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J Street Conference Update I: Do Israelis care about peace?

Do Israelis care about peace? Judging from the packed room, this question was on many people’s minds following the controversial Time Magazine article arguing that they don’t. I presented data and analysis to explore the question; a number of people asked to have the material on-line, so here is a summary of my talk:

Do Israelis care about peace?  It’s complicated. Data repeatedly shows that at the current moment, Israelis place peace behind other pressuring social priorities of daily life. In surveys from March 2010 and October 2011,* the conflict and peace come in third or fourth place, behind education, security and crime, and poverty.

In March 2010, 10% of people said the conflict was the country’s top priority – this rose just slightly to 15% as negotiations began in September, but stalled around the time of the second survey. Note that Arab respondents in March still place the conflict highest, with 27% who chose this as top priority out of a list of eight items.

Americans here at the conference have already asked me on occasion why Israelis are not out on the streets, like their Middle Eastern brethren, demanding that their government reach a peace agreement. The basic explanation is: that Israelis, although they support negotiations, simply don’t believe they will work. The JIPP/Truman Institute survey from mid-November (also conducted after negotiations largely stalled) – 57% “impossible”; by January – Peace Index = 70%. The Peace Index from January shows that 70% do not think negotiations will bring peace. A cynical perspective might be that Israelis support negotiations because they don’t believe they’ll actually produce an agreement that will require concessions Israelis find too painful to make.

Israelis are not convinced peace is positive for Israel. There are deeper explanations than just the belief that peace is not possible. Two long-term deep-rooted themes in the Israeli mentality – existential and security fears, and deep mistrust of Palestinians – are associated with peace and peace efforts for Israelis. Both took on new dimensions in the post-Oslo and post-Second Intifada years.

•    The data show that when asked if an agreement could hurt Israel’s security, a small absolute majority of 51% say it will and 46% say it won’t. The basic assumption many two-state supporters make is that peace is the only route to security. Many Israelis are not convinced. This situation reflects the legacy of the trauma Israelis felt following the Oslo years which in their perception were years of Israeli concessions (never mind the reality) and Palestinian terror, which was a reality. Israelis may believe that peace is good for long-term security in the abstract, but long term thinking and vision has never held sway in either public or elite opinion in Israel.

•    Second, the reigning narrative in Israel is that Palestinians absolutely cannot be trusted to implement an agreement. Sixty-eight percent of Israeli Jews think this is true. The utter lack of trust in Palestinians is of course the primary outcome of the failure of the second Camp David talks and outbreak of the Second Intifada. When Palestinians are offered an agreement, the Israeli mainstream narrative goes, they respond with violence. This was also part of the Oslo legacy as well. These narratives have been nurtured by opinion leaders in Israel for nearly two decades.

•    As a result of those narratives, a plurality (43%) have unfavorable feelings toward the notion of a final status agreement, and only 38% have positive feelings.

In other words, for Israelis, a peace agreement raises the greatest specter of Israeli life: security fears – and it depends on trusting the Palestinians, which they still maintain was a mistake. The outcome is that when Israeli Jews were asked about a number of concerns they may have about an agreement, the top-ranking concern is simply that they don’t believe the painful concessions such as on settlements and Jerusalem – will be worth it (55% of respondents said this raised serious concerns; 78% in total said this raised concerns.

Israelis support status quo. On the ground, this all means that Israelis are not rushing to make peace happen. When asked if they believe that the absence of a peace agreement leads to a one-state reality and an Arab majority, or if the lack of an agreement just means Israel can continue the status quo – 62% believe the country can continue the status quo. That means that the one of the oldest and strongest arguments of the peace camp – the fear of losing Israel’s Jewish majority and maintaining both its Jewish and democratic character – is not enough to tear Israelis away from the belief that status quo is a legitimate and sustainable goal.

The positive messages of peace. There ARE positive aspects to a final status agreement that Israelis recognize – but they simply seem so remote.

•    Nearly 60% say peace will help the economy – but the economy’s already doing so well, that this isn’t such a high priority

•    Nearly 60% say peace will increase chances of reaching peace with the Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon – but Israelis see life moving right along without that. Remember “eating hummus in Damascus” – was the narrative hope of the 1990s/Oslo; the current narrative is about resignation to geographic isolation.

•    Just a small majority of 52% say peace is essential for Israel’s survival or to live a normal life. And when we tested the question of whether peace will help curb the threat from Iran – one of Israelis’ top existential concerns – the wide majority don’t even see the connection (we think this is an opportunity – because the argument can easily be made that making peace will improve Israel’s relations with the world, and make it easier to build coalitions against Iran.)

