What do Israelis think of Israel winning and the Palestinians losing?
It’s a radical idea, very different from the 50-year-old-and-counting win-win assumption of “land for peace” that has transfixed governments and monopolized their attention. That old idea holds that putting Palestinians and Israelis in a room together will prompt them to settle their differences. On the cusp of the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, we know precisely how well that worked out: Israelis gave real land, and Palestinians rewarded them with false promises of peace.
Indeed, according to a poll commissioned by the Middle East Forum and carried out by Rafi Smith of Smith Consulting, only 33 percent of Jewish Israelis (and about half that number among those who voted for the current government) still believe in land for peace, and about the same small number still believe in Oslo. So, the old ways not only failed but are deeply unpopular. What takes their place?
One alternative is the Middle East Forum’s “Israel Victory” initiative, and it polls well. Respondents were asked, “Do you agree or disagree with the proposition that it will only be possible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians when they recognize they have lost their war against Israel?” Fifty-eight percent agreed. This has the makings of a revolution.
Drilling down deeper, an identical 58 percent also agree that “despite Israel’s many victories over the Palestinians, most Palestinians continue to think they can eliminate the Jewish State of Israel.” Fully 65 percent agree that “none of the military conflicts to date with the Palestinians have produced an Israeli victory or a decisive result, and therefore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict perseveres.” An even larger number, 70 percent, hold that “is it necessary for the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as the Jewish state before Israel agrees to continue negotiations with it.”
And 77 percent are ready, the next time Hamas attacks from Gaza or Hezbollah from Lebanon, to “let the IDF win,” meaning they want Israeli military operations to continue until the other side recognizes it has lost. (That is very much not current IDF policy, which is to halt military operations as soon as the other side agrees to a ceasefire.)
After a quarter-century of lopsided negotiations in which the Israelis gave up tangible benefits (land) in return for false promises (peace), these poll numbers confirm a hunger in Israel for truth and courage. Roughly two-thirds of the population has concluded that the conflict can only be ended by abandoning failed negotiations and instead showing the Palestinians that their case is hopeless.
But Israeli leaders are shy to assert this proposition because every American president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama has discouraged them from taking bold steps, insisting on the discredited but pleasantly neutral-sounding land-for-peace formulation.
Enter Donald Trump. The Middle East Forum poll asked about him and 59 percent of Smith’s Jewish Israeli sample calls him “certainly the most pro-Israel U.S. president to date.”
As readers may be aware, I have my doubts about this judgment, seeing Trump as driven by an anti-Iran project of which Israel is but a small part.
But Israel Victory offers the president an unequaled opportunity to prove his Zionist credibility. If he lets Israel achieve the victory that both it and the Palestinians need to move forward, leaving a tedious and harmful conflict behind, he will have made a huge and constructive change for which all sides eventually will profusely thank him.
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.