by Tamar Hermann
In recent years, the idea of third party involvement in the search for short-term methods for calming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the quest for long-term solutions has appeared with growing frequency in the discourse of both the media and the experts. In essence, the recommendation is for a more active role in the process for international factors.
Since the beginning of the conflict, external factors have been involved in one manner or another, particularly the great powers. However, given the background of the escalating violence in the region, the cessation of (at least the open) direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and the repeated failures of the “remote control” mediation efforts by the American government (the Tenet, Mitchell, Zinni and other initiatives) and of European bodies and emissaries to calm the situation and extract the peace wagon from the mud since the failure of Camp David II and the outbreak of the second intifada in the fall of 2000, the idea that there is no alternative to active intervention in the conflict by third parties is being heard with greater frequency. Given the relative success of such efforts in Kosovo and East Timor, various proposals for international intervention – unarmed, an armed international peacekeeping force and even an international trusteeship – have been placed on the table.
The Israeli and Palestinian positions have always differed concerning the question of international intervention. The Palestinians have for years been calling for the “internationalization of the conflict,” i.e. an increase in the involvement of factors from the international community, among other things because they believe such factors have a principled support for their cause, Israel has always opposed such active involvement, even on the part of its principal ally, the United States. However, given the aforementioned developments in the last few years, a certain amount of flexibility has evolved within Israel, as well. concerning the position that rejects international intervention, at least in Israeli Jewish public opinion, if not in public governmental policy.
Looking for an Honest Broker
Today, in essence the discussion about international involvement is divided in two. The first question that has to be asked is - Who will be the third party? The second is: What will be its authority and what will be the character of the external intervention if it takes place? In actuality, both of these aspects are intimately connected. Even those who strongly recommend external involvement understand that there is no likelihood that a free hand will be given to a third party that does not have the confidence of one or both of the direct parties involved. The more acceptable a third party is to both the Israelis and the Palestinians, the greater its room to maneuver in the field will be, and vice versa. The problem is that, among the many areas of disagreement between the parties is the question of who is likely to be an “honest broker” - and the definition of “fairness” of mediation tends to be a function of the subjective evaluation of whether the third party is, in principle, “for us or against us.” The question of the ability of an international actor to function in a satisfactory manner as a “fair mediator” on the basis of its past activities as a third party in international disputes is hardly taken into consideration by either the Israelis or the Palestinians. Rather, such potential third parties are judged by the two sides on the basis of their subjective image as being pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. Not surprisingly, in many cases, this creates mirror images. Any factor considered pro-Israeli by the Israelis is automatically considered by the Palestinians to be anti-Palestinian. And anyone considered pro-Palestinian by the Palestinians is immediately defined as being anti-Israeli by the Israelis. Thus the possibility that the two sides will agree about a third party to intervene in the conflict is very low. This means that if there will be intervention, it is most likely that it will not be voluntary, but rather coerced, at least from the point of view of one of the parties. This will produce a low and maybe even zero level of cooperation with the intervening factor on the part of one or possibly both of the parties in the best-case scenario, and a level of active hostility in the worst-case scenario.
Let us now discuss the question of how the Israeli-Jewish public views the question of international intervention and, in particular, that of specific bodies that could be involved.
Only the Americans
The most outstanding finding, which was repeated in many surveys during different periods - when the peace process was active, frozen and after it collapsed – is that the only international factor Israeli Jews want to see deeply involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even have an increased involvement, is the U.S. In response to the question: “Given your evaluation of the state of the peace process today, are you for or against a greater involvement of the following countries and bodies in the negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinians?”, 80% said in April 1997 that they are very or quite in favor of American involvement (15% were quite or very against, and about 5% had no opinion.) A similar picture was gained a year later – in May 1998, 77% were for and 20% were against (with 3% having no clear opinion on the matter). The question was asked once again in June 2003, i.e. two and half years after the Camp David summit failure and the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada. And again the numbers were very similar – 80% were in favor of American intervention, and even increased intervention, while only 17% saw such intervention as negative. In other words, the standing of the United States as a desirable intervening factor was not eroded at all.
In addition, there is almost a complete national consensus in favor of American intervention, that encompasses - as demonstrated by a cross-tabulating of the answers for this question with voting patterns for the last Knesset elections - all of the country’s political camps. Even within the group with the most reservations – National Religious Party (NRP) voters, who are afraid that American involvement will include pressure to evacuate settlements - there is a clear-cut three-quarters majority in favor of such intervention.
