Israeli and Palestinian Leaders' Policy Dilemmas: Can They Deliver?

Chair:                        Prof. Amnon Cohen, Prof. Emeritus, Hebrew University                                        of Jerusalem Presentations:          Results from the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Polls:                                           Dr. Yaacov Shamir - Department of Communication and                                     Journalism; the Truman Institute (Hebrew University)                                   Dr. Khalil Shikaki - Director, Palestine Center for                                               Policyand Survey Research (PCPSR), Ramallah Comments:               Ziad AbuZayyad, former PA Member of Parliament,                                             Editor of Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ)                                  Dr. Nazmi al Ju'beh, Director of RIWAQ, PIJ Editorial                                        Board Member                   Adv. Dov Weisglass, former senior advisor to PM                                    Sharon                                   Akiva Eldar, senior political columnist, Ha’aretz On August 28, 2007, Palestine-Israel Journal Co-Editor Ziad AbuZayyad was joined by Dr. Yaacov Shamir of the Truman Institute; Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research; Nazmi Ju'beh, director of RIWAQ; Haaretz correspondent Akiva Eldar; and Dov Weisglass, former senior advisor to Ariel Sharon; to discuss future options for peace at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem. The participants agreed that the peace process and its leaders appeared to be foundering. Shamir and Shikaki presented portentous survey data from Israeli and Palestinian societies, respectively. The Israeli public is both afraid of war and skeptical of diplomacy; while a majority believes a preemptive attack on Hizbullah, Gaza or Iran will exacerbate the conflict, only 42% believe negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will yield success, and a plurality see regional diplomacy as ineffectual.

Ziad AbuZayyad (R) addresses the crowd. Seated: Dr. Nazmi Ju'beh (C) and Akiva Eldar.
Shamir said, "[t]he overall pattern suggests the disorientation the Israeli public experiences lately. …On one hand, they expect that the use of force might provoke war; on the other hand, political means are perceived as leading nowhere." "These are also the major dilemmas which confront the Israeli leadership," he concluded. Palestinian data indicated that Fateh has been unable to capitalize on Hamas’ decline in popularity. "Hamas has lost 11 percentage points since the election," Shikaki said. "Nonetheless Fateh is not making gains." Almost half of all Palestinians wish to see the Palestinian Authority dissolved. Despite majority support for a Jewish state, two-thirds believe there will be no Palestinian state in the next five years, and 76% believe violence will continue. "Based on this survey," said Shikaki, "it doesn’t look like Abu Mazen and Olmert will be able to pull it off" at this fall's scheduled summit.

The panel sits before a packed audience. From left: Dov Weisglass, Dr. Yaacov Shamir, Prof. Amnon Cohen, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, Akiva Eldar and Dr. Nazmi al Ju'beh.
AbuZayyad believed these numbers indicate a loss of faith in the Palestinian political process. "There is a general impression between the Palestinians," he noted, "that Israel is more interested and concerned about keeping Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories rather than achieving real peace." This was exacerbated by the international boycott of the democratically elected Hamas government, which allowed Hamas to evade its obligations to the people. Despite this, Abbas needs to form a unity government in order to survive as the Palestinians' leader. "Without having Hamas again as a partner in Palestinian political life and making political decisions," said AbuZayyad, "Abu Mazen can deliver nothing." "The infrastructure of terror is the occupation," he added. The panel was uniformly skeptical of the upcoming peace conference this November. Both Ju'beh and Eldar believed failure could lead to violence; the second intifada was sparked by dashed hopes for peace in 2000. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas can only create the illusion of peace, Ju’beh said. Still, Eldar believed cooperation was possible, if only for political expediency. “If [Abbas and Olmert] don’t hang together, they will hang next to each other,” he said. For Weisglass, the occupation is the most pressing impediment to peace. "As long as [Israel] is present in the West Bank," said Weisglass, "any attempt to talk about a solution…is nonsense." But pervasive insecurity in the West Bank necessitates a continued Israeli presence. Only "if a solid, serious solution of security problems will be found and delivered by the Palestinians" can be peace be achieved, he said. Weisglass held out hope for the flailing American Road Map. "We consider the Road Map as the only method to bring an end to this vicious circle we are in, between us and the Palestinians," Weisglass said.

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