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Does Netanyahu want what Israelis want in peace talks?

A majority of Israelis support a two-state solution, including steps such as a settlement freeze.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 22, 2009

A Palestinian man watches US President Barack Obama on TV Tuesday in a restaurant just outside Jerusalem's Old City.

Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP



While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended his first-ever trilateral meeting with President Barack Obama and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in New York on Tuesday, the usual chorus of critics and supporters came out to jeer or cheer.

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But it was not all business-as-usual. There are indications that Israelis have grown slightly more skeptical of the possibility of peace with the Palestinians and more wary of US involvement in the conflict. A recent study by the Harry S. Truman Center for the Advancement of Peace, based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found that about 40 percent of Israelis think that the Obama administration favors the Palestinians, while only 12 percent think it favors Israel. The results have led Israelis to be less enthusiastic about US intervention in the peace process.

58 percent of Israelis support two-state solution

The majority of Israelis do support a two-state solution, and are willing to accept steps – such as a much-debated settlement freeze – to make that happen, says veteran pollster Rafi Smith. But few Israelis are hopeful that such a solution will be implemented in the short term.

"If you ask people, will peace be here in the next few years, the answer is no," says Mr. Smith, founder of Smith Research and Consulting in Ramat Gan. "The problem is trust. Israelis don't believe that the Arabs will deliver. The problem is that even among those in support of a two-state solution, people don't believe it will come through. It's not that the solution is not known, but the lack of belief that it can be achieved."

Smith says that his latest poll on the two-state solution, in May, showed 58 percent of Jewish Israelis support that outcome. Over the past several years, that figure has stayed fairly static, generally between 55 and 60 percent. He says disillusionment about the peace process arose in the wake of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 and the Hamas rockets that followed, leading to increased doubt about the workability of a land-for-peace agreement in the West Bank.