The failure of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could lead to a significant shift in public opinion in the United States regarding Israel’s future, according to a new poll released Monday.
When asked about two options in the event the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was no longer on the table, 65 percent of U.S. citizens said they preferred a democratic state where Jews and Arabs are equal, against only 24 percent who supported “the continuation of Israel’s Jewish majority even if it means that Palestinians will not have citizenship and full rights.”
The Barack Obama administration has repeatedly warned both parties that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution to their conflict is closing.
This is widely understood to be driving the frenetic efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to cobble together a framework for further talks which he hopes would culminate in a permanent status agreement by the end of 2014. But should these efforts fail, the United States has no alternative to the current two-state formula.
The poll, commissioned by pollster Dr. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, indicates that, as Telhami said, “if the two-state solution fails, the conversation among the American public might shift to that of a one-state solution as the next-best thing.”
In that context, United States citizens hold the value of one person, one vote very strongly. Telhami told IPS that this value was held even among those polled who felt the United States should be favouring Israel over the Palestinians in negotiations.
“We asked if you want the U.S. to lean toward Israel, towards the Palestinians or to stay neutral. As usual, two-thirds want the United States to be neutral and among the rest, most want it to lean toward Israel. So we asked that segment what they would do if the two-state solution was no longer an option. And we still got 52 percent of that segment who would support one state with equal citizenship.
“We always assume that pro-Israel means people will accept immoral situations if they have to and that’s not true,” Telhami continued. “A lot of people try to reconcile their support for the cause with their moral view of the world and that view is antithetical with occupation or inequality for many of these people.
“So for them, two states is a way out, where they can say ‘I’m not paying too much attention to occupation now because it will be going away.’ But if the two-state solution goes away then the status quo looks permanent and I think people, even the segment that primarily cares about Israel, will have an issue with that.”
The possibility of the two-state solution finally collapsing seems stronger with each passing day. Despite some positive statements from Kerry and Obama, the sentiments that have been expressed by both Israeli and Palestinian leadership have, almost from the beginning, been pessimistic and accusatory, with each side seeming to jockey for position to avoid blame for what they have portrayed as the inevitable failure of the U.S.-brokered efforts.
On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the leader of the left-wing Israeli Meretz party that there is strong opposition within the Palestinian Authority to continuing talks beyond the agreed upon deadline of Apr. 29.
Abbas has repeatedly stated that ongoing Israeli settlement construction makes negotiations very difficult for Palestinians and sends the message that while the Palestinian leadership talks with Israel, the Israelis are simply taking the West Bank through settlement expansion.
Bolstering Abbas’ case, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics released a report on Monday which stated that starts on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank increased by 123.7 percent in 2013.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Monday for a meeting with President Obama and the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), accused the Palestinians of not doing enough to advance peace talks and called on them to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
Netanyahu vowed to stand firm against pressures on him to make compromises on what he referred to as “our crucial interests. “
Given these stances, it seems there is little hope for Kerry’s dogged efforts. Obama warned of the consequences of failure in an interview published Sunday with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg when he said “if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction…If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
Indeed, this poll shows that even within the United States, fallout will be a factor.
“Americans still have a generally favourable view of Israel and think it ought to live in peace and security,” Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”, told IPS.
“But much of that support is fairly soft, and most Americans do not support backing Israel no matter what it does. This latest poll confirms that basic view, and suggests that Israel cannot count on deep U.S. support if peace talks fail and its control over the West Bank and/or Gaza becomes permanent.”
But Leon Hadar, lecturer in Israel Studies at the University of Maryland and senior analyst with Wikistrat, disagrees and believes this poll does little but satisfy the “wishful thinking of some.”
“My guess is that most Americans would support the establishment of a democratic and liberal system here, there and everywhere, including in Saudi Arabia, Congo, and certainly China,” Hadar told IPS.
“But the main problem is that there is no constituency in the U.S. or for that matter among the Israelis and the Palestinians advancing such a formula. That’s very different from the South Africa story when you had powerful constituencies in this country, including Congress, pushing for that.”
Telhami disagrees. “It may not have a direct impact on foreign policy. I don’t expect even 80 percent support for a single, democratic state will mean the White House and State Department will suddenly support it. But it results in a lot of civil society pressure.
“U.S. foreign policy is based on a lot of considerations, and domestically it is more responsive to groups that are better organised and today that means groups that are supportive of Israeli government positions. But I think the discourse itself will alter the priorities and put a lot of strain on the relationship.
“This will mean pushing the government to act on this issue. We see it now, with academic boycotts and boycotting of settlement products. Those things can happen at a level that changes the dynamic of policymaking.”