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Accueil / Portraits et entretiens / Entretiens

Interview with Dr Khalil Shikaki: “A majority of Palestinians believe that the two-state solution is no longer feasible because of the Israeli settlements”

Par Ines Gil, Khalil Shikaki, Rami Kukhun
Publié le 28/05/2020 • modifié le 21/06/2020 • Durée de lecture : 7 minutes

Khalil Shikaki

In a survey published in August 2018, carried out jointly with The Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research (Israeli research center), you show that support for the two-states solution keeps declining among Palestinians, reaching a low of 43% of the population. How do you explain this decrease?

If we compare the Palestinian approval rates of the two-state solution in the 1990s or just a decade ago, we see that there is a very big drop, as 70% of Palestinians agreed with it then.

While 43% is a very low number, it should be taken with a pinch of salt. A distinction must be made between Palestinians who are ideologically not in favour of the two-state solution and those who could be in favour, but no longer believe that it is either possible or viable. For example, many of the 57% of Palestinians who do not support this solution have supported it in the past, but lost hope in it due to the intensification of Israeli colonization in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A large number of Palestinians are wary of the fact that Israelis have no plan to withdraw from the West Bank and even look to annex it. Today, Palestinians have a blatant lack of confidence in the Israeli government and institutions, and also in the Israeli public. The Palestinian people do not appreciate the Israeli attitude towards the peace process.
A 61%-majority of Palestinians believes that the two-state solution is no longer practical or feasible due to the expansion of Israeli settlements. Perceived lack of feasibility undermines faith in the two-state solution. Colonization expansion is not the only factor, however, it is probably the most important.

Over the years, Palestinians have seen Israeli settlements as an object that not only separates Palestinian communities from each other, but also increases tension between Palestinians and Israelis and thwarts any possibilities for a future Palestinian state. This has to do with the fact that the colonial expansion takes place deep inside the territory of the West Bank and not just along the green line. The current Israeli policy is driven by a right-wing agenda focused on preventing the creation of a Palestinian state.

The PSR has studied the ability of Palestinians to make political concessions as part of a peace agreement, but in exchange for certain concessions on the Israeli side, such as the release of Palestinian prisoners or Israeli recognition of the Arab and Islamic character of the future Palestinian state. What are the conclusions of your research?

The Palestinian position on the two-state solution is dynamic rather than static. Palestinians understand that concessions are a necessity for peace, thus, if a release of Palestinian prisoners were to be offered, it would definitely increase satisfaction towards a two-state solution. Long-standing Palestinian demands could also be met in order to increase Palestinian support of the solution, such as recognition of responsibility for the Nakba through an official apology, as well as opening the Israeli job market to Palestinians.

As concessions have to be made on both sides, Israelis are also more likely to accept a peace deal where Palestinians provide concessions, which are usually seen as extremely difficult by the Palestinians. However, ability to concede depends heavily on the leadership on each side.

Regarding leadership on both sides, you consider them to be at fault due to the failure of the peace process. Could you please elaborate on that?

That is true. On the Palestinian side, even if the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas shows a will to implement the two-state solution, he lacks legitimacy (on the Israeli side as on the Palestinian side). Strong leadership is needed to make Palestinians accept concessions, which Mahmoud Abbas does not have. Mahmoud Abbas had such credibility at the start of his term (2005), but he has lost it over the years. In the 1990s, on the contrary, Yasser Arafat - at that time president of the PLO, then President of the Palestinian Authority - had more credibility.

On the Israeli side, Benjamin Netanyahu shows some leadership in Israel but has shown low political will to apply the two-state solution. The government coalition he formed is rather favourable to the scenario of Greater Israel (one that does not include a Palestinian State).

57% of Palestinians do not support the two-state solution. What alternatives do they propose?

There are several alternatives to the two-state solution in the surveys we have conducted. Some support the solution of a democratic state where civil rights of Israelis and Palestinians would be equally respected. Others support an apartheid regime to which the Jewish population would be subjected, and some others support expeling the Jews. A proposed solution that appeared recently is a confederation state where two states function within the same country. However, none of these solutions are as popular as the two-state solution among Palestinians.

If Palestinians are asked to choose between two states or one state, the majority would prefer the two-state solution. However, more and more Palestinians, especially the youth, are ready to accept a state within the framework of a democratic and egalitarian system.

A very small minority of Palestinians support having the Jews in a Palestinian state where Jews would have no civil rights. However, on the Israeli side, a majority of Jews are opposed to a solution whereby Palestinians would have equal rights.

Through your work and research on the Palestinian political parties, it is clear that the most favoured option is the two-state solution. However, this does not seem to be the case with Hamas and its supporters, how do you explain that?

The lack of support for a two-state solution among Hamas supporters is due to a combination of the rate of religiosity and political Islam.

For many religious Palestinians, separation between religion and the state is not an option. In political Islam, which Hamas defends, religion plays an important role in political affairs and society. In this case, Islam is not only seen as a personal relationship with God but also as a way of managing Palestinian society. In the older version of their charter, Hamas referred to historic Palestine as a “Waqf land,” a land that cannot be managed by non-Muslims. This is why Hamas supporters are less willing to accept a two-state solution.

Palestinians are in a political divide where two different political parties, Hamas and Fatah, both receive wide support from different parts of the population. As support for Hamas has been increasing over the years, it is now closing the gap with support for Fatah. In February 2020, 38% of the Palestinian people indicated support for Fatah and 32% for Hamas.

Palestinian youth (aged 18-24) seem to support the two-state solution less than older generations (33% support versus 48%). How can we analyse that?

