Cutting through the bullshit.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

A respectable majority

After what I suppose must be ‘a decent interval’, Israeli President Shimon Peres has finally invited Binyamin Netanyahu to try and form a government. Although Bibi’s Likud, with 28 seats, has received the explicit endorsement of Yisrael Beiteinu (15 seats) and the rest of the extreme ultra right – Shas (11), United Torah Judaism (5), Habayit Hayehudi (‘The Jewish Home’; 3), and National Union (4), sufficient to form a government with a small majority in the 120 member Knesset, he has reached out in the spirit of reconciliation to ‘the centrist Kadima Party, led by Tzipi Livni, and the center-left Labor Party, led by Ehud Barak, to join him in a unity government’, as Isabel Kershner wrote in yesterday’s NY Times, ‘He said national unity was necessary in order for Israel to contend with the formidable challenges ahead’. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is to meet with Netanyahu tomorrow, but many in the media doubt she will buy into his ‘national unity’ proposal.

The principal division between the ‘right’ and the ‘left’ is supposed to be over the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. As Jamie points out on his Heathlander blog, Likud, Kadima, and Yisra’el Beiteinu are of one mind on the issue of loyalty oaths: [Vice Premier Haim] Ramon told Ynet that 90% of Yisrael Beiteinu’s positions correlate with Kadima’s policy. “Even on the subject of loyalty and everything concerning national service – we agree,” he said.’ In a memo to Yisra’el Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, Likud wrote, ‘We believe that all Israeli citizens, let alone the country’s selectmen, must profess their loyalty to the State of Israel’.

The point is that a Likud led coalition of ‘the right’ ‘would also set Israel on a possible collision course with the new administration in the United States, which has pledged an active and aggressive pursuit of peace’. I’m not convinced that President Obama really wants to see peace, much less justice, in Palestine. But I’m sure he’s committed to ‘the peace process’ and might even insist on the establishment of some kind of rump Palestinian state over the life of his regime. Interestingly, a coalition formed on the understanding that this will not happen could prove to be the acid test of the Walt and Mearsheimer dog wagging hypothesis. Or it might not. After all, it would be imprudent in the extreme to take a slimy character like Bibi’s word at face value. Indeed, my understanding is that Lieberman himself supports, at least as an interim measure, establishment of a Palestinian state, which would annex parts of ‘Israel proper’ with concentrations of Palestinian population in the envisaged land swap. That could mean that Netanyahu would have to relinquish his position whether he forms a coalition with Yisra’el Beiteinu or with Kadima – and even with the support of the four ultra parties, a Likud led government would have to include one or the other, except in the improbable scenario of a highly unstable Likud-Labour coalition with an even slimmer majority, which would also require some compromise on this issue in any case. On the other hand, I suspect Lieberman could content himself with annexing all of ‘Eretz Yisra’el’, provided only those swearing fealty to the ‘Jewish and democratic state’ would be entitled to the franchise.

Advocates of partition often make the point that, as Hussein Agha and Robert Malley wrote (on 17 December, before the Gaza slaughter) in the 15 January issue of the New York Review of Books, ‘Throughout the years, polls consistently showed respectable Israeli and Palestinian majorities in favor of a negotiated two-state settlement’.

In all probability, what they have in mind is responses to questions like

Q16. If the Palestinians committed to stop using violence against Israel and in fact stopped all violence for an extended period, would you favor or oppose Israel allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state outside the 1967 borders, except for some agreed-upon land swaps?

The November 2002 poll that asked that question found that 51% of the 508 Israeli Jews polled favoured allowing such a state. Not what ordinarily passes for a ‘respectable’ majority, even if such a view were respectable at all.

Needless to say, the question starts from the assumptions that the obstacle to Israel allowing a Palestinian state is Palestinian resistance and that it is up to Israel whether to allow it or not. The pollsters are asking respondents to accept these assumptions before they even consider their answer. It would not be terribly surprising if they were willing to do so. The question is more explicit than some in specifying ‘outside the 1967 borders’, even if that form of words is inherently ambiguous. It could mean all of the West Bank and Gaza, or it could just mean Nablus. But doubtless the intent was for the border to follow the Green Line more or less, squiggling to incorporate the big settlements, and I daresay that’s how respondents interpreted it.

Land swaps are part of every proposal for partition of Palestine, in recognition of the ‘facts on the ground’ that Israel has created over the last four decades with the intent of establishing a ‘matrix of control’ over the Palestinians living in the West Bank and ultimately annexing the whole area. As I’ve argued somewhere before, to countenance land swaps is to provide retrospective legitimation for the whole settlement project, sending the unambiguous message that under ‘international law’ if you hold out long enough, you can get away with anything. The point is that to answer the question in the affirmative, you need to accept that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are entitled to an absolute maximum of 22% of Mandate Palestine, regardless of their needs. Furthermore, as it is silent on the status of Jerusalem and the refugees, those favouring a Palestinian state may want to keep all of greater Jerusalem, or relinquish it, or share it. They may want the refugees to ‘return’ to the new Palestinian state, or receive compensation from The International Community, or really get to exercise their right to return ‘to their homes’. In all likelihood, most of the Israeli Jewish ‘left’ who said they favoured partition would not accept the right of return as expressed in UN General Assembly resolution 194, and few would relinquish any part of Jerusalem.

So while it may be fair to say that 51% of respondents favour a ‘negotiated two-state settlement’, few if any support one that would be acceptable even to abu Mazen. I hasten to add that when they write of a ‘negotiated two-state settlement’, there is an assumption that someone is empowered to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians, presumably the PA, specifically, the unelected ‘moderate’ PA installed by Abbas and not the elected Hamas terrorists. In other words, the refugees would be represented by a ‘government’ that they had no role in choosing and has squat credibility even among those who did. As for the Israeli Arabs, who also have a stake in any outcome, the Israeli government would obviously represent their needs scrupulously.

