To a great extent, Netanyahu and his cabinet are representative of Israeli society today. Public opinion polls point to increasing extremism, bordering on racism, in Jews’ opinion of Arabs, as well as to alienation and a distrust of the other side’s goals and intentions. Given these circumstances, it’s no wonder there is no public pressure on the government to advance the peace process and that there was no significant public response to the dramatic announcement that the talks had been suspended.
When it comes to peace, Israel’s position today is similar to its position after the wars of 1948 and of 1967: The potential for negotiations was there, but the cost was considered too high. Now, too, maintaining the status quo appears to be preferable to making changes that Israelis perceive as threatening, even if they do not necessarily pose a genuine danger.
In the past decade, Israel has faced a number of Arab initiatives: the Arab League peace plan, Syrian offers to negotiate, Palestinian willingness to move forward and even moderate declarations from Hamas. Successive Israeli governments responded to all of them with restraint and icy indifference (with the exception of the waning days of Ehud Olmert’s term as prime minister ).
And Israel has never proffered its own initiative that would indicate a desire for peace. This leads us to the unhappy conclusion that Israel – both its government and its people – are not really interested in peace; at most, they make the sounds of peace, but that is not enough.