Speaking earlier this month at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Rice expressed her fear that if "Palestinian reformers" could not "deliver on the hope of an independent state," the "moderate center could collapse forever." She spoke about the need to take "great chances for the sake of peace" in light of "the opportunity that now exists."
"Most Palestinians," Ms. Rice said, "believe that Israel will always be their neighbor and most believe that no Palestinian state will ever be born through violence." It is unlikely that there have been any Palestinian public opinion polls asking the question, "Do you believe Israel will always be your neighbor?" or "Do you believe a Palestinian state will ever be born through violence?"
But there have been several public opinion polls over the last few months asking other questions. The answers cast doubt on whether there is in fact a "moderate center" or whether it would be satisfied with an "independent state" or, for that matter, whether Fatah and its leaders constitute "Palestinian reformers."
In a joint Palestinian-Israeli public opinion poll in June, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace found that only 60% of Palestinians agreed that, after reaching a permanent agreement on all issues of the conflict, there should be recognition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people.
In other words, about 40% opposed the recognition of a Jewish state even after a resolution of "all issues of the conflict." The PCPSR conducted another poll in September, in which 41% opposed recognition of a Jewish state even after the "solution of all the issues of the conflict."
Even the 60% who would recognize a Jewish state after "solution of all the issues in the conflict" do not likely have a realistic "solution" in mind. In the PCPSR September poll, only 46% of Palestinians supported a permanent resolution based on the 1967 borders with an equal land swap for Israeli settlements in 5% of the West Bank a resolution that exceeds even the overly generous Clinton Parameters.
The Jerusalem Media and Communications Center conducted a poll in late August. In that poll, 82% of Palestinians opposed allowing Israel to keep control of major settlement blocs in the West Bank in exchange for equal Israeli land. Nearly 70% wanted the refugee issue resolved by return of all refugees to "their original land," not a new Palestinian state.
Since the "right of return" is a non-starter across the entire Israeli spectrum, this amounts to a super-majority of Palestinians who have no realistic peace proposal in mind.
In the JMCC poll, less than a majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank supported a two-state solution. A total of 43% supported a "bi-national state on all of historic Palestine," "one Palestinian state," or an "Islamic state," and another 8% supported some other solution, or no solution, or didn't know totaling 51%.
The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion released a poll on September 22, showing that 57% of Palestinians opposed the participation of the Palestinian leadership in the international peace conference called by President Bush.
As for the Palestinian Authority itself, the June PCPSR/Truman Institute poll showed that 54% of the Palestinians saw democracy in the PA as a failed system that cannot be implemented. A large percentage 41% wanted the PA dissolved and replaced by either an international trusteeship or a return to full Israeli occupation.
As for the "Palestinian reformers," in the September PCPSR poll more than 80% of Palestinians thought there is corruption in PA institutions under the control of Mahmoud Abbas and 56% thought it would remain in the future, or increase. Another 7% did not know. Only 36% thought it will decrease.
These polls portray a clearer picture of the alleged "moderate center" and "Palestinian reformers" than the one Ms. Rice pitched to the Israelis. Her assurance about what "most Palestinians believe" is an undocumented article of faith, repeatedly contradicted by the experience of the last seven years, and by the latest polls.
In encouraging Israel to take once again "great chances for peace" to provide Palestinians with "hope," Ms. Rice quoted the same proverb the then-governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, used in his 1992 presidential acceptance speech: "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
The Palestinians do not lack a vision. They adhere to their vision of a "right of return," refusing to recognize the validity of a Jewish state, demanding an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank beyond the defensible borders America has formally assured Israel, and seek to remove all Jews from Judea and Samaria to create an apartheid state. Multiple Palestinian public opinion polls confirm that most Palestinians still have that vision. Moreover, their vision is not simply an "obstacle to peace." It is the cause of the war. But for peace processors peace is always only a few brave steps by Israel away.
Mr. Richman edits Jewish Current Issues.