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Views of Palestinians give reason for hope in Mideast peace talks

Skeptics see Palestinians as committed to violent resistance and unwilling to recognize the state of Israel. In fact, more than 20 years of polling data strongly refute these perceptions, and give leaders in Ramallah substantial room to maneuver in the ongoing peace talks.

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A protester waves a Palestinian flag in front of Israeli troops during a protest against Israel's separation barrier near Ramallah in the West Bank Feb. 17, 2012. Op-ed contributors Khalil Shikaki and Steven M. Cohen write: 'Even under what they perceive as harsh conditions of military occupation, very few Palestinians demonize Israelis.'

Majdi Mohammed/AP/File

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Secretary of State John Kerry has succeeded in bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to negotiations. Now his mission must focus on helping the two sides reach an agreement. Many Israelis and Palestinians and their supporters in the United States and around the world believe the gaps are so wide that an agreement is mission impossible. Instead, they say, the goal should be to manage the conflict. We disagree.

Skeptics among Israelis and their American supporters, with counterparts on the Palestinian side as well, see Palestinians as committed to violent resistance, as seeking to destroy the state of Israel, and as being uniform, unwavering, and unjustified in their seeming hostility to Israel. Israelis have a succinct saying to reflect this perception: “There is no one to talk to and nothing to talk about.”

But in fact, more than 20 years of repeated scientific polling of tens of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strongly refute these perceptions, and give leaders in Ramallah substantial room to maneuver in the ongoing negotiations.

Palestinians’ attitudes toward Israel and the peace process are diverse and complex.

Polls show that Palestinians worry that Israeli authorities can demolish their homes. Since 1967, 28,000 Palestinian homes, livestock facilities, and other structures have been displaced, and more than 676 in 2012 alone. They are distressed that Israel’s building of new roads, settlements, and the 430 mile-long “separation barrier” will further deprive them of access to what they regard as their lands.

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