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Game-Changing Power: Netanyahu and the Two-State Solution

Game-Changing Power: Netanyahu and the Two-State Solution

In a recent post on this site, Samantha Quint intelligently analyzed the recent poll on peace issues (among other topics) carried out by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI). There was one finding in the survey in particular that I would like to expand upon here, because I believe it bears significant weight and could have substantive effects on the outcome of the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Quint dutifully cites one of the findings of the poll that shows that although a significant majority of the Israeli public does not believe that American Secretary of State John Kerry has Israel’s best interests in mind as he oversees the negotiations, a large majority of Israelis are willing to accept any peace agreement that is approved by the Knesset and in a public referendum. It found that 90 percent of leftists, 80 percent of centrists and, most notably, 58 percent of rightists, (who constitute about 50 percent of the Jewish Israeli voting populace) would approve of such a plan.

In other words, it would be the support of the Israeli public and of their government — and of course, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — that would be the decisive factor. This is not the first time that a survey has found that the Israeli public is significantly swayed by Netanyahu, and it also points to political dynamics that give Netanyahu the flexibility to sign on to a peace agreement and carry majority Israeli support with him.

One of the most notable surveys showing the level of trust the Israeli public has in Netanyahu, conducted last spring, found that if Netanyahu were to accept the amended Arab Peace Initiative, almost 70 percent of the Israeli public would as well. Other polls have shown only slim majority support — or even large majority rejection — of the amended Arab Peace Initiative.

Besides polling, the current political mood in Israel gives Netanayhu dramatic strength in the pursuit of a peace agreement. Whereas during much of the 1990s Labor-led Israeli governments negotiated and only had a slim majority support among the electorate for the concessions they were making, Netanyahu has the support of much of the right-wing — and he has the entire Israeli center and left to fall back on.

Netanayahu’s influence may even spill over into Palestinian public opinion. A public opinion poll conducted in late 2013 by multiple American, Israeli and Palestinian organizations and overseen by Shibley Telhami, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, found that Palestinian public opinion on a two-state solution is swayed significantly by Israel’s actions. Surveying the Palestinian public on a two-state solution similar to the one discussed in previous years (based on the 1967 lines, etc.), only 41 percent of the Palestinian public initially accepted the plan. However, when the survey presented a hypothetical situation wherein Israel accepted the plan, Palestinian support spiked to 59 percent.

Obama’s words — borrowed from the historic Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel — addressed to Netanayahu in his recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg now ring ever more clear: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”

Netanyahu, for his part, has been holding his cards pretty close to his chest. Despite his recent speech at the AIPAC conference in which he hit a more dovish note, no one except close confidantes know whether or not Netanyahu is willing to accept the sort of two-state solution envisioned by the Obama Administration. As we enter into the final weeks of scheduled negotiations, we may yet find out in the near future. Let’s just hope Netanyahu knows and understands his power as he makes some very fateful decisions.



Justin Scott Finkelstein

Justin Finkelstein recently received a Master's degree from New York University in Near Eastern Studies. He has spent most of his academic career and thereafter studying the Arab-Israeli conflict. His Master's thesis explored and analyzed the competing histories of the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem (1947-1949) and the potential for its solution.

He is currently a Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia. He has traveled to both Israel and Morocco and has attended the Middlebury Arabic School program.

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