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Palestinians want US role even if they don't like it

By: Khalil Shikaki, bitterlemons-international

20.05.2010

Palestinians have no illusions: the United States is no friend; it is Israel's friend. No matter who sits in the White House, the US is perceived by almost two-thirds of the Palestinians as biased in favor of Israel. Yet a majority, more than 60 percent in polls conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in 2009, favors a more forceful US intervention in Palestinian-Israeli peace-making efforts.
 
Indeed, if the US were to present ideas or a peace plan along the lines of the Clinton parameters/Geneva initiative and sought to force the two sides, Israel and Palestine, to accept and implement it, almost half of all Palestinians would support such an intervention. The amazing part is that a majority of Palestinians is in fact opposed to the Clinton parameters/Geneva initiative; indeed, last August only 37 percent of the public supported it. Of course, if the US intervention is meant to force both sides to accept and implement the Arab Peace Initiative, an initiative already accepted by a majority of the Palestinians, support for such US intervention would be much higher. What explains this apparent double anomaly?
 
In part, the explanation lies in the public perception that ending occupation through diplomacy requires external pressure on Israel that only the US, if it wishes, can exert. A majority of Palestinians believes that if the US intervened strongly in the peace process, negotiations would succeed. Of course, most Palestinians believe the US is not, for domestic reasons, inclined to do so. For this reason, Palestinians do not show much confidence in diplomacy. Nonetheless, even those Palestinians who view violence as much more effective than diplomacy in ending occupation recognize that violence alone is not sufficient and that ultimately diplomacy and the support of the international community will be indispensable for ending occupation and delivering independence.
 
A second possible explanation for Palestinian support for a strong American intervention in the peace process is the fact that Palestinians do not trust the intentions of Israeli leaders; even if agreements are signed, Israelis will not implement them. Only a small fraction of the Palestinian public has any confidence in the peaceful intentions of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and only a few more have confidence in the peaceful intentions of the Israeli public. A US intervention, one that forces Israel to implement signed agreements, is therefore welcomed even by those who flatly reject those same signed agreements.
 
This explains why the percentage of Palestinians who favor strong US intervention to force Israelis and Palestinians to accept and implement a peace plan based on the Clinton parameters/Geneva initiative is larger than the percentage of Palestinians who are in favor of such a peace plan. Indeed, US imposition of such a plan on both sides seems to convince some 30 percent of those opposed to the parameters and the initiative to support a strong US intervention to impose such a peace plan.
 
It is interesting to note that a simultaneous poll among the Israeli public found a similar trend in Israel. In a sense, strong US intervention is perceived to be about exercising leverage on Israel and Palestine to force them to make a full commitment to accept and implement a peace plan when, according to the Palestinian and Israeli publics, no such commitment currently exists. Of course for Palestinians, who believe in their side's readiness for peace, strong US intervention is meant to force the other side, the Israelis, to accept compromises that they would otherwise reject.
 
It is interesting to note that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also recently reversed a previous position he took with regard to more forceful US intervention in the peace process. While negotiating with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert back in 2008, Abbas resisted pressure in November and December for greater US involvement, for example submission of US bridging proposals. In doing so, he seemed to have some confidence that his bilateral talks with Olmert and his colleagues might be more productive than any American intervention. With Netanyahu, things are different; here Abbas seems to exhibit profound distrust regarding the intentions of his Israeli partner. In the absence of an Israeli partner, a more forceful American role seems to be a substitute.
 
But perhaps more than anything else, Palestinian public support for strong US intervention in the peace process might reflect a desperate search for ways and means to end occupation even if such a search leads Palestinians to unlikely places. If violence and diplomacy have failed, perhaps US intervention would work.
 
Consistent with their normative belief that the US is biased in favor of Israel, Palestinians view strong US intervention in the peace process as benefiting Israelis more than Palestinians. Indeed, while more than 60 percent believe Israel would benefit more from such an intervention, only 10 percent believe it would benefit Palestinians more. In other words, not only do Palestinians view peace and conflict resolution with Israel in non-zero sum terms, but they are also resigned to the notion that a peace agreement is likely to give them much less than it gives Israel.- Published 20/5/2010 © bitterlemons-international.org
 
Dr. Khalil Shikaki is director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.