In sum, Israelis support peace in theory; they will probably support it if an agreement is placed before them by an Israeli leader. But as long as this remains such a remote scenario, the mainstream of Israeli society is not likely to do much to make it happen and would be pretty content if it doesn’t. That’s why the responsibility of all those who attended this conference is to think creatively and seriously about what can be done. Time is not on Israel’s side. As Ambassador Dennis Ross put it in his talk today,

If there is one lesson we can draw, it is the danger of getting stuck in an unsustainable status quo. Just as the dangers in Egypt grew over time, the conflict btwn Israelis and Palestinians doesn’t become easier to solve with time, it becomes more intractable with time.”

*Most of the data from this post (unless otherwise cited) comes from a survey I wrote and analyzed for a private client, examining Israeli attitudes towards peace. The survey was conducted from 15 October – 5 November, 2010, by New Wave Research among a sample of 1008 adult Jewish respondents. Margin of error: +/- 3%. The presentation is not yet available on-line.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Ben Israel

      Apparently the Americans who asked you the question abougt why Israelis have serious doubts about the “peace process” weren’t in Israel during the massive suicide bomber campaign, and the massive rocket attacks during the Lebanon II and Oferet Yetzukah wars. Things like that leave an impression on those who live throught them and it is pretty insensitive of those who were nice and safe in America at the time to dismiss their importance.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kibbutznik

      ” In sum, Israelis support peace in theory; they will probably support it if an agreement is placed before them by an Israeli leader. ”
      and there is the problem Dahlia , we dont have one , the last one that really tried was murdered in the name of God :

      http://simania.co.il/bookdetails.php?item_id=284966

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Israel

      Kibbutznik-
      What “peace plan” did Rabin lay in front of the Israeli people? In his last speech in front of the Knesset, about a month before he was murdered he laid out his view of the future:
      (1) NO INDEPENDENT PALESTINIAN STATE-they would have some sort of autonomy.
      (2) UNITED JERUSALEM REMAINING UNDER ISRAELI SOVEREIGNITY
      (3) NO RETURN OF PALESTINIAN REFUGEES

      Where is this peace plan you are talking about?
      Olmert offered more in the direction you want, but the Palestinians turned it down.
      Where is this peace plan you are talking about?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Kibbutznik

      Ben Israel
      do not lecture me on Rabin , dont even go there .
      I said ” the last one that really tried ” I never mentioned ” peace plan ” your words not mine .
      LAST REMARKS BY LATE PRIME MINISTER RABIN AT TEL AVIV PEACE RALLY,
      November 4, 1995
      http://www.mideastweb.org/rabin1995.htm
      ” These achievements were apparently unknown to settlers and their supporters, who were alienated from the historic mainstream of Zionism and from the democratic traditions of Israel. “

      Reply to Comment
    5. michael

      What exactly did Rabin try to do? Truly, he did never believe in any peace with the Palestinians. He rather tried to allay the international pressure through some mirage of diplomatic process. The process – distribution of arms included – was bound to end up as national disaster and thus is was.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben Israel

      Kibbutznik-
      I have every right to lecture you on Rabin. His speech to the Knesset is on record. The propaganda link you made has NO mention of any “peace agreement” he was offering the Palestinians, just a bunch of platitudes attacking his political opposition (the “propellers”, if you recall”).
      Moshe Ya’alon, who was Deputy Chief of Staff, in his book, says that Rabin told him shortly before he was murdered, that he was totally disillusioned with Arafat and the Oslo Agreements and he intended to “modify” or abrogate them after the upcoming elections. His daugther Dalia confirmed this some months ago. Some “peace plan”, Kibbutznik!

      Reply to Comment
    7. john

      israel does not have to live by international law or make peace with the palestenians. the u.s. pays them 3.5 million dollars a day to maintain the apartheid in palestine. until israel is back in the pre ’67 border and the right of return is enforced there will be no peace. palestine deserves to be a free and independant state, without interference from israel.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Kibbutznik

      and once again I never mentioned any “peace plan” Ben Israel
      and yes I recall the “propellers”
      just as I recall the Altalena

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ben Israel

      Kibbutznik-
      You said “the last one (who tried to make peace) was murdered”. Now, as you know, Barak negotiated with Arafat, made and offer and saw it rejected. You guys say it is because he didn’t make a “serious offer” and because Arafat was piqued that Barak talked at dinner at Camp David with Chelsea Clinton and not with him. Olmert negotiated with Abbas (the Al-Jazeera leaks), made and offer and saw it rejected. I presume you guys have excuses for that one as well, that Olmert’s offer was also “not serious” or that he didn’t offer enough or that Abbas got offended at something Olmert said, or whatever.
      That leaves us with Rabin, who you claim made a “serious attempt to make peace”. That means he made a real offer to Arafat, according to your narrative. But as I have shown, he never made such an offer (i.e. one you would approve of) and he was disgusted with the whole farce in the end. So what you are saying is not true.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Kibbutznik

      @ Ben Israel
      Count Me Out :
      http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1257023364/
      ” IF SO, why did the Oslo agreement fail?

