Ever since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the international discourse over Israel and Palestine has been dominated by two overlapping paradigms — the Peace Process and the Two-State Solution, with the former meant to lead to the latter and the goal universally agreed-upon even as the sides differ over the details. But even as the world's gaze is affixed on the violence in the Holy Land, little attention has paid to growing evidence that these ideas are dead in the hearts of the region's people.
The news comes from Dahlia Scheindlin, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, a columnist for the left-wing Israeli publication 972, and a long-time professional pollster and public opinion analyst.
She writes about a recent Haaretz poll (it's in Hebrew, so I'm relying on her English-language account) that asked voters the following:
Consider that in the framework of an agreement, most settlers are annexed to Israel, Jerusalem will be divided, refugees won't return to Israel and there will be a strict security arrangement, would you support this agreement?
35 percent of Israelis said yes.
Since hawkish pro-Israel views are better represented in the United States than pro-Palestinian views, a comparable finding in Palestinian public opinion has been somewhat more publicized. In this case, a survey taken before the latest outbreak of fighting by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that 60 percent of Palestinians say the goal of their national movement should be "to work toward reclaiming all of historic Palestine from the river to the sea" compared to just 27 percent who endorse the idea that they should work "to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and achieve a two state solution." WINEP tells Scheindlin that "this is a new finding compared to similar (but not identical) questions asked in the past, when support for a two-state solution typically ranged between 40-55 percent."
Strikingly, this conclusion that 27 percent of Palestinians and 35 percent of Israelis favor a two-state solution is likely an overstatement of the actual level of popular support.
The poll of Israelis included a vague reference to "a strict security arrangement" that would entail sharply compromising Palestinian sovereignty and stipulated that no Arab refugees would return to post-partition Israel. By contrast, the poll of Palestinians said nothing about Israeli security arrangements or refugees. If Palestinians were asked about the Israeli version of the two-state solution, support would likely drop below 27 percent while if Israelis were asked to endorse a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state support would likely drop below 35 percent.
All of which is to say that the international community's comforting image of a tragic conflict being driven by misguided extremists on both sides is somewhat obsolete. Mainstream opinion on both sides now shows a decided lack of enthusiasm for foreigners' favored solution. Which by no means makes a Two-State Solution impossible — public opinion is somewhat malleable, a real peace treaty in the hand might seem more appealing than a hypothetical one, and even in democracies unpopular measures are enacted all the time. But it's wrong to simply assume that if the current wave of violence dies down, the larger conflict will naturally proceed to resolution.