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 , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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

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

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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.

At Tuesday's trilateral meeting in New York, Mr. Obama said Mideast envoy George Mitchell would meet with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators again next week, according to Reuters.

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In an attempt to keep a finger on the pulse of both Israelis and Palestinian opinion and thus assist overall efforts to reach a viable solution to the conflict, the Truman Center conducts regular surveys with the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. (Read our article about what Palestinians think here.)

Some of the very same events that have led to an upswing of the popularity of President Abbas at the expense of his rival Hamas have led Israelis to become less optimistic about the potential for reaching peace with the Palestinians. For example, last month's congress of Abbas's Fatah party, left fewer Israelis feeling that they have a real partner for peace. The congress adopted relatively hard-line resolutions, which blamed Israel for the death of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and suggested that Fatah would recommence armed struggle against Israel if negotiations fail. It also suggested that negotiations have a deadline, after which resistance – "terrorism" to most Israelis – should resume.

In light of those resolutions, 59 percent of Israelis say they do not believe Israel has a partner for peace negotiations. Just over a quarter believe it still does.

The majority of Israelis are also unenthusiastic about the Arab or Saudi initiative, which offers Israel full recognition by the Arab world if it were to withdraw to Israel's pre-1967 borders, also known as the Green Line. Fifty-four percent of Israelis opposed that plan, while some 40 percent supported it. The pollsters said that support for the initiative among Israelis had increased slightly since June, when the figure was 36 percent.

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The full Truman Center study can be accessed here.

They left Philadelphia to live in the West Bank? The Allons simply wanted more space at the right price. Read about how they and other Israeli settlers see their decision to live at the center of a global dispute .

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