      The practical reasons are easy to see. From the beginning, the agreement was build on shaky foundations, because it lacked the main thing: a clear definition of the final objective of the process.

      After the signing, Rabin began to hesitate. Instead of rushing forwards to create facts, he dithered. This gave the opposing forces in Israel time to recoup from the shock, regroup and start a counterattack, which ended in his assassination.
      It is impossible to make peace without a basic mental and emotional commitment to peace. Impossible to change the direction of a historic movement without reassessing its history. Impossible for a leader to steer his people towards a total change (as Ataturk did in Turkey, for example) if he is not completely devoted to the change himself. Impossible to make peace with an enemy without understanding his truth.

      Rabin’s inner convictions continued to evolve after Oslo. Between him and Arafat, mutual respect grew. Perhaps he would have arrived, in his slow and cautious way, at the necessary mental change. The assassin and his handlers must have been afraid of this and decided to forestall it. “

      Reply to Comment
    11. Baruch

      Ben Israel-
      I am always offended by the argument that Americans living in security shouldn’t presume to counsel Israelis on pursuing peace. Because the empathy and sensitivity you expect is exactly what you deny the Palestinians, who also live in fear. I am not siding with the Palestinians, but I am calling you a vicious hypocrite. Rockets and suicide bombs are atrocities devoid of excuse or justification. But if you use those atrocities to justify avoiding peace, how can you then say the Palestinians cannot use the occupation to justify their actions?

      Reply to Comment
    12. Peter H

      Ben Israel,

      Both Barak & Olmert made offers to the Palestinians that were not accepted. So what? That’s how negotation works. I make an offer, you respond, we go back-and forth…etc, etc. It’s not “I make an offer, and you can take it or leave it.”

      Anyway, we know from the Palestine Papers that Abbas was willing to agree to a limited number of refugees returning to what’s now Israel; annexation of most of the (illegally-built) Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem; annexation of many of the (illegally-built) settlement blocs; a demilitarized Palestinian state without sovereignity over its own airspace, and some kind of joint international control of the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount.

      Although I’m sure, in your mind, these concessions are just evidence of Abbas’ plot to destroy Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Ben Israel

      Kibbutznik said:
      ——————————————-
      Rabin’s inner convictions continued to evolve after Oslo. Between him and Arafat, mutual respect grew.
      ——————————————

      This is completely false, as I have shown. Rabin intended to get out of the Oslo agreements, his own daughter confirms this. Why is the radical Left still propagating this
      myth? No wonder the far Left is totally discredited today by the Israeli populace.
      Even Shimon Peres today admits that Arafat never intended to reach an agreement. Shlomo Ben-Ami said this as well. I don’t think ANYONE believes that Arafat wanted an agreement.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Kibbutznik

      ” This is completely false, as I have shown. Rabin intended to get out of the Oslo agreements, his own daughter confirms this .. ”
      My father, Yitzhak Rabin
      Ynet special: Late PM Rabin’s daughter speaks of late father, Oslo peace process
      Amira Lam Published: 10.14.10, 19:57 / Israel News :
      http://www.ynet.co.il/english/articles/0,7340,L-3968918,00.html
      ” Fifteen years later, Dalia Rabin says she firmly believes that if her father was not assassinated, the country “would have looked completely different.”

      “I heard from many people close to my father that on the eve of his death he considered stopping the Oslo Accords because terrorism was rampant, and he felt that Yasser Arafat was not delivering on his promises,” she says. “Dad wasn’t a blind man rushing forward without thought. I’m not dismissing the possibility that he was considering a u-turn… after all, he was a man who valued national security above all.”
      As for the Oslo Accords, she is convinced that it laid the groundwork for negotiations – even though there is no one to advocate for them anymore.
      “So they say that in Oslo, they brought Arafat, gave them guns and caused the Intifada. But historical processes develop, change and flow,” she said. “You can’t take a person who was murdered in ’95 and judge him for something that happened in 2000.” After the assassination and when they said that Oslo is dead, many channels that were opened there continued to exist,” she added. “

      Reply to Comment
    15. Ben Israel

      Kibbutznik=
      Thank you for bringing Dalia Rabin-Pilosof’s quote.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Kibbutznik

      you are welcome , and here it is again :
      ” “I heard from many people close to my father that on the eve of his death he considered stopping the Oslo Accords because terrorism was rampant, and he felt that Yasser Arafat was not delivering on his promises,” she says. “Dad wasn’t a blind man rushing forward without thought. I’m not dismissing the possibility that he was considering a u-turn… after all, he was a man who valued national security above all.” ”
      please notice that she says ” I’m not dismissing the possibility that he was considering a u-turn… ”
      with emphasis on ” possibility ” and ” considering ”