In any case, if there was ever a ‘respectable majority’ of Israeli Jews who really supported a Palestinian state west of the Jordan, it seems to have vanished. A poll conducted by Maagar Mochot / Channel 2 on 2-3 February asked 1,894 Israeli adults

In light of the experience with disengagement, the Second Lebanon War and the war against Hamas in Gaza, do you support or oppose the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria?

Note that the question envisages a state that excludes Gaza. Nevertheless, only 32% said they supported such a state, with 51% opposed.

As for the Palestinians, only 42.5% of the 1,360 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip polled 18-20 September 2008 by An-Najah National University said they supported partition when asked

Do you support or reject the creation of two states on the historic land of Palestine (a Palestinian state and Israel)?

The proportion saying they rejected partition was 54.3%. Curiously, support for partition appears to be on the increase, with 39.5% supporting it and 57.6 rejecting it last May, presumably, but not explicitly, in answer to the same question.

A more recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between 3 and 5 December 2008 asked 1270 adults three related questions.

When asked,

29) There is a proposal that after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlemnet of all issues in dispute, including the refugees and Jerusalem issues, there will be a mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinians people. Do you agree or disagree to this proposal?

52.5% agreed (7.4% ‘definitely’) and 45.8% disagreed (12.6% ‘definitely’). But in answer to a questions specifically about the Saudi plan,

38) According to the Saudi plan, Israel will retreat from all territories occupied in 1967 including Gaza the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and a Palestinian state will be established. The refugees problem will be resoved through negotiation in a just and agreed upon manner and in accordance with UN resolution 194 which allows return of refugees to Israel and compensation. In return, all Arab states will recognize Israel and its right to secure borders, will sign peace treaties with her and establish normal diplomatic relations. Do you agree or disagree to this plan?

65.9% agreed (9.2% ‘certainly’) and 30.4% disagreed (7.8% ‘certainly’).

Another question outlined six elements of ‘a permanent compromise settlement’, apparently modelled on the Geneva Accord, and then asked whether respondents agreed or disagreed with each element individually, and with all six as a package.

41) When Palestinians and Israelis return to final status negotiations the following items might be presented to negotiators as the elements of a permanent compromise settlement. Tell us what you think of each item then tell us what you think of all combined as one permanent status settlement

1. An Israeli withdrawal from all of the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of its settlements. But in the West Bank, Israel withdraws and evacuates settlements from most of it, with the exception of few settlement areas in less than 3% of the West Bank that would be exchanged with an equal amount of territory from Israel in accordance with the attached map {show map}.

2. An independent Palestinian state would be established in the areas from which Israel withdraws in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; the Palestinian state will have no army, but it will have a strong security force but an international multinational force would be deployed to insure the safety and security of the state. Both sides will be committed to end all forms of violence directed against each other.

3. East Jerusalem would become the capital of the Palestinian state with Arab neighborhoods coming under Palestinian sovereignty and Jewish neighborhoods coming under Israel sovereignty. The Old City (including al Haram al Sharif) would come under Palestinian sovereignty with the exception of the Jewish Quarter and the Wailing Wall that will come under Israeli sovereignty.

4. With regard to the refugee question, both sides agree that the solution will be based on UN resolutions 194 and 242 and on the Arab peace initiative. The refugees will be given five choices for permanent residency. These are: the Palestinian state and the Israeli areas transferred to the Palestinian state in the territorial exchange mentioned above; no restrictions would be imposed on refugee return to these two areas. Residency in the other three areas (in host countries, third countries, and Israel) would be subject to the decision of the states in those areas. The number of refugees returning to Israel will be based on the average number of refugees admitted to third countries like Australia, Canada, Europe, and others. All refugees will be entitled to compensation for their "refugeehood" and loss of properties.

5. When the permanent status agreement is fully implemented, it will mean the end of the conflict and no further claims will be made by either side. The parties will recognize Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples

6. The Palestinian state will have sovereignty over its land, water, and airspace. But Israeli will be allowed to use the Palestinian airspace for training purposes, and will maintain two early warning stations in the West Bank for 15 years. The multinational force will remain in the Palestinian state for an indefinite period of time and its responsibility will be to insure the implementation of the agreement, and to monitor territorial borders and coast of the Palestinian state including its international border crossings.

Only 41% agreed with the full package, and 57.4% disagreed, 14.7% ‘strongly’. To be honest, I find it mysterious that 52.5% agreed with Q29, 65.9% with Q38, but only 41% with Q41. Just speculating, though, Q29 explicitly demands ‘recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinians people’, wording I would consider objectionable. I don’t know how familiar respondents would have been with the wording of The Arab Peace Initiative, but it is short on detail and may enjoy some undeserved credibility because it is the consensus of ‘the Arab world’. As for Q41, when presented with a detailed proposal for six central issues, it doesn’t look very enticing. Specifically, 58% rejected the plan for the refugees in point 4; 63.3% objected to the partition of Jerusalem in point 3; 68.5% didn’t like the ‘security’ arrangements in point 6, and 72.5% disagreed with the multinational force, etc. in point 2.

Ultimately, though, the Palestinians surveyed were not optimistic about the prospects for a Palestinian state. When asked

32) Now 40 years after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, what in your view are the chances for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state next to the state of Israel in the next five years? Are they high, medium, low, or none [sic] existent?

34.6% said they were nonexistent, 34.9% low, 23.9% ‘medium’, and just 4.8% high. If ‘an independent Palestinian state’ means something along the lines of Barak’s 2000 ‘generous offer’, or worse, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see such bantustans by 2013, particularly if Livni agrees to join Bibi’s coalition. But meaningful independence? Fuggeddaboudit.

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