Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: A Trip to Poll-land

Sep 26, 2008 | Tzvi Fleischer

Tzvi Fleischer

A trip to Poll-land

It is often asserted by pundits not deeply knowledgeable about the Arab-Israel conflict that both Israeli and Palestinian public opinion supports a two-state resolution. Therefore, it is claimed, it must be only the inability of the leaders of the two sides to overcome their own ambition, stubbornness and political limitations that is preventing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

This is more a truism than a truth. Firstly, the issues are much more complicated than simply “Do both sides want a two state resolution or don’t they?” The greatest single obstacle to peace at the moment remains the state of Palestinian society. Lack of law and order, corruption, and the prevalence of armed gangs make it very difficult to see any Palestinian leader being in a position to control the radical groups that will almost certainly reject peace and continue to employ violence, even if he or she were to agree to do so as part of a peace agreement with majority support.

Moreover, Palestinians, including those who say they favour a two-state resolution, overwhelmingly demand a “right of return” to Israel for all descendants of the refugees from the1948 war – they have been taught (incorrectly) that this is both an absolute legal right and a matter of national honour. Yet all sensible people on both sides know that the implementation of this so-called “right” would mean the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. Saying one wants two states while also demanding the absolute “right of return” is not really supporting a two-state resolution – unless one means by that two Palestinian majority states and no Israel.

But thirdly, the claim that polls show both sides want a two-state resolution misrepresents a situation which is not actually clear cut. While majority Israeli support for a two-state resolution has been pretty consistent over recent years, this is only true where poll questions make it clear that it is a given that Israel gets genuine peace in return. And, as noted above, there is good reason to doubt that this would necessarily be the outcome of any deal in the immediate future, given the current state of Palestinian society (this is even more true now that the rejectionist Hamas controls Gaza).

But the Palestinian case is even more doubtful because Palestinian majorities do not in fact consistently say they support a two-state resolution. While some polls seemed to show that in the past, depending on the question asked, others show the opposite. The latest Palestinian opinion poll, conducted by a-Najah University on Sept. 18-20, is certainly in the latter category. Palestinians were asked simply, “Do you support or reject the creation of two states on the historic land of Palestine (a Palestinian state and Israel)?”

Of those surveyed, 54.3% said they rejected this idea and only 42.5% said they supported it.

A large majority of Palestinians, 67.1%, did say they supported “the creation of a Palestinian state on the 1967 occupied territories”. This may seem like a contradiction, but actually it is not. The Fatah-Hamas so-called “prisoner’s agreement” of 2006, used as the basis of the unity government formed at the time, said pretty much the same thing. Rejectionist groups like Hamas are able to support this statement because it is perfectly consistent to seek a state in the 1967 borders, not as the basis of a final peace with Israel, but instead as a stepping stone to continue to try to liberate all of “Palestine”.

So while a two state resolution remains the only real hope for Israeli-Palestinian peace, it’s going to be a long, hard slog. Don’t let anyone bamboozle you with the simplistic and factually misinformed claim that all it will take is for political leaders to simply agree to implement what majorities of both populations want.

Hezbollah and UNIFIL

In mid-August, the head of UNIFIL, the UN force in Lebanon which was beefed up after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, claimed that Hezbollah was fully complying with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the war. UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano of Italy claimed that that Hezbollah and UNIFIL have “excellent cooperation”, Hezbollah is observing 1701, and that no one, apart from UN and Lebanese soldiers and hunters are armed south of the Litani river, where 1701 forbids any armed militias. And absurdly, he claimed there was “no evidence” of any cross-border arms smuggling to Hezbollah, also banned by 1701. This is despite the fact that repeated reports by the UN’s own officials have documented such smuggling.

Virtually no one, including most Lebanese observers, took Gen. Graziano’s pronouncements seriously, and the general view was that he was adopting a “see no evil” posture to maintain UNIFIL’s good relations with Hezbollah and the physical security of his soldiers. Hezbollah repaid his solicitude two weeks later by comprehensively proving him wrong. On Aug. 29, Hezbollah fighters shot down a Lebanese army helicopter, killing the pilot, after it had landed and taken off again as part of an army training exercise. Hezbollah said they thought it was Israeli, and apologised. This occurred in the Iqlim al-Touffah district, which is, according to Reuters, “controlled by the powerful political and military group Hezbollah.”

And where is the Iqlim al-Touffah district? It is in the UNIFIL area of operations, the area where Graziano insists Hezbollah has no weapons whatsoever.



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