The Middle East Has Thrown in the Towel on Making Peace with Israel

New polls from across the region show a deep pessimism on the possibility of a non-violent, two-state solution.

Remember the Middle East peace process and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerrey's ultimately unsuccessful shuttle diplomacy to restart meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? In the wake of recent developments in Ukraine and Iraq such ambitions seem so much yesterday's news. The recent creation of a Palestinian "unity" government has made it even less likely that the talks will be resumed anytime soon. And now Martin Indyk, the Obama administration's special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has resigned in frustration with the absence of any likelihood of meaningful progress in the foreseeable future.

Such failures have consequences. In the wake of the breakdown in the initiative, people in the region have little faith that a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with each other. Majorities or pluralities in countries across the region now voice the view that nonviolent coexistence is not possible, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. And such pessimism is on the rise among many Middle Eastern publics.

The public's resignation that peace is unobtainable poses new challenges for the Obama administration if and when the White House again tries to revive the diplomatic process. Such public sentiment may undermine the Palestinian government's interest in a negotiated solution to their long-running confrontation with Israel. It may harden the Israelis' reluctance to engage in new negotiations. And public pessimism throughout the region may mean that governments may be less likely to pressure the Israelis and Palestinians to come to some settlement.

These are the findings of the Pew Research Center poll in seven nations conducted from mid-April to mid-May 2014.

Cynicism about peaceful Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is certainly not new. But it is particularly strong today in Lebanon, where 79 percent of the public say such an outcome is not possible. This includes 93 percent of Shiite Muslims, 72 percent of Christians, and 69 percent of Sunni Muslims. Just 11 percent of Lebanese hold the view that Israelis and Palestinians can live together in harmony.

But grave doubts about an Israeli-Palestinian modus vivendi are also expressed by a significant majority of Tunisians (71 percent), the Palestinians themselves (63 percent), and Turks (62 percent).

Among Palestinians, 68 percent of those living in Gaza and 60 percent living on the West Bank say peaceful accommodation is impossible. Only 16 percent of Palestinians in the Palestinian territories see Israel and a Palestinian state coexisting peacefully.

Palestinians were already pessimistic about prospects for the peace negotiations. A 2013 Pew Research survey found that just 15 percent of Palestinians thought that a Palestinian state could be achieved through negotiation. Forty-five percent thought statehood could only be achieved through armed struggle. That plurality may just have had its assumptions confirmed.

Pluralities of Egyptians (48 percent) and Jordanians (39 percent) also say that Israelis and Palestinians cannot learn to live together, while only roughly a quarter of both publics think they can.

In Jordan, roughly four-in-ten (42 percent) Palestinians living there, many of whom may be descended from refugees from the Arab-Israeli wars in 1948 and 1967, do not believe Israel and a Palestinian state can exist in harmony. About a third (34 percent) of ethnic Jordanians are similarly pessimistic.

Israelis, overall, are less negative than their neighbors in the region about prospects for accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians. But even they are divided about such a possibility. Forty-five percent of Israelis say their country cannot coexist peacefully with a Palestinian nation, while 40 percent express the view that such mutual accommodation is possible.

But views of the future are sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines within Israel itself. Notably, Israeli Arabs (13 percent) are far less pessimistic about a two-state solution than are Jews (50 percent). In fact, 64 percent of Israeli Arabs say coexistence is possible. It is unclear whether this is a reflection of their life experience living side-by-side with Jews or merely wishful thinking.

However, only 37 percent of Jews in Israel voice the view that it is possible to live peacefully with the Palestinians. And, among Israeli Jews, there are deep divisions along religious lines on this issue. Three-quarters (76 percent) of self-described Orthodox Jews say Israel and an independent Palestinian state cannot coexist. Roughly half (53 percent) of self-identified traditional Jews agree. But secular Jews are more optimistic, with only 38 percent expressing the view that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is impossible. Nearly half (48 percent) of these secular Jews say the two nations can live in harmony.

Attitudes about prospects for a two-state solution are in flux. In a number of countries in the region there is mounting doubt about the possibility of peaceful coexistence between Israel and a Palestinian state. Such pessimism is up 15 percentage points in Turkey, 14 points in Tunisia, and eight points in Egypt since 2013. Moreover, wariness about a two-state solution has grown among two pivotal publics: Jews in Israel and ethnic Jordanians. In both groups, pessimism is up eight points.

The tide of public opinion in the Middle East is definitely turning against peaceful Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. In a region where Iraq is threatening to break apart, Syria is mired in civil war, and there is growing concern in Lebanon that extremist violence will spread to that country, a stable Palestinian-Israeli relationship is desperately needed. This is not the time for the Middle East peace process to be either dead or on hold.



