As Israeli and Palestinian officials await the announcement by US Secretary of State John Kerry of an interim deal at the end of this month in Aqaba, Jordan, that is set to lay the foundations for a detailed peace process, the latest report by the Washington-based Zogby Research Services LLC reveals that the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians believe that a two-state solution, although a desirable outcome, is not a feasible one.
Based on a series of in-person interviews carried out in August 2013, and consisting of a sample of 1,000 Palestinians and as many Israelis aged 18 and older, the new report released on 22 January shows that the US-led peace process may lack that level of popular support that could otherwise bolster a more swift resolution. What is particularly revealing about the new findings is one side's low levels of trust in the other's intentions.
According to the survey, 59 per cent of Israelis believe that Palestinians are not interested in a "just and lasting two-state solution" to the conflict. At the same time, 68 per cent of the Palestinians interviewed think the same of Israelis. And while majorities within both communities believe that their own side is in fact interested in a peaceful resolution, the magnitudes of the majorities are far from reassuring. Only 57 per cent of Israelis think that their side wants to see a peaceful settlement, and a mere 50 per cent of Palestinians believe that their community is interested in a two-state solution.
What is also particularly telling is the widespread scepticism with regard to the recently re-launched peace efforts led by Kerry and the Obama administration. The survey shows that 65 per cent of Palestinians, nearly two-thirds of the population, think that the Obama administration is not truly interested in a lasting two-state solution. On the other hand, almost one out of two Israelis, 49 per cent of those surveyed, thinks the same of the US government. And with regard to Kerry's efforts in particular, only 11 per cent of Palestinians and 39 per cent of Israelis believe that the secretary's renewed efforts are likely to lead to a peaceful agreement.
Growing disillusionment with US role
As the April 2014 deadline for a detailed agreement approaches, with both Israeli and Palestinian officials gathering momentum in an effort to ensure that their demands are met, the poll's findings are troubling. It is hard to see how the two parties can achieve a peaceful settlement when both sides harbour so much scepticism towards one another. And while the prospects for a peace process will necessarily hinge on the willingness and readiness of the Israelis and Palestinians themselves, it is difficult to picture a successful outcome when so many perceive the US leadership as feeble and distant.
Much of this probably has to do with the point of reference both Israelis and Palestinians use when evaluating the role of the United States in the peace process. One of the goals of the newly-released poll is to assess how the two communities view the 1993 Oslo Accords and their legacy. Unsurprisingly, looking back over the past two decades, Israelis and Palestinians see the Accords as having benefited the other side. The poll shows that 68 per cent of Israelis believe that Palestinians were the main beneficiaries of the Accords, while 75 per cent of Palestinians think that the 1993 agreements have benefited Israelis.
The reasons behind this discrepancy are not immediately discernible, but the poll points to how both sides have grown increasingly disillusioned with the entire process. Both Israelis and Palestinians agree that the failed 2000 Camp David Summit significantly decreased the chances for a peaceful settlement. More interestingly, Israelis and Palestinians agree that in the aftermath of Oslo, both the United States and Israel could have done more to ensure the success of the Accords.
The gradually increasing disillusionment with the role played by the United States is one of the few trends highlighted by the survey where both Israeli and Palestinian respondents give similar answers. Palestinians generally view US presidents as playing a destructive rather than constructive role in the peace process, while Israelis tend to have a more sympathising view of the White House. What brings them together, however, is the negative trend: 53 per cent of Palestinians saw Bill Clinton as a destructive figure, while 73 per cent and 70 per cent saw George W. Bush and Barack Obama respectively as a negative figure. The same goes for Israelis, who saw their approval of Clinton, Bush and Obama go down from 56 per cent, to 46 per cent and 39 per cent respectively.
An alternative strategy
Both Israelis and Palestinians can hardly be blamed for their growing discontent with the stance taken by the United States. Less than a week ago, Obama himself told the New Yorker magazine in an interview that he does not believe the prospects for peace are very high. Discussing his top three priorities in the Middle East – an agreement with Iran, Syria and a settlement between Israel and Palestine – Obama said that in all three cases the odds of reaching final agreements are less than 50 per cent. It should not come as a surprise, then, that both Israelis and Palestinians look at the US leadership less than favourably.
Washington's constraint when it comes to Israel-Palestine policy is a known fact. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) exerts a significant amount of influence both in the House and in the Senate, not to mention in the White House itself. Key US lawmakers, including Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, two of the most active senators over the past few months when it comes to US Middle East policy, were the top recipients of AIPAC-related funds during their campaigns in 2010 and 2012 respectively. Kirk received a total of nearly $640,000, while Menendez was able to secure over $340,000. Menendez, who is also the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – an incredibly influential post – has been, together with Kirk, one of the leading proponents of additional punitive measures against Iran, a policy choice that has been openly championed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself.
But the fact that a Washington-based firm has been commissioned with conducting a survey on Israeli and Palestinian attitudes towards the peace process is perhaps the sign of a shift in strategy, albeit a minor one. That a US firm travelled to the region to speak face-to-face with Israelis and Palestinians may signal a move towards the wish to alleviate that feeling of detachment that Israelis and Palestinians have gradually associated with the US and the peace process. The poll itself may not bring peace, but it may be a sign that Washington is listening.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.