The Polls Are In: Is it time for Netanyahu and Abbas to be pushed out?

Recently published polling data reveals similar viewpoints shared by Israelis and Palestinians which could serve as a catalyst for finding a solution to their long-standing conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president mahmoud abbas shake hands in Jerusalem, september 2010 [photo:  us dept of state  via flickr. image cropped]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president mahmoud abbas shake hands in Jerusalem, september 2010 [photo: us dept of state via flickr. image cropped]

It has been fifty years since the Six-Day War and we are no closer to finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite the attempts of nine presidents and fifteen secretaries of state, a dizzying peace process prevails in which we seem to take one step forward and then two steps back. Why has Israeli-Palestinian peace proven to be so elusive? Interestingly, despite the many ideological and cultural differences that separate the Israelis and Palestinians, recently published polling data suggests that these opposing groups share similar viewpoints which could serve as a catalyst for finding a solution to this long-standing conflict.

Most notable is that both groups favor non-violent action as a means to reaching a solution. A March 2017 Israeli opinion poll conducted by The Israel Democracy Institute shows that 63.6% of Israeli Jews and 79.4% of Israeli Arabs favor holding peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A Palestinian public opinion poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in late March 2017, reveals that while only 34% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip believe that peace negotiations would be most effective in solving the conflict, an additional 24% favor some type of non-violent, popular resistance –bringing the total percentage of Palestinians favoring non-violent action to a majority at 58%.

Despite these promising statistics, Israelis and Palestinians share similarly pessimistic views about the achievement of a final status agreement. For example, though the majority of Israelis favor peace negotiations, 72% of Israeli Jews and 64.6% of Israeli Arabs do not believe that such negotiations will lead to a solution in the coming years. Among Palestinians, 29% believe it will take at least another five to ten years to find a solution, with an additional 32% believing that the conflict will last another 50 years.

Given that both Israelis and Palestinians favor some type of non-violent end to the conflict, why, then, do they also believe that such a process will fail to result in a solution in the coming years? According to the PCPSR, 72% of Palestinians feel that “the Netanyahu government does not take into consideration or attach importance to Palestinian reaction to its policies.” This indicates that the Palestinian people do not trust that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to a solution that is equitable for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Interestingly enough, the Palestinians also blame their own leadership for the failed peace process. When asked to assess the strength of the role played by current leadership in ending Israeli occupation, 25% of Palestinians believed leadership was doing its best, 41% believed its role was inadequate, and 32% said it was negligent. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ most recent disapproval rating stands at 61%. An April 2017 poll released by Israel’s Channel 2 shows that 61% of Israelis are dissatisfied with Netanyahu’s performance, with only 33% saying they were satisfied. In addition, Netanyahu’s continued approval of Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank has drawn severe criticism from much of the international community, and has greatly damaged his credibility as a trustworthy peace partner.

Though it is certainly true that polling data cannot always be taken at face value, it appears that the continued inability of Netanyahu and Abbas to find a peaceful solution has resulted in serious skepticism among their constituents. Despite several attempts to achieve a peace deal, both parties have yet to understand that a true Israeli-Palestinian peace must be nothing short of a mutually satisfying agreement in which both sides make concessions for the greater good. For Netanyahu, this will mean stopping settlement building in the West Bank and showing a willingness to make the concessions needed for a viable Palestinian state to exist. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority must in return condemn acts of terror against the Israelis and halt payments to families of those killed while engaging in such acts, in addition to punishing Palestinians who continue to promote violence against Israelis.

It will be interesting to see whether the unconventional administration in the White House can accomplish what so many who have come before have failed to achieve. Perhaps President Trump’s strong business background and his undeniable confidence will allow him to broker a peace deal between Netanyahu and Abbas. It seems more likely, however, that no such peace deal will be achieved until several years from now when Israel and the Palestinian Authority are under new leadership. Whoever they may be, these leaders must be more reasonable in their demands and willing to make the necessary concessions to finally achieve a peace deal that will allow Israelis and Palestinians equal opportunity to prosper.