      ” his own daughter confirms this ” sure Ben Israel sure

      Reply to Comment
    17. Raed Kami

      true peace will only occur when the israelis exercise their right of return, so the Palestinians can exercise their right of return.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Ali

      Raed:

      إرحمنا من هذه السخافات، و ساعد حلفائك لتجدوا حل للمشكلة بدلا من إستفزاز الطرف الآخر.
      بالمناسبة أنا عربي أيضا

      Reply to Comment
    19. zvi

      Thank you for for the comment Ali – why don’t you publish it in English so that others can appreciate it too (yes I know what you said, but I would rather that you translate it into your own words).

      Concerning Oslo, I think that neither side made sufficient effort to change the regional dynamic towards a true ‘peace of the brave’. The leaders talked, but Israelis and Palestinians remained ‘foreign’ to one another.

      And this is why the wall, and all of the other ‘meta-physical’ walls are so pernicious. Peace can only be achieved by knowing one another.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Ben Israel

      Zvi-
      Peace between the United States and Japan was brought about by the United States inflicting a crushing defeat on Japan. It had nothing to do with people “knowing one another”.
      Same with the peace we have today between Russia and Germany and between France and Germany. Germany total defeat in World War II brought that about. Even though there had been centuries of interpersonal relations between Germans and the French and Russians, this did not prevent them from going to war with one another repeatedly. Only Germany’s being smashed from the air and on the ground brought the Germans around to the realization that peace was better than war.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Kibbutznik

      ” Concerning Oslo, I think that neither side made sufficient effort to change the regional dynamic towards a true ‘peace of the brave’. The leaders talked, but Israelis and Palestinians remained ‘foreign’ to one another.

      And this is why the wall, and all of the other ‘meta-physical’ walls are so pernicious. Peace can only be achieved by knowing one another. ”

      Well said Zvi .

      Reply to Comment
    22. Koshiro

      @ Ben Israel
      Nonsense. Lasting peace with Germany and Japan was the result of the remarkable efforts at reconciliation and cooperation with former enemies. The approach (in the case of Germany, after an initial, soon to be abandoned punitive start) was in both cases to build or re-build democratic structures, to restart a prospering economy and to rehabilitate them as stable, sovereign countries with close ties to the US.

      Israel has blown its chance for such an approach long ago. It’s particularly ironic that you actually seem to think that total military defeat followed by humiliating occupation will somehow produce peace, when Israel has done exactly that for 43 years, without any positive results.

      A real lasting peace will only result when all sides see it as acceptable and beneficial. Any “peace” based on contiual coercion by military force is just an armistice.

      Reply to Comment
    23. zvi

      @Ben Israel, and how many more “crushing defeats” will Israel inflict on it’s neighbors before we understand that there is no military solution to this conflict?

      Reply to Comment
    24. Ben Israel

      Both Germany and Japan had, prior to their defeats, militaristic societies that were anti-American and anti-democratic. Only the crushing defeat they suffered made them realize that war was not the way and THEN they came to realize that cooperation with the former enemy was the best policy. Peace between Israel and the Arabs will only come when the Arabs realize that Israel is here to stay and that terrorism and war will only bring suffering on themselves. As long as they see Israel as being weak and uncertain, they will maintain the hope that force, added to an international campaign of deligitimization, will push Israel further and further down. The Arabs view the Crusades as the precedent. It took them 2 centuries to defeat the Arabs and they are following the same strategy now.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Ben Israel

      I meant to say that it took 2 centuries for the Arabs to finally defeat the Crusaders.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Koshiro

      “Only the crushing defeat they suffered made them realize that war was not the way and THEN they came to realize that cooperation with the former enemy was the best policy.”

      Also nonsense. In the case of Germany, it’s especially obvious, since the previous bitter defeat in WW1 did not produce any such desire, but merely continuing resentment and hostility. It’s made more obvious by the fact that Russia/the Soviet Union, which contributed far more to the German defeat, is still reviled among many Germans – especially East Germans.

      By the way, congratulations for completely missing the point: It was not Germany nor Japan that took the initiative in ‘cooperation with the former enemy’. It was the victors, especially the US, but also France and other Western European countries. They decided, after some hesitations, not to treat Germany and Japan as subjugated colonies, but to rebuild these countries as partners.

      Israel had the same opportunity. After 1967, it could have built a Palestinian state from the ground up. This state would now likely be an ally and economic partner to Israel and could be in a close confederation of the type that’s right now, four decades late, being advertised by some people. Israel squandered this opportunity, though. Hubris.

      Reply to Comment
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