What do the Palestinians really want? I get asked that question a lot. Actually, I get the answer a lot, not from Palestinians, but usually by Jews, who introduce their answer with the line, "You know what the Palestinians really want, don't you"? The answer is, "No, I don't." Palestinians society, like any society, is composed of many voices, and there is no one answer. And what people want changes with time and circumstances.
A June 2010 poll of Palestinian attitudes towards the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Initiative was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (Khallil Shikaki's outfit). Recall that the six main features of the two-state plans are a) borders based on the 1967 "Green Line" with land swaps; b) most Palestinian refugees resettled in the Palestinian state; c) Jerusalem divided with Arab neighborhoods under Palestinians sovereignty, and Jewish neighborhoods under Jewish sovereignty; d) a nonmilitarized Palestinian state; e) Israel retaining security arrangements in the West Bank; f) the compromise constituting the end of conflict with no sides having further claims.
So here's a quick quiz. Which of the above six received the least support among the Palestinians?
If you guessed "refugees" or "Jerusalem," you would be wrong. If you think that the Palestinians have adopted a strategy of stages, in which they will get some of what they want now and continue to press for further demands later, guess again. A greater percentage of Palestinians supported the "end of conflict" feature than any other.
No, the correct answer is "nonmilitarization". A whopping 70% of the Palestinians polled opposed the creation of a nonmilitarized Palestinian state. 49% opposed the compromise on refugees, and 62% oppose the compromise on Jerusalem, where the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter would come under Israeli sovereignty. 57% opposed the security arrangements.
The authors of the survey took note of this and write:
[Nonmilitarization] receives the lowest level of support by Palestinians. Unlike the refugees and Jerusalem components, this issue has not received due attention in public discourse, as it should, since it may become a major stumbling block in the efforts to reach a settlement.
The percentages are slightly more favorable to the two-state compromises on the table than in a poll taken a year ago. So that may give some comfort to the Geneva folks. But they still very far from supporting the Geneva parameters. That is also true of the Israeli side.
Why do so many Palestinians oppose nonmilitarization? I don't think the answer is the limiting of Palestinian sovereignty, though that is an important feature. It is more likely the damage to their national security and dignity. The Palestinians have suffered for close to a century, with important deteriorations in their position in 1948, 1967, 1988, and 2000. A multinational force may provide some security, but past experience shows that this is questionable. A multinational force would certainly rob Palestinians of their national dignity.
I presented the case against Palestine's nonmilitarization here. The response I received (from Benny Morris, among others) was that the Palestinians had already agreed more or less to a light police force, implying that I was being more Catholic than the Pope. But pace the critics, none of whom was willing to contemplate a nonmilitarized Israel, it was not the Palestinians who had agreed to a light police force but only the PLO leadership – just another instance of the PLO brass being out-of-sync with ordinary Palestinians, and the latter being in sync with ordinary Israeli Jews.
If you support a nonmilitarized Palestinian state, you are opposed to a genuine two-state solution. You are locked in an internal contradiction. Perhaps we should start calling such compromise proposals the "Jew-state solution" where the Jews get their own state and decide on how much of a state to give the Palestinians.
So what do the Palestinians want? I imagine that they want nothing less than what the Israelis want: a sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital, with control over its destiny, security from its neighbors, and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for its citizens.