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What Palestinians want
Election results of Arab-Israelis and a Palestinian survey show a shift in public opinion
After decades of experimenting with corrupt national leadership, Palestinians seem to have realized that what counts most is their standard of living, not a failing sovereign state like Lebanon, Syria or Iraq.
Three pieces of news this week suggest that Palestinian public opinion is shifting, drastically. The first came from Israel’s election.
Over the past decades, Israel has tried to stay away from Arab neighborhoods, arguing that Israeli policing of hostile Arab compatriots was dangerous to police officers, and often inflamed the situation. This policy resulted in a spike in crime in Arab neighborhoods, whose streets became war zones for rival mobsters.
In Knesset served a 15-member Arab bloc that endorsed he traditional Arab Israeli politics of anathematizing Israel, denouncing its legitimacy, and calling it Apartheid, all while serving in its Knesset. But four of these 15 decided that national Palestinian dreams can wait, and announced that they were willing to ally with whichever ruling Israeli coalition in ways that would serve the interests of their constituents.
Naturally, the anti-assimilation Arab bloc vilified the renegades and accused them of selling out to the Israeli enemy, at the expense of “the Palestinian cause.” Then came the Israeli election.
The anti-assimilationists bloc shrunk form 11 to six, while the four pro-assimilation Islamists were all re-elected. The message of Arab Israelis was clear: Palestine can wait. What is important is daily life, security on the streets, and public money for infrastructure and social programs.
Not faraway from Arab Israelis, on the other side of the Green Line that separates Israel proper from the Palestinian Territories, the Palestinian Center for Policy Survey and Research (PSR) conducted a survey and published its results.
While some might expect Palestinian public opinion to resemble the maximalist statements of Palestinian officials and activists around the world, especially in America, survey results showed a totally different image.
Historically, Palestinian politicians and activists have offered two suggestions for a peace settlement with Israel. One is the famous two-state solution, a Palestine next to Israel, and the other is the one-state solution, usually presented in two different versions. The Hamas version calls for the annihilation of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic State. The Edward Said version calls for a binational state for the Arabs and the Jews living all as citizens with equal rights. All three Palestinian solutions insist on the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, which means that the Jews will become a minority in a predominantly Arab Muslim state. There is no example from history where Jews were ever treated equal to Muslims whenever they lived under Arab or Muslim rule.
Surprisingly, however, only 30 percent of surveyed Palestinians said that the “right of return” of Palestinians was their priority. Instead, thirty percent of respondents said that their top priority was employment, while 25 percent argued that fighting corruption that infests the Palestinian Authority was their top concern. Taken together, employment and anti-corruption are the priority of 55 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Like Arab Israelis, Palestinians in the territories seem more focused on their current affairs rather than sloganeering and useless nationalism.
Also surprisingly, while all Palestinian officials and intellectuals blame Israeli occupation for all Palestinian ills, the survey found that only one in four Palestinians think that occupation is their top concern.
The third piece of news came from two Palestinian academics, Hussein Agha and Ahmad Khalidi. Both participated in peace talks with Israel in the past. This week, they published an article in Foreign Affairs, in which they argued that Palestinians should consider the concept of “soft sovereignty,” which means that a joint Jordanian-Israeli-Palestinian team monitors the borders and border crossing of the West Bank, while another joint Egyptian-Israeli-Palestinian team monitors the borders of the Gaza Strip. Inside these borders, the Palestinians can enjoy self rule.
Agha and Khalidi’s call for a Palestine “that is possible” is similar to the suggestion offered by Israeli intellectual Micah Goodman. In is book, Catch 67, Goodman argued that Israel’s Right and Left will never agree on how to let the Palestinians have a state, but that a possible compromise would be to let the Palestinians get as closest as possible to a state, without necessarily calling it “final settlement,” so that to give room for radicals on both sides to save face.
Pragmatic thinking on almost all sides — Arab-Israelis, Palestinians, Diaspora Palestinians and Israelis — seems to be converging on the idea of accepting whatever works and raises the standard of living for Palestinians, instead of having each side hang on to its maximalist demands, while the Palestinians continue to live in misery that they blame on Israel and that tarnishes Israel’s global image.
Perhaps if small victories are achieved and things improve — such as lowering crime on Israel’s Arab streets or relaxing restriction on Palestinian movement in the territories — bigger steps can be taken later.
Peace between the Palestinians and Israel will not come overnight, but incrementally and over time. The good news is that a majority of Palestinians seem to be already moving in the right direction, so let’s hope their leaders (and America’s Palestinians) listen and start pushing in a similar realistic and pragmatic direction.