RAY SUAREZ: For more on the situation in Israel and on the West Bank, we get two perspectives: Shai Feldman is the director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. He's written widely on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on the phone is Khalil Shikaki. He directs the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, a nonprofit, independent think tank that focuses on domestic Palestinian issues, foreign policy and does public opinion polls. He's on the phone because he cannot get to a television studio.
Mr. Shikaki, how has the recent weeks of escalating violence affected Palestinian public opinion? What's the mood now?
KHALIL SHIKAKI: Well, there's no doubt that the level of violence has been intensifying. And with it, I would also say it has been deepening the hatred between the two people, increasing the support for violence and increasing support for factions that commit violence.
And it is making people more determined to continue this fight until the occupation has ended. There's little hope that negotiations will pick up or that negotiations will eventually succeed in bringing about a negotiated outcome between the two sides.
RAY SUAREZ: I was wondering if one of the possibilities wasn't that exhaustion and death toll finally push people to be more willing to try something new, after the violence hasn't been working for a while?
KHALIL SHIKAKI: Unfortunately, there is too much anger, too much frustration. The threat perception, I'm sure for Israelis as well, is so high that people at this point find very little room for optimism about the future, very little willingness to seriously think about reconciliation or going back to negotiations or supporting negotiations.
RAY SUAREZ: Shai Feldman, same question. How has the violence affected Israeli public opinion?
SHAI FELDMAN: Well, I think in some of the same manner that Dr. Shikaki described Palestinian opinion. I think there is a very great sense of insecurity in Israel throughout the country, a sense that nowhere is safe, where restaurants, coffee shops, shopping malls, the train stations, bus stations, all of these places have been subjected to either suicide bombings or gunmen shooting entire families and so on.
And so there's a great sense of insecurity. There is, because of that, the hardening of positions. Our center is conducting an annual public opinion poll on national security affairs. The results of this year's poll was published only yesterday and shows a sharp turn to the right, a great sense of disillusionment about the peace process.
For example, support for the Oslo process has gone down from 55 percent to 38 percent in just one year. The Israeli public perceives that all this violence came with a background of what they perceived to have been the most generous offer ever made by an Israeli prime minister for peace, which is to say the Barak-Clinton proposals that were rejected by Arafat.
And so, there's a great disillusionment about the negotiation option. And at the same time, the Israeli government does not appear to be able to put an end to this violence. So there's a great sense of insecurity and frustration right now.
RAY SUAREZ: You talk about a turn to the right. Does that mean that Israeli public opinion is becoming more uniform, or are there still splits inside the national opinion -- rival factions, rival points of view?
SHAI FELDMAN: Well, I think that the-- no, I think there is a big debate. I think that the big difference is that... I mean, what's unifies, I would say the two large political blocks-- which is Likud and Labour that comprise the government-- is the sense that we have to put an end to this violence. I think, however, there is a big difference between the two in the sense of what they are willing to offer to the Palestinians in case the Palestinians stop the violence and go back to the negotiation table.
There is no question that there is enormous readiness among Labour leaders and among Labour followers to essentially offer the Palestinians statehood, and I would say a meaningful statehood. I don't think that the proposals that the last Labour prime minister has put on the table are dead. They can be rekindled if people go back to negotiation table.
So I think there is clearly a debate among the... let's say the Sharon-led Likud, whose political horizon is to offer the Palestinians a long-term, interim agreement with the view that it is impossible to bridge the gap in a way that would allow us to end the conflict, and Labour that is willing to go much further than that in terms of offering peace proposals to the Palestinians.
RAY SUAREZ: Khalil Shikaki, how are... how is the debate going inside Palestinian circles? Are the splits regional, inside the territories, outside the territories? How does it break down?
KHALIL SHIKAKI: Well, the main split is along... is within the Palestinian national movement. The basic objective of the movement is to establish a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.
However, over time, and particularly over the last several years, there has been a split within the Palestinian national movement; with the old guard, the founding fathers of the movement who have negotiated the Oslo process with Israel, and who have been in charge of government in Palestinian areas since 1994. This old guard is now being perceived by a much younger generation of Palestinian leaders as a failure. The young guards believe that the old guard have failed to deliver an end to occupation, something that they believe the old guard have promised when the Oslo process was signed, and that the old guard also has failed in terms of delivering good governments, clean governments, strong institutions for the Palestinian people.
And therefore, the young guard are determined not only to find a new way to end occupation. In this sense, they view violence as the most effective way. Their model is the Hezbollah model in south Lebanon.
But they want to force Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. And at the same time they are determined to displace-- replace the old guard of the national movement and take over. This is the main split.
Of course, there are also forces... that have not shared the vision of the national movement in terms of the endgame for the conflict with Israel. The Islamists, for example, want to continue the fight.
However, while the Islamists are gaining ground and have been gaining ground since the start of the Intifada, there is very much... the national movement is still very much in control, and I do not think that the Islamists pose an immediate threat to the hegemony of the nationalists at this time.
RAY SUAREZ: What about the presence of Israeli tanks on the streets of major towns like Ramallah, where you are right now, whose hand does that strengthen in these debates that you describe?
KHALIL SHIKAKI: Well, there is no doubt that this is very much the end of the old guard of the national movement. In fact, it all started when Sharon came over and he banned all negotiations with the Palestinians a year ago.
By doing so, he's basically eliminated the old guards as an actor in the Palestinian politics. Prior to that, and particularly since the start of the Intifada about a year and a half ago, under the government of the former Prime Minister Barak, the old guard did their best to try and come up with a negotiated settlement even during the Intifada, and they indeed did very well, ending up with the Dava (ph) negotiations in January 2001, which made significant progress on all issues that were discussed.
However, since then, there really has been no Palestinian-Israeli negotiations whatsoever, which in the eyes of the young guards, made the old guard redundant and not so useful. The old guard... the young guard really no longer believes that negotiations are useful and will probably do their best to oppose any serious return to negotiations with tanks in the streets of Ramallah and elsewhere now.
I believe... and with the young guards, being the only forces that are resisting these Israeli tanks, I believe the message is clear for the majority of the Palestinians the future is for the young guards.
RAY SUAREZ: And Shai Feldman, who inside Israel is looking stronger because there has to be a response in the view of the government to the suicide bombings, and now it's taken the form of reoccupation?
SHAI FELDMAN: Well, I think that there's no question that, again, the continued violence is strengthening those that are arguing that there is no other alternative to the efforts to end the violence but to put increased military pressure both on the Palestinian Authority, with an effort to change its views, to get it back to, first of all, to get it to stop the violence and to get back to the negotiation table, and also, to try to target those extremists, the Islamists and otherwise that are conducting these suicide bombings that are preparing the rockets that are fired, that are preparing these explosives and so on and so forth.
In the Israeli perception, two things I think differ from the way that the reality has been depicted from the Palestinian side:
The first is that, to place the issue on Sharon and his refusal to negotiate tends to forget the fact that when Sharon became prime minister, we had already had between four and five months of Palestinian violence. Sharon inherited, in fact Sharon was elected by a very large margin because the previous government's efforts to stem the violence was perceived as a failure and the population turned to somebody that they believed would restore personal safety and security.
And the fact of the matter is that, after a year in office, this government, having exerted lots of different types of pressures on the Palestinians, have failed to deliver on that and therefore, the pressure is to increase the measures and the pressure.
RAY SUAREZ: Shai Feldman in Tel Aviv, Khalil Shikaki in Ramallah gentlemen, thank you.