Palestinians and the Two-State Solution
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Sociolinguistics Series: Part 51

Language is a powerful tool.

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Sociolinguistics Series: Part 51
Irene Yi

Today, we will be talking about the three reasons for a decreased support for compromise, according to Dr. Shikaki's findings. These reasons are as follows: a changing perception of the feasibility for a two-state solution, the perception of threat, and the issue of trust.

The first issue is about how feasible the two-state solution seems to be, realistically. For Palestinians, the two-state solution seems less and less feasible because of the Israeli settlements.

The more that the Israeli government allows settlers to move into land that is part of the West Bank, the more the Palestinians believe that a two-state solution--which includes the "West Bank--will actually just be spotty Palestinian communities scattered throughout the land and separated by Israeli settlement communities. For every seven Palestinians who realistically see the two-state solution being possible, there are three Palestinians who don't realistically see the two-state solution being possible.

The second issue, the perception of threat, comes from the hatred and fear on both sides. Dr. Shikaki summed it up with the words, "Is Israel a neighbor, or are they a force that wants the destruction of the Palestinian state?" For Israel, the border wall between the West Bank and Israel Proper is to protect--because they perceive certain things as threats, too. For Palestine, the state of Israel even existing is a threat to some people's Palestinian identity and narrative.

Another question Palestinians may ask is this: what are Israel's long term aspirations? After talking to many Israeli speakers later on in the trip, we learned that many want to create a Jewish homeland--though that, as you will see, looks different for every Jewish person. If Palestinians perceive this long term aspiration as a threat, however, they may be less willing to negotiate for peace; they may see a short term for peace as just a way for Israel to further their long term aspirations and destroy the Palestinian identity.

Dr. Shikaki, in his poll to gauge the perception of threat, asked "What are Israel's long term aspirations?" and provided four possible choices as an answer, two of which had positive connotations and two with negative connotations. The most recent poll from this year showed 80% of Palestinians choosing the answer with the most negative connotation of Israel's long term aspirations.

To Dr. Shikaki, this answer makes it seem like Palestinians see Israel as an existential threat, just like how some Israelis see Palestinians as an existential threat to the Jewish identity (which we will see in our next few speakers).

The more the Palestinians perceive Israel as a threat, the more the willingness to compromise goes down. Supporters of compromise see Israel's terms and actions as valid security measures. In 2009, however, when Netanyahu was elected, most Palestinians were not pleased.

The third reason there is a decrease in compromise is the issue of trust. This is going to sound a bit brutal, and some on both sides may take offense to this, so be warned. In the latest poll this year, Dr. Shikaki asked the public, "Do you trust Israeli Jews and/or Israelis?" and 90% of Palestinians who responded said no, they do not trust Israeli Jews/Israelis. In 2008, the rate of distrust was 50%, but that is nowhere near today's 90%.

Dr. Shikaki believes that the reason for this increase in distrust is, again, Israeli settlements. Why? Put yourself in the Palestinians' shoes. You see the Israeli government saying again and again that they want peace, but at the same time, you see this same government condoning the building of more settlements in land that you think should be yours.

Okay, back in your own shoes now, but keep the Palestinian view in mind. To them, Israel seems deceiving because they say one thing--that they want peace--but they do another (constructing settlements). If they keep wanting more and more Palestinian land, what is the future of the Palestinian state supposed to look like?

Dr. Shikaki then tried to find out if this distrust is reversible. He sees that the hardening of attitudes is happening on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. However, he claims that the distrust can be reversed. Why? If the distrust is rooted in something value system that is unchangeable--if it's derived from something core to your identity, then it cannot be reversed.

To Dr. Shikaki, a person's value system is the most important driver for for his or her's actions during elections, attitudes about how the country should be run, and understanding of each side. He has found out in his polls that the value system of Palestinians has not changed in the last 12 years, so there is, indeed, an unchangeable value system.

If the distrust is coming from anything else besides the value system, then, there are conditions and situations in which the distrust can be reversed. So, Dr. Shikaki had to test to see if the distrust was still present when certain variables were changed. If the distrust didn't change during any of the variable changes, it meant it was rooted in an unchangeable value system; however, if the distrust did seem to waver, it meant there was hope.

He asked the public if they would change their minds on compromise if there were incentives. In a series of surveys, he offered about 30 different incentives. Some of them were tangible, such as more security, having the Palestinian state joining the EU, the releasing of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, and the continuation of jobs for Palestinian laborers who are employed in Israel. Others were intangible incentives, like Israel apologizing to refugees, Israel recognizing Palestinians' religious roots and ties to the land, and the validation of the religion of Islam.

The support for trust in Israelis before the incentives was at 40%, and immediately with incentives, Dr. Shikaki saw an increase in support to 60-70%. Israeli demographers offered the equivalent incentives to Israelis, and it result in the same dynamic of increased support for compromise and trust. Because of this, Dr. Shikaki believes that the attitudes of distrust can be reversed because they are not rooted in unchangeable value systems.

Even with the hope and support for trust, Dr. Shikaki notes that the public opinion cannot make a dent in the status quo of political leaders. Without the leaders willing to negotiate, there will not be compromise to make peace. If leaders are open to listening to each other, though, they will have the support of the Palestinian public to make peace--in fact, Palestinian civilians want to make peace. Israeli civilians want to make peace. People living here everyday want nothing more than to live peaceful, safe lives.

In the next section, I will be talking about the Palestinian view on three big issues: borders, Jerusalem, and refugees.

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