have a state of their own. It also moves the political agenda and the struggle to tried and successful platitudes of “one man, one vote” democracy-type arguments that the entire world understands and remembers from the struggle against Apartheid. This will be the argument put forward by the intellectuals who reject the two-state solution. The intellectuals will not share with the public that part of the discourse that recognizes the likelihood of even increased suffering and violence that will follow this strategy.
Once the shift of opinion in favour of the one-state option of the main stream Palestinian leadership occurs, the two-state solution will lose its validity amongst the Palestinian public. Once this occurs, Israeli public opinion will awaken to a new dawn where they alone are interested in the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel. This process may take a decade, it may take more, and it may take less. The trend has begun and the longer it takes to reach real permanent status negotiations and agreements, the more viable will become the one-state option in Palestinian public opinion.
* Gershon Baskin and Hanna Siniora are co-directors of the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information (IPCRI). This article is part of a series of views on “The Dynamics of Public Opinion,” published in partnership with the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and United Press International (UPI).