Why doesn’t it surprise me that a plurality of Israelis recently polled favored negotiating with the proposed Palestinian national unity government which Hamas and Fatah are trying to hammer together; and yet their government takes a diametrically opposite view. After the 1967 War, the Arabs met in Khartoum and issued the famous Three No’s. Today, Ehud Olmert’s government also follows the same formula: no to talks with a national unity government, no to a Hamas-run PA, and no to final status negotiations with any Palestinian leader at any time. The first two No’s he states explicitly. The last one he doesn’t. In fact, he states precisely the opposite for public consumption. But you always have to follow what Israeli leaders do and not what they say. And Olmert will never negotiate seriously to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Here are the results, released last week, of the Market Watch Institute poll conducted on behalf of the Geneva Initiative:
The poll, which covered the Jewish population only, was fielded last Monday and Tuesday [September 11-12th] by the Market Watch Institute led by Avinoam Brog. 500 people were polled with a margin of error of four percent.
The poll…shows that 45 percent of the people support negotiations with the Palestinian unity government and 43 percent are against. 64 percent support talking with Abu Mazen, 28 percent are against, and 30 percent support talking with Hamas. 63 percent oppose talking with Hamas. These numbers indicate a rise in the number of people who support negotiating with Hamas. Four months ago, only 12 percent supported and 76 percent opposed.
The participants were also asked what Israel should do politically with the situation that has emerged after the war. 61 percent are convinced that there is a need to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority in order to achieve a permanent settlement, and only eight percent support the realignment plan which includes unilateral withdrawals from parts of the West Bank.
Head of the Geneva Initiative group Gadi Blatiansky said in response that the results of the poll reflect the public’s strong wishes to see immediate negotiations with the Palestinians. “The public is braver than the government and they will push it to the negotiating table with the new Palestinian government”…
I find it extraordinary that 45% of Israelis favor negotiating with a national unity government that includes Hamas. Furthermore, the poll deliberately excludes Israeli Arabs so if they were added the number of Israelis in favor of negotiation would rise even higher and certainly be a majority. But I find it even more extraordinary that fully 30% of Israeli Jews now support negotiating directly with Hamas. This is the same Hamas demonized by Israelis (especially Israeli politicians) as nothing more than murderers and terrorists out to exterminate the Jewish people. What is going on here? Somehow the propaganda isn’t working. A significant minority of Israelis are thinking for themselves on this issue and not paying attention to what the Netanyahus of Israel tell them.
I have stated a number of times in this blog that I am not a supporter of Hamas. Just the opposite. But it seems abundantly clear that there will be no settlement between the two parties unless Hamas is taken into account. Ignoring or shunning Hamas will not work. And I think these Israelis are a groundswell indicating budding recognition of that fact. This development heartens me.
It is also interesting that the convergence policy that brought Kadima to power in the last elections now only garners 8% of Israelis in support of it. This of course is part and parcel of the general Israeli rejection of Olmert in the aftermath of the Lebanon war fiasco. It is amazing that an idea considered the heart and soul of the ruling party has vaporized in a mere instant (or to be more exact, the six weeks it took to fight and lose the war).
I wish I was as optimistic as Blatiansky about the Israeli electorate exerting significant pressure on the government to negotiate with the national unity government. I don’t see it happening–at least not yet.