Do Palestinian Arabs Want a Peaceful State Alongside Israel?

Morton A. Klein and Daniel Mandel,

What consistent polling of Palestinians tells us.

Discussion of the Arab/Israeli situation is often unilluminating because so much of it is based on groundless assumptions and stubborn fictions. Perhaps the most pervasive one today afflicting the international political class is the notion that Palestinian Arabs primarily desire a state of their own, living peacefully alongside Israel.

Some recent examples:

  • December 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry: “polls of Israelis and Palestinians show there is still strong support for the two-state solution.”
  • July 2016, the Middle East Quartet (US, EU, UN and Russia): “the majority of people on both sides . . . express their support for the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security.”
  • December 2014, then-Vice-President Joe Biden: “a two-state solution … the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians, they think that it is the right way to go.” 
  • May 2014, then-envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Martin Indyk: “Consistently over the last decade, polling on both sides reveals majority support for the two-state solution.” 

Go back a decade, and one can easily produce essentially identical quotations from President George W. Bush, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and so on.

However, the idea that Palestinians prioritize peace, statehood and prosperity flies in the face of reality. Consistent polling of Palestinians tells a diametrically opposite story.

palleaders_small Do Palestinian Arabs Want a Peaceful State Alongside Israel? Middle East

For example, a June 2016 joint poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) found that 58% of West Bank Palestinians oppose a Palestinian state involving mutual recognition between Israel and the envisaged Palestinian state and an end of claims.

For another, the June 2015 Palestine Center for Public Opinion poll found that, for the near term (the next five years), 49% of Palestinians support “reclaiming all of historic Palestine from the river to the sea,” while only 22% favored “a two-state solution” as the “main Palestinian national goal.”

Indeed, Daniel Polisar of Jerusalem’s Shalem College, in a recent examination of literally hundreds of Palestinian surveys, established that majorities of Palestinians reject Palestinian statehood alongside Israel by an average of more than 3 to 1.

It takes only a moment’s checking of the Palestinian scene to see that the idea of peaceful statehood and acceptance of Israel that would be its prerequisite has yet to emerge. 

In the past month, official Palestinian Authority (PA) TV joined the family of a jailed Palestinian terrorist, As’ad Zo’rob, who murdered an Israeli who had given him a ride, lauding him as a “heroic prisoner” and a source of “pride for …. all of Palestine.”

Also, Fatah Central Committee member and Commissioner of Treasury and Economy, Muhammad Shtayyeh, publicly reaffirmed that Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas’ party, which controls the PA, “does not recognize Israel. The topic of recognition of Israel has not been raised in any of Fatah’s conferences.”

The PA, after all, is a regime that names schools, streets, sports teams and youth camps in honor of suicide bombers, pay stipends to jailed terrorists and pensions to the families of dead ones. It also routinely denies that Jews have any connection with Jerusalem or the land. When, in February, UN Secretary-General António Guterres correctly stated that the Jewish biblical temples stood on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, PA officials and publicists publicly upbraided him.

How, then, does the myth of Palestinian desire for peaceful statehood and acceptance of Israel persist?

George Orwell, as so often, put his finger on the problem, as long ago as 1940, when he wrote, “Mr. Hitler has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. Hitler knows… that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice [emphasis added].”

In contrast to Orwell’s acute analysis, just think of George W. Bush contending that “an independent, viable, democratic, and peaceful Palestinian state is … the dream of the Palestinians”; or of British Green Party pro-Palestinian activist Peter Tatchell, claiming that Palestinians “in their hearts, want exactly the same things as Israelis. They want peace, security, equality, jobs, housing, healthcare”; or President Obama’s CIA head, John O. Brennan, claiming “there are certain aspirations that we all share –– to get an education, to provide for our families, to practice our faith freely, to live in peace and security” and one senses the incomprehension and heedlessness, genuine or deliberate, that afflicts analysis of this problem at all levels.

Until the facts are faced, don’t expect edifying public discussion of the subject. President Trump broke new ground when he publicly pointed to the “tremendous hate” inculcated into Palestinian youth and non-acceptance of Israel that would have to change before peace becomes possible. In this he is correct. The “ultimate deal” that brings peace will have to await a change of heart and direction in Palestinian society.

Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establishment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).