The oldest generation grew up during the 1960s - 1980s, with the Palestinian national movement as means of identification. However, since Oslo, Palestinians have been socialized in a very different context. The new generation views the Palestinian leaders as corrupt and incompetent and does not want them as their representatives.

In addition, the young generation grew up witnessing the failure of Oslo. Support for the one-state solution is merely a reaction to this failure. It is more a rejection of the two-state solution rather than real support for the one-state scenario.

In your research, you show that support for armed struggle among Palestinians changes depending on the period and political upheavals (with a similar trend among Israelis). For example, among Palestinians, support for armed struggle grew stronger after Donald Trump’s announced the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. What has been the general trend in recent years?

During the 1990s, Palestinians believed that diplomacy was a better solution than armed struggle to fight the occupation. With the start of the Second Intifada and the failure of Camp David Summit in 2000, public opinion shifted. Palestinians believed less and less in the two-state solution. The suicide attacks against Israelis find support in part of the Palestinian population. At the end of the Second Intifada (2000-2005), the trend changed again: Palestinians in the West Bank believed that neither armed struggle nor diplomacy were effective in fighting the occupation. This is why, when the newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pleaded for the end of the armed struggle, he enjoyed a good deal of support, and thus, success. Our polls show that between 2005 and 2015 there was a general decline in support for suicide attacks, until there was a resurgence of support for these types of actions. Since 2015, Palestinians who support the armed struggle are still a minority, but a large one. The Palestinian society remains widely divided on this subject.

On the contrary, Palestinians in Gaza Strip see the use of violence as an effective solution against the occupation. In 2005, after the Second Intifada, the Israeli army withdrew from the Strip, and as a result, Gazans believed that the use of violence was effective as it emptied their territory from the physical presence of the Israeli military, as well as the Israeli settlements that existed on the Gaza Strip previously.

Support of violence as a means of resistance against the occupation shifts continuously depending on the facts on the ground. It is charged with emotions.

Overall, we can say that there is currently a lack of confidence in the diplomatic solution.

According to your research, Palestinian youth are more in favour of armed struggle than their older generations. On what basis is this support built?

Yes, it always has been. Young people have generally always been more in favour of armed struggle than older generations. In the case of the current generation, they are heavily influenced by the memory of the Second Intifada, which they associate with the violence of the Israeli military while they were very young.

Regarding domestic policy, you say that during the Oslo agreements, despite important territorial concessions, Palestinians strongly supported the two-state solution because they trusted their leadership, Yasser Arafat. However, nowadays, more than 60% of Palestinians want Abbas’ resignation, according to your polls. How do you explain this erosion of confidence in Mahmoud Abbas?

Mahmoud Abbas lacks credibility because he makes a lot of empty promises as well as many announcements which are not followed by action. For instance, Abbas announced previously that he would end the Security Cooperation with the Israelis, which was never carried out. Furthermore, Palestinians have not seen much from Abbas in terms of economic development, job creation and a serious crack down on corruption in the PNA. The people are more and more dissatisfied with his administration.

In an article for Foreign Affairs, you said that the Second Intifada was the result of clashes between the old generation (represented by Yasser Arafat) and the new generation of Fatah (more open to the use of violence). Currently, can we say that Mahmoud Abbas enjoys a strong support within Fatah, allowing him to stay in power despite the displeasure of the Palestinian population?

One segment of the Palestinian population remains committed to supporting Abbas; it is the same segment that has always supported Fatah in the past. Nowadays, it is extremely rare to find a Palestinian, from outside this traditional base, who adheres to him.

However, the party has successfully developed control over the administration and security services which allows for full support of the institutions. That’s why it is difficult to see a Palestinian Authority implosion in the West Bank. The PA is controlled by Fatah, which controls the security services itself. No one is willing to change that within the party.

Some believe that confidence in the Palestinian leadership could return with the organization of new Palestinian elections. To what extent do you believe that this is true?

Elections are possible on several conditions: if Hamas accepts the conditions of the elections, if Israel accepts the organization of Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem, and if Mahmoud Abbas accepts the political opposition. In my opinion, Mahmoud Abbas is bluffing. He will always find a reason not to organize the elections, for example if Israel prohibits the organization of the ballot in East Jerusalem.

Quelle solution pour le conflit israélo-palestinien ?
Interview with Dr Dahlia Scheindlin : “Israeli support for a two-state solution is dropping a little more year by year”

Publié le 28/05/2020

Ines Gil est Journaliste freelance basée à Beyrouth, Liban.
Elle a auparavant travaillé comme Journaliste pendant deux ans en Israël et dans les territoires palestiniens.
Diplômée d’un Master 2 Journalisme et enjeux internationaux, à Sciences Po Aix et à l’EJCAM, elle a effectué 6 mois de stage à LCI.
Auparavant, elle a travaillé en Irak comme Journaliste et a réalisé un Master en Relations Internationales à l’Université Saint-Joseph (Beyrouth, Liban). 
Elle a également réalisé un stage auprès d’Amnesty International, à Tel Aviv, durant 6 mois et a été Déléguée adjointe Moyen-Orient et Afrique du Nord à l’Institut Open Diplomacy de 2015 à 2016.

Dr Khalil Shikaki is the director of PSR in Ramallah. Following the completion of his PhD in political science at the Columbia University in 1985, he has taught in several Palestinian and American universities. Currently, he is a Professor of political science and a Senior Researcher at Brandeis University.

Rami Kukhun est diplômé du département de langue et littérature anglaises à l’Université nationale An-Najah, en Palestine. Il a suivi un Master au Collège d’Europe en Pologne, avec une spécialisation sur les relations de l’Union européenne avec le Moyen-Orient et l’Afrique du Nord. Il a ensuite effectué un stage auprès de l’ONG Première Urgence Internationale, en Palestine.