Table 1: Position on American Involvement, According to Vote in the 2003 Knesset Elections (In percentages - the Jewish public)
For Against Don't Know
Labor 88 10 2
Likud 80 19 1
Shas 78 22 -
Meretz 96 4 -
NRP 75 25 -
Shinui 84 14 2
National Union 88 12 -
The reason for this overwhelming support is, as one could have assumed, the Israeli public’s positive estimation of the American motivation to defend Israeli interests in the course of such intervention. Yet it is clear that open support by Washington of the Israeli side would preclude the United States from filling the role of an “honest broker,” therefore one shouldn’t expect it to be defined as “pro-Israeli” in response to a question in the survey. Thus, the following table demonstrates that about half of the respondents defined it as “neutral,” while about one-quarter defined it more as pro-Israeli, and slightly less defined it as pro-Palestinian:
Table 2: Within the framework of American auspices and mediation for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, do they, in your opinion, express greater support for the Palestinian side, the Israeli side, or do they act in a neutral manner? (In percentages - theJewish public, May 1998)
Greater support for the Palestinian side 20
Greater support for the Israeli side 24
Act in a neutral manner 50
Don’t know 6
It is interesting to note that, when we compared the attitude of the interviewees to the Oslo process with their evaluation of the level of fairness of American involvement, we found, not surprisingly, that while only 8% of the Oslo supporters considered the Americans to be pro-Palestinian, the number rose to 38% among the opponents.
This means that, in the eyes of the Israeli-Jewish public, the United States is the actor whose intervention is considered desirable, and it is also perceived as being “fair.” However, this does not necessarily indicate the desirable direction of future developments, since surveys that were held on the Palestinian side indicate that, in the eyes of the Palestinians, the United States is perceived as clearly leaning toward Israel’s interests. A survey carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research in December 2000 found that 84% believe the United States leans toward Israel. This situation hasn’t improved, it has only gotten worse, since in another survey carried out by the center in October 2003, 97%(!) of the Palestinian respondents said that U.S. policy toward the conflict leans toward Israel.
What about other international factors? As has been noted, the Palestinians are very interested in a deepening of the European involvement in the region, and are constantly calling for that. The Israelis, on the contrary, view with great suspicion, and actually even with no small amount of hostility, the European countries, individually and in the form of the European Union as their general body. Thus, in 1997, only 39% viewed intervention of the Western European countries favorably (54% were against and the others had no clear opinion). A year later, the figures were 43% in favor and 53% against (and 6% had no clear opinion). In June 2003 we divided the concept “Western European countries” into individual countries. It turned out that only Great Britain gained a level of confidence - with 52% being in favor of it having more intensive involvement in the conflict, while 46% were opposed. Contrary to this, only 10% favored French involvement, while 84% were opposed. When it comes to Germany, the picture was closer to France than to Great Britain - only 26% in favor and 73% opposed. As for the European Union, which is perceived by the Israeli public as being very supportive of the Palestinian agenda, the figures were as expected - 33% in favor and 61% against. A breakdown of the findings about the EU according to the vote for the Knesset reveals differences between the various parties, however the general - negative - direction for all is similar, with the exception of Meretz voters, where we found 56.5% in favor of intervention (with 43.5% against).
The reason for this lack of confidence emerges from the breakdown of the answers to the question about the degree that Europe is a “fair mediator” or whether the European countries are biased toward one side or the other. Only a minority - about 31% believe they are neutral while a clear majority, about double the number - 60% - believe the Western European countries favor the Palestinian side, while only a small minority, less than 4% believe they favor Israel.
Table 3: Do the Western European countries, within the framework of their involvement in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, express greater support for the Palestinian side, the Israeli side, or do they act in a neutral manner? (In percentages, the Jewish public, May 1998)
Express greater support for the Palestinian side 59
Express greater support for the Israeli side 4
Act in a neutral manner 31
Don’t know 6
And yet, it turns out that the escalating violence of the past few years has led a not insignificant part of the Israeli public to consider favorably the idea of international involvement to calm the conflict. Thus in June 2003 the public was divided in its positions: Concerning the general question of external involvement in the quest for a solution, it turned out that 48% were in favor and a similar percentage against.
