Following my previous analysis of the latest Peace Index poll of Israeli attitudes towards the contours of a potential peace agreement, and particularly toward the refugee issue, one Open Zion commenter faulted my focus on Jewish Israeli attitudes.Going by the name of grizzlebar, the commenter wrote:
This article only reflects and discusses Jewish-Israeli opinion as if that's all that matters. Any time you exclude 20% of the people from a snapshot of Israeli national thought, you can't be taken seriously....77% of 80% = 62% = number of Israelis that reject even a modest nod to Palestinian Right of Return or compensation, in this Jews-only discussion. If all Palestinian Israelis support at least the modest approach...that means only 13% of Israelis would have to be convinced to moderate their views....
Three points emerge from this critique that merit discussion. The first relates to the data. How many Palestinian citizens of Israel do, in fact, support the refugee proposal suggested in the survey (right of return “in principle,” with limited actual return, and compensation for the rest)? grizzlebar is right to assume strong support, though the actual numbers provide a more complete picture. According to the survey, 82 percent of Arab Israelis support such a plan. This takes grizzlebar’s presumed 13 percent of total Israelis who would need convincing to 17 percent.
So for understanding the totality of the potential voters who would be asked to state their preferences in a peace agreement referendum, grizzlebar’s lens is a useful one, and I thank him/her for weighing in.
But there are two larger issues raised by grizzlebar’s critique. The first is whether polling, reporting on, and analyzing Jewish-Israeli opinion as separate from Arab-Israeli opinion is itself an intellectually or morally bankrupt act. Are we simply contributing to the problem of ethnic discrimination and political polarization that is already largely defining the Israeli-Palestinian relationship?
This may be so. But for understanding the contours of policy, it is necessary.
The 17 percent of total Israelis who will need convincing of the rightness, justness or pragmatism of such a refugee agreement will need convincing in very different ways, and from different symbolic and policy corners. Those who look to the Zionist symbols of Biblical history, return, and national Jewish rehabilitation will have to be convinced of the necessity of acknowledging—in however limited a way—the fundamental trauma that befell the Palestinians through the enactment of the Zionist dream. And Palestinian Israeli citizens of Israel will have to be convinced of the pragmatic necessity of agreeing to much less than what they dreamed of, both on their own behalf and on behalf of their broader Palestinian nation. Add to this the various subgroups and cleavages within those respective communities, ones defined by vastly different visions of the kind of country they seek, and one soon realizes that categorizing the respondents is crucial.
Of course, the right kind of speech uttered by a prime minister capable of envisioning a different future may help unify these disparate groups. Helped by skilled speechwriter Eitan Haber’s pen, oratory like Yitzhak Rabin’s at the 1993 signing of the Oslo agreement drew from the timeless wisdom of Ecclesiastes. “To every thing there is a season,” Rabin said. “A time of war, and a time of peace. Ladies and gentlemen, the time for peace has come.” But even then, as we recall all too well, time was Rabin’s undoing. Prime Minster Rabin’s words lost their unifying luster all too soon.