When Public Opinion Meets Common Sense Leadership




A new report from the Council on Foreign Relations website indicates an overwhleming amount of public support for Abu Mazen’s call for a referendum in order to resurrect negotiations to reach a two state solution for the Palestinian people.  Over the past several months, I have met with a number of highly respected veterans of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating theatre on different occasions, and the only consensus  view that I came away with is hat prospects for negotiation of a viable two-state solution over the near term are zero.

This interview with Ziad Asali by Bernard Gwertzman, which I have excerpted below and to which you can link by clicking here, suggests that the power of Palestinian public opinion in support of Abu Mazen’s bold call for negotiation may succeed in shifting momentum to the negotiating table a lot sooner than many seasoned experts believe.

We can always hope, and we should applaud the constructive leadership shown by Abu Mazen when everyone outside of Israel and Palestine seems to have written him off.

Asali: Palestinians Support Abbas’ Referendum Plan by Huge Majority

Interviewee:  Ziad J. Asali

Interviewer:  Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor

June 2, 2006

Ziad J. Asali, president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, a group dedicated to setting up a state of Palestine alongside that of Israel, says that the call two weeks ago by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a referendum by Palestinians on whether to proceed with negotiations for a two-state solution with Israel has energized many Palestinians who had earlier believed he was too weak. "To have someone say ‘enough of all this and let’s just get a resolution of this issue,’ and to have someone in charge, is, I’m sure, a welcome change for the Palestinians right now," says Asali, a Palestinian born in Jerusalem, who has a medical degree.

He says that according to two reputable polls recently taken in the Palestinian territories, some 75 to 80 percent of those polled support the referendum idea, which is opposed by the Hamas-led government of the Palestine Authority, which is independent of President Abbas. "The people just want an end to this disastrous way of life. The Palestinians cannot see a way out of the present predicament other than by the two-state solution," he says.

Of course you have, in the current Israeli coalition government, a difference of opinion because Olmert’s own defense minister, Amir Peretz, head of the Labor Party, is very interested in negotiating. I think a lot will depend on whether or not this referendum can actually get off the ground. I suppose he’ll need some Arab support for this.

He has the Arab support. He has international support for it, and I think it has already made a difference, whether it takes place or not. You know it can be challenged, of course. Any government, and even any party that has armed people, could impose its will on them, could disrupt this process, so Hamas is in a position to disrupt it physically if it wants to, but it has to calculate its moves very carefully if the Palestinians in fact do support it by a majority of 80%, which is what we’re seeing now.

Have polls been taken?

Yes, reputable polls. Up to now around 80 percent support the referendum. Two polls actually have already published.

And it’s 80 percent?

Yes, one was. I think both of them are 75 to 80 percent. There actually is no surprise in the Palestinian people’s support for a two-state solution. Poll after poll after poll since the Oslo agreements has shown around 65 to 70 percent support for a two-state solution. I wasn’t surprised that this would go up to 80 percent now, especially after the economic hardship of the past several months. The people just want an end to this disastrous way of life. The Palestinians cannot see a way out of the present predicament other than by the two-state solution. Their main concern, actually, is the other one, which is, is it too late for a state? They would be very willing to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem.

Of course if they do have negotiations it would be extremely difficult, I would think.

Well, of course it would be very difficult because there are three situations here that Israel finds objectionable. One is the fact that the question of refugees as stated in the prisoners’ list of terms for negotiations was to be solved on the basis of the right of return. This is something that Israel would not accept. The borders as mentioned here in this document were the pre-1967 war borders. Of course this is something else that Israel would not quite readily accept either, and there is no mentioning of the recognition of the State of Israel that Israel wants out of Hamas. So these are things that Israel would not go along with readily, shall we say. There will be hard negotiations. But, you know, it gets us back at least to moving on beyond Camp David [talks that failed in 2000] and Taba [failed talks in Egypt in January 2001]. So of course they will have differences, but at least we’re talking about things that can conceivably be bridged by negotiations.

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