|New York Post|
January 10, 2013
Judging by media coverage of Israel’s election campaign, the political competition is between the right and the far right, and peace will suffer.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party has merged with the at least equally hardline Yisrael Beiteinu, is certain to win another term and govern with the backing of a solid right-of-center majority in the Knesset.
Indeed, his major competition in the Jan. 22 election comes not from the center and left of the political spectrum, but from the religious-nationalistic Jewish Home party — whose leader, Naftali Bennett, said that if he were a soldier, he’d refuse to follow orders to evict Jewish settlers from the territories. (At least part of the reason for Netanyahu’s decision to announce building in the E-1 area between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim was to reassure settler voters that he is in their corner.)
But this picture of an Israeli electorate skewed sharply to the right is refuted by two new public-opinion surveys conducted by top pollsters, Mina Tzemach (her firm’s name is Dahaf) and Rafi Smith.
Each survey asked the same question: If a two-state peace agreement were reached with the Palestinians entailing a demilitarized Palestinian state with boundaries based on the 1967 lines along with territorial swaps that reckon with Israel’s security concerns and keep the major settlement blocs under Israeli control; if Palestinian refugees could return to the new state but not to Israel; if the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem reverted to the Palestinian state, the Jewish neighborhoods stayed in Israel and the Old City were under some kind of joint administration; and if the agreement would come into effect only after the Palestinians ended all terror activities and the United States approved the deal, would you support it?
In the Dahaf poll, 67 percent of Israeli voters said yes; 21 percent said no. In Rafi Smith’s poll, it was 68-25.
If such a lopsidedly dovish result is surprising, the numbers for Likud-Beiteinu and Jewish Home voters are astounding. Dahaf has this most right-wing sector of the electorate as 57 percent to 25 percent in favor of such a peace deal; Smith, at 58-34.
How to explain the seeming contradiction between attitudes about a peace settlement and voting preferences? The answer is simple.
The great majority of Israelis have long understood that only a negotiated two-state solution along the lines suggested in the pollsters’ scenario — one actually offered to the Palestinians at Camp David via President Bill Clinton’s mediation in 2000 — can bring sustainable peace. But they also know that ever since Yasser Arafat rejected that deal, the Palestinian leadership has shown minimal interest in negotiations.
Hence, a majority of Israelis still express support for territorial compromise, but most will vote for the right-wing parties that aren’t inclined to show weakness toward intransigent Palestinians.
As the pollsters found, Israelis dearly want peace. But they know they can’t trust the Palestinian Authority, which controls much of the West Bank. For more than four years, the PA avoided the negotiating table; then it went to the UN General Assembly to obtain nonmember observer-state status.
Israelis also know that in making his case before that body, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called Israel a racist, apartheid state that practices ethnic cleansing — hardly the words of someone eager for a peaceful two-state solution.
Worst of all, Israelis know that even an agreement with the Palestinian Authority won’t placate the Hamas regime in Gaza, which officially promotes anti-Semitism, preaches the destruction of Israel and views indiscriminate missile attacks on Israeli civilians as all in a day’s work.
While it looks like cognitive dissonance, the wide gap between Israelis’ voting preferences and their willingness to strike a generous deal with the Palestinians accurately reflects their disappointment that, for now, the other side doesn’t share their interest in peace.
Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.