Is the Price of Peace Too High?
According to opinion polls several years ago, while many Israeli Jews felt that the conflict with the Palestinians imposed a high to an unbearable cost on Israel, a similar number believed that Israel could bear that price for decades and even forever. What those numbers should be telling the Arab rejectionists and the hostile regime elements in Gaza is that Israel can live with a sustained high level of violence indefinitely. Too many Palestinians got the wrong message from the Israeli excursions into Lebanon and their withdrawal under pressure. In fact, if terrorism by Palestinians substantially increased from today’s low level, most Israelis believe a military solution to that problem would be possible. 30% would reoccupy Gaza and over half are confident that Israel could overthrow the Hamas regime if it so desired.
What I found striking about the poll was the fact that 62% of Jewish Israelis thought that the aspiration of the Arabs, in the long run, was to conquer the state of Israel and of that number, 42% thought the goal was to destroy a significant part of the Jewish population in Israel. If that is your assumption about the people you are expected to negotiate with, then the price for any concessions would be much too high. This cynical attitude about the prospects of living in peace is reflected at many points in the survey on both sides. 65% of Palestinians and 63% of Israelis believe it is impossible to reach a final status settlement these days. And that will not change based on the policies President Trump has advocated thus far.
To imagine that peace is possible on this foundation of deep mutual antipathy and mistrust really stretches credulity. Peace may be a function of Prime Ministers and Presidents, but it is ultimately dependent on the people on both sides. Confidence has to be built from somewhere below zero where it currently resides. That will only happen when the voices of reason can out-shout the voices of intolerance and irrationality; when children are taught facts rather than slogans; when the media no longer points the camera at the loudest voice in the room; and when we can get back to efforts to purge ourselves, our schools and our media of incitement.
We tried it once in 1998 as a result of the Wye agreement. We formed an anti-incitement committee and even had meetings for several months. I was the American delegation head. Unfortunately, only the Americans, and not all of them, took it seriously. As a result, it was still born. Perhaps the Trump Administration should consider leading a new effort, but this time with the energy and the commitment of the President of the United States. Peace is not going to come from clever formulas and untenable compromises. It will only come when the people who are most affected want it to come, and believe in it. That is not the case today.