Reaching across the divide (IX)

by Akiva Eldar
Dear Salameh,

Reading the statistics of the latest "Peace Index" composed by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Studies, published in "Ha'aretz" early April, I thought about the last round of our correspondence. I was glad to find that this important survey confirmed my encouraging words to you following your latest letter, which had been pervaded by pessimism, on the verge of despair. The survey, conducted the day after the Arab League's summit in Riyadh, shows that among those Israelis who heard of the Arab initiative, a clear majority (52.5%) supports initiating negotiations on the basis of the Arab peace plan, with 41% opposing such a step. As you know, the Arab peace plan is based on Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

When you read these numbers, dear Salameh, you will do well to remember that most Israelis were either born to the reality of occupation, or came to it. For forty years they have been taught that Jerusalem is a united city that will never be divided. There is even a basic law that requires a special majority 61 members of parliament in order to transfer even one Palestinian neighbourhood in the eastern part of the city to any foreign entity. For these Israelis, there is no difference between Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel, both on the other side of the Green Line (the '67 border), and Mevaseret Zion or Kfar Saba, which are located in Israel proper. The Greater Israel vision has been shared by a great part of the public for many years, and appeared as the almost official ideology of most parties until the seventies.

In a survey conducted in February 1968, 91% of Israeli Jews thought that no territory at all should be returned, or else that only a small part of the West Bank should be returned. 85% felt this way about Gaza, 93% thought this about the Golan Heights and 57% about Sinai. Most of those who opposed territorial concessions based their position on the belief in the Jews' exclusive right to this land. Further justifications were "preventing the creation of a Palestinian state" and "maintaining strategic depth for military operations". A minority claimed that the territories should be kept for the purpose of negotiation in the future.

The renowned Israeli researcher, Professor Asher Arian, found that these numbers remained more or less steady until the 1973 War. The trauma Israel experienced in this war brought about a change of direction, toward greater support for the principle of peace for land. This change gave Prime Minister Begin public support for a withdrawal from all of Sinai, in return for peace with Egypt. It gave his successor, Yitzhak Shamir, initial support for the peace conference convened in Madrid in 1991. Two years later, Yitzhak Rabin had wide support as he decided to sign the Oslo agreement with Yasser Arafat. The new party "Kadima" won the 2006 election primarily because of the withdrawal from the Gaza strip, led by its founder Ariel Sharon. This is the same stretch of land which 85% of the Israelis would not return to Arab hands 39 years ago.

So far, dear Salameh, this has been the good news. The bad news is that, like Barak's government in 2000, the Israeli government of 2007 has no mandate for reaching an agreement on the basis of the Arab initiative. An overwhelming majority all across the political spectrum -- 72% of the Jewish public -- believes that given Olmert's government's position, it cannot enter any negotiation for any kind of comprehensive peace settlement. Formally, that is in terms of its parliamentary power base, this is one of the strongest governments Israel ever had. But if elections were held today, a great many of its ministers would find themselves, if they are lucky, on the Knesset's back benches.

Given this political situation, what can be done in order to translate the public support for the Arab peace initiative into a parliamentary majority? The only way, I think, is to create a popular peace movement which will sweep not only Israel, but all of this tormented region. A few months ago, King Abdullah of Jordan warned us against the "Shiite Crescent" -- from Iran to Lebanon -- that would engulf the Middle East's pragmatic forces. Why shouldn't people like us, dear Salameh, call for the creation of a "Peace Crescent" -- a regional alliance, a European union of sorts, which would guarantee the safety and welfare of peace-loving Arabs and Jews? We, my friend, must outdo the fanatics.


* Akiva Eldar is Senior columnist for Ha'aretz in Tel Aviv ( This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 May 2007,
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A plea for peace from a bereaved Palestinian father
When will it all end?
Reaching across the divide (I)
Reaching across the divide (II)
Reaching across the divide (III)
Reaching across the divide (IV)
Reaching across the divide (V)
Reaching across the divide (VI)
Reaching across the divide (VII)
Reaching across the divide (VIII)
Reaching across the divide (X)
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Other articles in this series

A plea for peace from a bereaved Palestinian father by Bassam Aramin
When will it all end? by Gershon Baskin
Reaching across the divide (I) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (II) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (III) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (IV) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (V) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (VI) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (VII) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (VIII) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (X) by Salameh Nematt