Why most Palestinians don't support Israeli-Palestinian talks – or another intifada

Only 1 in 3 Palestinians are in favor of the Israeli-Palestinian talks that open today in Washington, but hardly anyone showed up to a Ramallah protest – signaling apathy.

Mohamad Torokman/Reuters
Palestinians take part in a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah against direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations September 1.

While Washington might be abuzz with the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks today after a nearly two-year hiatus, only 1 in 3 Palestinians support the negotiations according to a late August poll by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion.

Though the 17-year-old peace process has yielded trappings of self-rule amid Israel's military occupation, Palestinians have largely lost hope that summits such as this week's in Washington can deliver on their ultimate goal of Palestinian statehood.

While a majority oppose the armed uprising Hamas has been calling for, pervasive apathy and distrust here highlight the more intangible barriers that Israeli and Palestinian leaders alike must overcome – in addition to final status issues such as Jerusalem, borders, and refugees.

"Had this been the first round of talks, then we would have hoped for a good solution,'' says Reem Abu Latif, an architectural engineer. "However, this is the 20th time, and we know the result. Now we are expecting nothing. Nor do we care.''

In addition, many resent the international pressure that pushed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to drop his precondition of an Israeli settlement freeze.

"The Palestinian Authority is very small and very weak, and this is why they decided to accept the negotiations,'' says shopkeeper Ali Mahmoud. "The more pressure there is on the PA, the more the international community loses credibility [with Palestinians].

Perception of peace talks among Palestinians

The public's political fatigue after decades of alternating between peace talks and uprising was on display on Wednesday morning in Al Manara Square, Ramallah's commercial core.

Despite the widespread criticism of Abbas' decision to attend the talks, only a few hundred Palestinians showed up at a rally sponsored by political parties opposed to the current peace process.

"People in Ramallah stopped demonstrating a long time ago,'' said Diana Bhutto, a former adviser to the government, on the sidelines of the demonstration. "People are now feeling like they don't want any part of it.''

To be sure, there is an almost symmetric indifference among Israelis. Most believe that the talks are destined to fail, partly because they believe that Palestinians aren't ready to make the necessary compromises for peace.

71 percent don't want to give up on two-state solution

A June survey by the Palestinian Center for Public Survey Research found that 71 percent of Palestinians oppose abandoning a two-state solution.

A majority also oppose a resumption of the armed uprising against Israel and more than two-thirds doubt that a new nonviolent uprising would achieve their goals either.

The malaise extends to Palestinian domestic politics as well. Though reconciliation between the PA-run West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is considered the top problem facing Palestinians, 8 in 10 Palestinians believe that unity will not happen for a long time or not at all.

Palestinian security forces loyal to the PA arrested dozens of Hamas members Wednesday in the wake of a shooting that killed four Israelis – the worst such strike in two years, and part of what Hamas has vowed will be a new wave of violence.

Israeli indifference

Despite momentary sympathy for the militant Islamists, who are seen as paying the price of the PA's cooperation with Israel, it is not clear that they will benefit from the widespread perception that the PA answers to the US and Israel.

Indeed, even though many criticize Abbas for joining talks that have little chance of success and without guarantees of a settlement freeze, few Palestinians interviewed by the Monitor believed that Hamas' rejection of Israel and peace talks is the solution.

"We tried Hamas and they didn't solve anything,''' says Zahiya Juma, a health services worker donning a headscarf. She says she see no leader or party capable of advancing the Palestinian cause right now.

"These negotiations have no meaning to us. They are only meaningful to Obama and Abbas,'' she says. "What are they negotiating about when I can't even get to Jerusalem to pray?''

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