Troubling Poll Comes Out Of Israel
I have some bad news. David Pollock (a senior pollster and researcher for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) just wrapped up his latest polling project in the Middle East about what Israelis think of their prime minister, peace with the Palestinians, the Gaza blockade, and U.S. President Barack Obama. And on all accounts, the numbers show a disheartening trend towards further conflict.
From the information that is frequently provided by the international community and Israel’s very own media, you wouldn’t think that a majority of Israeli Jews held hawkish positions on the Mideast peace process. Similarly, you would also find it hard to believe that most Israeli voters were (and continue to be) supportive of Benjamin Netanyahu, the right leaning politician who has done more to alienate Israel in the court of world opinion than any other Israeli leader in recent memory. But the new study by Pechter Polls confirm these trends: 53 percent hold favorable views of Netanyahu, 71 percent are unhappy about President Barack Obama’s handling of the conflict, and nearly 75 percent surveyed stated that Israel should do whatever it took to enforce the Gaza embargo (lingo for military force).
If there is anything that can be concluded from these figures, it is this: the Israeli public, for whatever reason, is deeply confused as to how to proceed with the Palestinians.
Generally speaking, Israelis understand what is required for a comprehensive peace agreement. They recognize that Tel Aviv needs to make dramatic concessions if they want to end the conflict once and for all. Close to two-thirds of Israelis are emphatic about the very idea of a two state solution, which has the potential of finally establishing a viable and independent Palestinian state peacefully living side by side with the state of Israel.
Yet on the other hand, this same majority is opposed to taking the step that would make the two state solution a sustainable strategy: engaging Hamas in even the slightest form. Unfortunately, it may be Israel’s disdain for Hamas (or vice-versa) that is quickly destroying the very prospect of the two state concept.
Over the last four years, Israel has used every tool at its disposal to weaken Hamas. Successive Israeli Governments have enforced a blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, prohibiting arms and certain humanitarian goods (like construction materials) from crossing into the coastal territory. It has performed covert security missions inside the Gaza Strip against Hamas instillations, often stoking violence from Palestinian militants in the process. And it launched a two-month air and ground assault against the movement in 2008-2009, hitting Hamas military facilities and diminishing its ability to carry out rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.
Yet even despite all of these operations, Israel is still hanging in a state of limbo.
As the last half-decade has demonstrated, Israel cannot- and will not- establish peace in the region by marginalizing Hamas in the hopes that it will simply go away. In fact, this type of “divide and conquer” strategy only emboldens the Movement by giving it an excuse to operate. Oh, and did I mention that it places an unwanted strain on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza?
Five years later, what has Israel’s Gaza policy accomplished? Is the blockade driving a wedge between Hamas and its constituents? Is it pressuring Hamas to change its ways towards Israel? Is it even encouraging them to put aside their differences with Mahmoud Abbas for the sake of Palestinian unity?
The answers, respectively, are no, no and no. Apart from the relative decrease in rocket fire in Israeli towns close to the Gaza border, marginalizing Hamas (and the broader Gazan population) has been a dismal failure. Hamas is not receding, but becoming stronger in both image and morale. Palestinians living in the strip are doing so in conditions that dogs in the United States would refuse to accept. And from a P.R. perspective, states that were previously ambivalent to the entire situation in Gaza are now starting to take notice.
More importantly, Israel’s Gaza blockade is only reinforcing Hamas unhelpful behavior.
The status-quo is obviously not working, yet the polls that were conducted by Dr. Pollock still seem to support Israel’s status-quo mentality towards the conflict: open up to Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and isolate Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This should be troubling to anyone who possesses the slightest desire to find a solution to this lingering stalemate.
More of the same is not what the region needs. Yet more of the same is probably what we are going to get.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of David Pollock at FP.com**