Get Ready for the Perma-Slump

Sorry to be a downer, but the American economy’s best days are behind it. (And China’s are too.)

Why are the world's great economies having such trouble growing? It's the question on every macroeconomist's lips these days, especially after government officials started downgrading expectations in the United States. A look back at economic history suggests the answer was staring us in the face all along.

For many economists, the central issue today is whether slow growth -- like the particularly terrible quarter earlier this year -- represents a long hangover from the Great Recession or a structural shift. I think it's too early to draw this distinction; only five years have passed since the worst of the recent crisis, which was the deepest in decades. But I also think that structural shifts tend to be the result of long-term trends rather than stuff that happens in a recession which, by some accounts, has actually been cathartic. And when I look at long-term trends, I see a simple explanation for slower growth.

Let's start with the basics. We can split all economic growth into just two factors: expansion of the labor force and increases in workers' output. In other words, the only ways to grow are to get more workers or make each worker more productive. The former is accomplished through fertility, longer life spans, and immigration. The latter depends on workers' access to capital -- human or physical -- and technology.

I'll consider the latter first. The quickest way to give workers access to capital is to move them into cities and suburbs. Not many companies build big factories in the countryside. They want to be near energy grids, transport links, and all the things that their workers will need. That's why businesses invest more in urban areas, where it's easier to reach people with public services, too -- hence more access to machines and computers, and also to education and training.

The quickest way to give workers access to technology is to copy it. This is what Japan, Korea, and China have done in sequence over the past half-century. They didn't invent personal computers, mobiles phones, or the internal combustion engine; they just copied them and exported them more cheaply than other countries could. Only a handful of economies are at the world's technological frontier, pushing constantly for new ideas. The rest grow faster by borrowing technology developed by others, duplicating products, and exporting them at lower prices.

These two economic engines -- urbanization and technology adoption -- can generate a lot of growth. (Just ask China.) But eventually, they run out of steam. You can only urbanize so much, and at some point you've stolen all the technology there is to steal. Moreover, wages usually rise as countries grow, so your export advantage will gradually disappear. (Again, just ask China.) Then your country will have to compete on a level playing field with the most advanced economies in the world, and for that you'll need innovation.

Innovation is tough to come by, though. You can't just make it happen. Rather, you need to create the right environment for the entrepreneurial spirit, an exchange of ideas, and speculative investment to flourish. Even in the most innovation-friendly countries, growth driven by the low-hanging fruit of urbanization and technology adoption tends to be faster than growth born of new science and breakthrough products.

By the time a country is relying on innovation to improve productivity, population growth has often dried up as well. Around the world, countries with higher living standards tend to have lower fertility rates, as parents prefer to invest more in a smaller number of children. Some countries -- like the United States -- also crack down on immigration, as citizens try (mistakenly) to keep all their gains for themselves. Regardless of the reason, there does seem to be an association between higher incomes and lower population growth, at least outside of Qatar:

The upshot of all these notions is that countries generally grow rapidly when they first connect to the global economy, but, as they get richer, they slow down gradually until they reach a stable level of innovation-driven growth. And indeed, this is what seems to be happening in several major economies. Except for spurts driven by one-time occurrences, most of the wealthiest countries haven't seen growth on the order of China or even Korea for decades.

To see why, it helps to consider not just how fast countries grow but what their potential to grow might be. In most cases, a shrinking economy is not fulfilling the potential offered by its supplies of labor, capital, and technology. So in the graphs below, years of negative growth are dropped. I've fitted two trends to the data -- one linear, and one logarithmic -- to offer a couple of hints about where these economies are going and where they have been.

First, consider Japan's path from after postwar reconstruction through the present:

And now, look at Korea, which grew in much the same way Japan did after its currency devaluation and the rationalization of its trade policies in 1964:

And before either of these countries experienced their growth spurts, the United States was already settling into its own postwar path:

Viewed this way, what’s happening in the United States today -- slower growth than the postwar average -- looks like the continuation of trends that have been around for decades. The good news is that the trend seems to be flattening out at a level of per capita growth of roughly 1.5 percent. For Japan, the landing point is likely to be a little lower. Korea looks like it has several years of relatively fast growth left before finding out where the floor is.

That said, these levels of growth aren’t necessarily destiny. Countries may be able to increase the pace of innovation by enhancing education, encouraging financial development, supporting entrepreneurship, strengthening their legal systems, and opening their markets. Investments in basic research can also pay big dividends. And of course, unexpected shocks, from discoveries of raw materials to natural disasters, can perturb the trends as well, at least temporarily.

But once the big engines of growth run out of gas -- and they always do -- innovation is all that’s left. None of this is surprising, given the basics of economic theory. Why are we only waking up to it now?

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