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Short-term hawks, long-term doves:Palestinian scholar says both sides want reconciliation
September 20th, 2002
With so little talk about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process these days, one might believe that Israelis and Palestinians simply aren’t interested in it. But that is not so, according to Dr. Khalil Shikaki, a visiting fellow at the Saban Center for Foreign Policy Studies of the Brookings Institution, who spoke Sept. 12 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Professor of political science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah, Shikaki believes that though both populations have become more tactically hawkish in the short-term, they are “strategically becoming more dovish.”
Shakiki has conducted more than 75 public opinion surveys among Palestinians and Israelis, and shared his findings and insights with an audience of approximately 150.
According to Shikaki’s most recent survey, conducted three weeks ago, “three-quarters of Palestinians support reconciliation” with the Israelis. Also, almost two thirds of the Israeli public would support establishment of a Palestinian state, he said.
Still, we are stuck with the short-term situation, in which both sides have become more extreme and more polarized, he said. And the key, according to Shikaki, to getting out of that situation is understanding the “link between Palestinian reform and the peace process.”
Shikaki’s speech came a day after the Palestinian Legislative Council forced Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Cabinet to resign. He said this is “the first challenge” that the Palestinian political system has faced, and that it is “critical.”
Palestinian interest in reform began in 1995, only one year after the Palestinian Authority was established, Shikaki said. In a report by the PLC, a series of demands for reform were listed, which Shikaki said centered around four issues:
Sound and not corrupt governmental institutions, including financial transparency; constitutional changes because “since the P.A. was established, we’ve got authoritarianism.... We need a parliamentary system”; new elections, which have been set for January; and appointment of a prime minister to work with Arafat.
Now “most Palestinians believe [that the reform implemented so far] is not sufficient,” Shikaki said. Still, “a lot of things cannot reform if we don’t move ahead with the peace process,” he maintained.
He said the P.A. has 140,000 employees though it can afford only 70,000; and that the Palestinians are suffering 50 percent unemployment (80 percent if the additional P.A. employees are laid off) and have a poverty level of 70 percent compared to only 18 percent before the current intifada. The peace process will improve these statistics, he said.
Improvement of Palestinians’ lives will also improve the prospects for peace, Shikaki added. When Palestinians rise from poverty, they may return to the center of the political spectrum and support Arafat’s Fatah movement rather than extremist groups like Islamic Jihad and Hamas. “If we go back to the peace process, violence will not be seen as legitimate,” explained Shikaki.
Shikaki believes that the American administration’s involvement in Palestinian reform is “not helping.” President Bush should accept that Arafat is the Palestinian leader and should talk to him. “How can you talk about reform and building a state if you won’t talk to the elected leader?” he said.
Though “not so optimistic about the short term,” Shikaki is “optimistic about the long term,” because “Israelis and Palestinians have had it.”
The certificate program of UWM’s Committee for Middle Eastern and North African Studies sponsored the lecture and the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Peace Now held a fund-raiser preceding it. Max Samson of APN said, “It’s our responsibility to jump that seemingly impossible chasm from hawkishness to dovishness on both parts.”
Shikaki, “a total academic and not a peace activist,” according to Samson, “knows intimately Palestinian public opinion.” Samson said Shikaki’s remarks help “dispel the myth that there’s nobody on the other side that American Jews or Israelis can talk to in getting the peace process back on track.”