JERUSALEM – A pre-Rosh Hashanah New Wave poll commissioned by Israel’s Channel 10 TV News found that Israelis are not only skeptical about the renewed peace process, they are demanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu renew settlement construction throughout Judea and Samaria when the building freeze comes to an end later this month.
Some 38 percent of those who were polled want Netanyahu to renew settlement construction “everywhere” across Judea and Samaria, while 25 percent want construction to resume only within the major settlement blocs (large settlements such as Efrat and Modiin Illit that would be kept as part of any final deal with the Palestinians).
Just 21 percent of those Israelis who were polled want the settlement construction freeze to continue.
The poll found 60 percent of Israelis believe Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not interested in finalizing a peace deal with the Jewish state, while 50 percent believe Netanyahu is sincere in his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.
“These results are somewhat surprising, because they indicate that the Israeli public does not like the settlement freeze at all, and could create a real problem for Netanyahu, who has relied on right-wing constituents for support,” said Channel 10 TV News senior political analyst Raviv Drucker.
Drucker acknowledged that the murder last week of four Israelis near Kiryat Arba by Hamas terrorists – which occurred hours before the New Wave poll was completed – might have impacted the seemingly hard-line results.
Meanwhile, several members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, led by Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, openly criticized the Israeli leader on Sunday for not revealing to Likud Party members the contents of his secret talks in Washington last week with President Obama and Abbas.
“We don’t know where we stand. Doing things without discussions is inappropriate,” said Shalom.
Later in the day, Yisrael Beitenu Chairman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told faction members at a pre-Rosh Hashanah gathering that a “general peace agreement is unattainable – not next year and not within the next generation.”
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated to both the Israeli and Arab media earlier this week that if Netanyahu does not extend the settlement freeze the renewed peace process will come to an abrupt end.
While Netanyahu has publicly stated he will not extend the freeze, there are indications that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intends to pressure the Israeli leader into doing just that during next week’s second-round of scheduled peace talks in Sharm-El Sheikh, Egypt.
One of the points both sides agreed to at last week’s summit was that Israeli and Palestinian leaders would meet every two weeks to advance peace talks.
George Mitchell, the senior U.S. envoy to the region, said the sides agreed to meet in the region Sept. 14-15. In the first stage, Mitchell said, the sides would work toward a framework agreement ahead of a comprehensive agreement, which the United States wants to see within a year.
“The parties themselves agreed that the logical way to succeed, to tackle them, is to reach a framework agreement first,” Mitchell said.
“It is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the compromises necessary to enable an agreement and to flesh out the issues.”
Netanyahu has suggested that he does not want to make substantial concessions until an agreement is in place and security mechanisms exist that protect Israel from rocket attacks and terrorism.
Working on a framework agreement first would allow Netanyahu the room to postpone territorial concessions.
On Saturday, Palestinian Authority leaders slammed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accusing him of seizing power illegitimately and oppressing the Iranian people. Their condemnation followed Ahmadinejad’s criticism of the PA over negotiations with Israel.
“He who does not represent the Iranian people, who forged elections and who suppresses the Iranian people and stole authority, is not entitled to talk about Palestine, or the president of Palestine,” said PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.
Countering claims that Abbas is not authorized to negotiate with Israel, Rudeineh said, “President Mahmoud Abbas came to power through free, democratic, authentic elections.”
Ahmadinejad said Friday that talks between Israel and the PA will fail. “The fate of Palestine will be determined on the ground in Palestine. Not in Washington. These talks are death, there is no reason to hold talks,” he told a large crowd at Tehran University.
Regarding the PA, he said, “Who gave them the right to sell a piece of Palestinian land? The people of Palestine and the people of the region will not allow them to sell even an inch of Palestinian land to the enemy.”
Iran and the PA usually appear supportive of one another. However, there has been tension between Iran and the Fatah-led PA based since 2007, when Fatah battled with former coalition partner Hamas in a mini-war that led to Hamas’s seizing control of Gaza. Iran backs Hamas and provides the group with both training and weapons.
(With supplemental reporting from JTA and INN)