Table 4: Positions toward external involvement (in percentages, the Jewish public, June 2003)
Very much support international intervention by external bodies in the conflict 21
Quite support 27
Quite against 18
Very much against 29.5
Don’t know 4.5
A breakdown of the answers on the principled attitude toward intervention according to party vote indicates that among Labor voters, 49% support intervention while 47% are opposed. Among Likud voters, 45% support while 5l% are against. Among Shas voters, only 38.5% support while 58% are against. Among the large parties, only in Meretz does a clear majority support intervention: 70% support as opposed to 30% who are opposed.
The figures that were obtained in 2003 concerning the principled attitude toward foreign intervention weren’t very different from the figures in the previous survey carried out in April 2002. Contrary to this, we found a significant change in the positions concerning who would be helped by foreign intervention: There was a clear decline in the percentage of those who thought that such intervention would be more beneficial for the Palestinians - from 56% in 2002 to only 39% in 2003. At the same time, there was a clear increase in the percentage of those who believed it would benefit both sides to the same degree - from 21% in 2002 to 37% in 2003 (only minor changes occurred in the [low] percentage of those who thought Israel would benefit more, from 11% in the previous survey to 7% in 2003, and in the percentage of those who believed it wouldn’t benefit either side, l0%). This means the main change was the decline in the percentage of those who consider foreign intervention to be beneficial to the Palestinian interests, 7%, and the rise in the percentage of those who see benefits for both sides, though there are still many who believe that such intervention will serve the Palestinian interest to a greater degree than the Israeli interest, which explains the split concerning the general question of external involvement.
As we have noted, the question of the public’s acceptance of the type of intervention is also very important. As the following data clearly indicates, the Israeli public is ready to accept intervention only if it does not involve an imposed solution. The majority of the Israeli public agrees to missions by foreign statesmen for mediation purposes, and beyond that, even supports an international peace conference that will formulate a solution that will become obligatory only if both sides accept it. However, only a minority supports physical presence in the field of external factors – the placement of an unarmed observation team or an armed military presence, and an even smaller percentage supports the formulation of a solution to the conflict by an international body like the UN, that obligates the parties and will be backed by economic or military sanctions. A breakdown of the answers concerning the types of international intervention that would or would not be acceptable indicates that, with the exception of mediation by foreign statesmen, where there is a greater readiness among voters for Barak in 2001 (74%) compared to voters for Sharon (53%), concerning all the other forms of intervention, there are no differences between the two groups, that is between the right and the left.
Table 5: Types of international intervention and their degree of acceptability (in percentages, the Jewish public, April 2002)
Missions of statesmen and government officials from foreign countries to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians
Not acceptable 35.5
Don’t know 4
Placement of unarmed observation force to oversee and report on the activities of the sides
Not acceptable 59.5
Don't know 4.5
Placement of an armed international police force, that will separate the sides and act against all those who use force
Not acceptable 61
Don’t know 6
An international conference that will formulate a proposal for a solution to the conflict, which will obligate only if both Israel and the Palestinians accept it
Not acceptable 29
Don’t know 7
A proposal for a solution to the conflict by an international body, like the UN, that will obligate the sides, and will be accompanied by economic or military sanctions if it will not be accepted
Not acceptable 67
Don’t know 6
Surveys indicate that the general Jewish public changes its opinion on many political questions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to changes in the field (increase and decrease in the level of violence, progress or paralysis in the political contacts, changes in the regional and global arena, etc.). Yet these changes are no less frequent or inexplicable than the changes of policy at the decision-making level.
In fact, it is possible to point to a number of quite stable trends within Jewish-Israeli public opinion concerning the factors that can possibly be acceptable for international intervention. First of all, the United States is perceived, by both the right and the left, to be a factor whose intervention is desirable. Secondly, there is stable opposition, on the basis of the ‘unfairness’ assumption, to opening the door to external intervention from the European countries and the EU (though the attitude toward Great Britain on this question is much more positive).
As for the very idea of intervention, apparently due to the severity of the regional situation and the increase in the level of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, recently there is less of a fear and a considerable growing readiness to accept the idea of international intervention. However, even under the current circumstances, there is widespread opposition to an imposed political solution and strong opposition to the physical presence of international forces with authority and ability (armed forces) to intervene actively in the developments.
The data concerning the Israeli public is taken from the Peace Index surveys, carried out by Prof. Ephraim Yaar and the author, in the framework of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, Tel Aviv University. The data from all the surveys can be found at the Center’s Web site.