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By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B., Special Report from Washington

David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s project on the Middle East peace process, is “hopeful” that real opportunities for peace between the Palestinian Authority and Israel exist today.

“Is [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas a rejectionist in a suit? No I don’t think so,” Makovsky told a gathering of delegates at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America that took place in Washington, D.C., Nov. 8-10.

Makovsky, who co-authored Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East with Dennis Ross, added, “Abbas has faced death threats from [Palestinian] extremists for advocating a two-state solution.”

In an interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Makovsky noted that he had he had seen “tons of polling data” that there is Palestinian support for two states and that according to the latest poll by Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, 49 percent of Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, “So I think there is hope.”

Makovsky, who is the Zeigler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute, said, “The more I get to know them [Palestinians], the more I see that they are not monolithic.”

Makovsky believes that there is a “convergence of interest” between Israel and the PA. The current Israeli government has removed checkpoints and barricades throughout the West Bank and the economy is improving. “If people can’t get from Ramallah to Nablus, then they can’t believe in a two-state solution,” he observed.

He noted that this “convergence of interests” is evident in the West Bank today, where Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been strong on governance issues and where there he sees an increasing “culture of accountability” in the PA.

“The security co-operation between Israel and the PA is the best it’s been in 16 years. Although we don’t talk about it, there has been increasing cooperation. They [Israel and the PA] don’t want ‘Gaza coming to a theatre near you.’ People would rather have the approach of Salam Fayyad and Abbas, rather than Hamas.... The danger of doing nothing now is great, because those who will take over are Hamas,” Makovsky warned. But, he cautioned, “When the lion lies down with the lamb, Israel must be the lion.”

Makovsky referred to the U.S. administration’s handling of the issue of an Israeli settlement freeze as “a rookie mistake.” Since Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was willing to curb settlement expansion (but not impose freeze natural growth), that ought to have been sufficient. “You don’t need an axe when you could have used a scalpel,” he said in reference to the Obama administration’s approach.

In answer to a question from a delegate about why Saudi Arabia has not shown any interest in taking any steps to normalize relations with Israel, Makovsky responded, “I don’t think that you can pin the blame on Abbas for that. He did try to persuade the Saudis, but Arab leaders [who have not been elected by their people] never want to take a risk. The last people we should count on are the Arab states.”

When asked what he thought of Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz’s recent call for Israel to negotiate with Hamas, Makovsky said he didn’t understand his reasoning. Since Israel has been trying to negotiate with the PA, turning around to deal with Hamas, “would be to cut the legs off from under the PA” and would be damaging to the peace process, he suggested.

When asked about possible American support for Fayyad’s plan to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state within the next two years if an agreement is not reached, Makovsky noted, “I don’t think people are into any unilateral steps anymore, not after the unilateral evacuation of Gaza.”

A version of this article appeared in the Vancouver Jewish Independent

Editor’s note: After interviewing Makovsky, I conducted some research into pollster  Khalil Shikaki of the Palestine Centre for Peace and Survey Research, . I found that another Middle East expert, Martin Kramer (  who is the Wexler Fromer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Middle Eat Policy has noted that  Shikaki’s  polls were wrong in predicting that  Fatah would beat Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections. As Kramer wrote in  his article “Polls that Hid Hamas” (Jan 28,2006):

“Shikaki runs something called the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which gets money from foreign governments and foundations to conduct opinion surveys. ...

“Shikaki conducted three crucial polls that affected perceptions in Washington, in the early parts of June, September and December 2005. They showed Fatah well ahead of Hamas, by a comfortable and growing margin…:

“With each new Shikaki poll, U.S. policymakers grew more lax when it came to setting conditions for Hamas participation. Robert Satloff and Dore Gold both sharply criticized the U.S. drift that allowed entry of a gun-toting, terrorist-talking Hamas into the electoral arena. They were disregarded because of certainty at the State Department and the White House that Fatah would win anyway, and that Abu Mazen would be in a stronger position to discipline Hamas after the victory. A lot of that certainty derived from Shikaki's polls….

“Is it possible that the Shikaki polls were themselves part of Fatah election propaganda? … even if this worst-case interpretation is improbable in Shikaki's case, the professionalism of his polls is very much in question.

“That's significant, because Shikaki's polls have become a font of conventional wisdom. Whenever you hear someone say that a majority of Palestinians accept a two-state solution, or a majority of Palestinian refugees don't really want to return to Israel proper, or the Palestinians hate corruption more than Israel, it's a remote echo of one of Shikaki's polls. Complicating the picture is the fact that Shikaki isn't only a pollster. He's a political analyst, and even a political activist, which is why Americans for Peace Now have rallied to him… From Peace Now to the State Department, Shikaki is admired and feted because he tells peace processors what they want to hear--not just with emotion and analysis, but with numbers.”

See also, Noah Pollock in Commentary Magazine, ‘Desperate Advice From Dennis Ross


“ It’s true that support among Palestinians for a two-state solution is often a majority position, but super-majorities (sometimes over 75 percent) have always maintained the ‘right of return’ for descendants of Palestinians who fled in 1948, a condition which would accomplish the demographic destruction of Israel–making a two-state solution in practice a one-state solution.

“More importantly, what [Dennis] Ross doesn’t tell his readers is that support among Palestinians for terrorism against Israel also remains a majority position. I invite anyone who doubts  this to  spend a  little time on the websites of the Jerusalem Media & Communication Centre, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, the Palestinian Center for Policy and     Survey Research (important caveat), the Arab World for Research and Development,      International Republican Institute, and Birzeit University — none of which, it’s worth noting, are Israeli or American polling organizations.”

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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