Palestinians and Israelis want peace, so why are their leaders unable to deliver it?

A survey shows that resolving the conflict remains a priority for Palestinians, Israelis and others throughout the region

epa08696789 Palestinian protester stands next to burning tires during clashes with Israeli soldiers after a demonstration against Israel's settlements in the village of Kofr Qadom near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, 25 September 2020. Ten Palestinians were wounded during the clashes, Palestinian sources said.  EPA/ALAA BADARNEH
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Despite a number of conflicts that appear to be intractable in the Middle East, a majority of Arabs do believe in peace. A recent survey of 4,605 people, including Palestinians and Israelis, has revealed that most Arabs believe the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be solved in the near future.

The research, compiled by Zogby Research Services and Sky News Arabia, shows that eight in 10 of individuals surveyed from Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel believe that resolving the conflict is still important. Although only 15 per cent of Israelis thought such a feat was possible, an overwhelming majority expressed a desire to find a solution.

This year has been particularly gruelling for the Middle East. A number of nations had already been crippled by armed conflict, weakening institutions and the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic. It is a positive sign that the survey found hope and confidence in peace to be so high. More than half of all Arab respondents – including 76 per cent of Emiratis – said peace could be achieved in the next five years.

The survey was conducted before the Abraham Accord, in August, renewed the prospect of long-term peace. The UAE agreed to establish ties with Israel in the hope of advancing peace and stability in the region, including halting the annexation of Palestinian land. Annexation had been a hallmark campaign promise of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders must heed the calls of their people and take advantage of the momentum from the Abraham Accord to return to the negotiating table.

For decades, the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land has created enormous setbacks, intensifying a sense of injustice among Palestinians.

Annexation is also a hindrance to long-term peace between Israelis, Palestinians and their neighbours. More than 70 per cent of Arab respondents said that any normalisation efforts with Israel should stop if Israel goes ahead with annexation plans.

Palestinians must overcome a different set of challenges to achieve peace. Deeply embedded division at the top of the Palestinian leadership has fostered extremism and frustrated ordinary Palestinians. Groups such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement have taken advantage of civilian suffering to push foreign agendas at home, eroding hopes for dialogue and Palestinian unity.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders must heed the calls of their people and return to the negotiating table

Peace must also involve nations that have been embroiled in conflict with Israel and are home to a sizeable Palestinian refugee population, deprived of fundamental rights. While Jordan and Egypt have signed peace treaties with Israel, Lebanon and Syria do not recognise the country. Iran-backed Hezbollah holds great influence in Lebanon and calls for Israel’s destruction.

In recent weeks, there have been feeble signs that this inflexibility is giving way to dialogue, though for mainly pragmatic reasons. In the coming days, a Lebanese delegation is set to meet with Israeli officials for US-mediated talks to define the maritime borders of the two countries, which sits on potentially gas-rich areas. And last week, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad told Russian media that peace with Israel is conditioned on the return of the occupied Golan Heights, without mentioning Palestinian affairs.

Palestinians and Israelis long for peace and a dignified life. Their respective leaderships must heed their demands, and ensure that whatever bitterness lies between them, the arc of their shared history bends towards peace.