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What would it take for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Over the weekend, Vice President Harris emphasized the United States' preferred solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's a two-state solution with an independent Palestine alongside Israel. This is not a popular solution right now among the people who would be affected. On this program, analyst Khalil Shikaki said a lot of Palestinians see the two-state solution as a hopeless cause.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KHALIL SHIKAKI: If this looks like a feasible solution to the conflict, there will be greater support. Right now, the lack of support is mainly due to the belief that it is simply not feasible. The fact that Israel is opposed to the two-state solution.

INSKEEP: He says, that explains the loss of support for Palestinian leaders who promote two states and higher support for Hamas, which demands an end to Israel. A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute finds that most Jewish Israelis don't support two states either. Yohanan Plesner is president of the Israel Democracy Institute, and he joins us from Israel via Skype. Welcome to the program, sir.

YOHANAN PLESNER: Hi, Steve. Thanks for having me. Good morning.

INSKEEP: I'm interested to see your survey because Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, has very rarely supported two states - definitely doesn't support that now. And I'd like to know, in saying that, is he in fact reflecting Israeli majority opinion?

PLESNER: Well, Israelis are mainly confused. Even in the wake of this worst attack in our history and in the midst of a bloody war, a vast majority of Israelis do not want to reoccupy the Palestinians and basically do not want to hold on permanently to the Gaza Strip. Only about a quarter of Israelis, even now, in the midst of all of this mess, are interested in that. At the same time, Israelis - you know, they want Palestinians to govern their own lives as much as possible. And at the same time, they want to ensure that any future Palestinian political entity cannot arm itself again with Iranian support and launch future attacks like October 7.

So as I mentioned, Israelis are confused. They do not trust the Palestinians now just to sort of - to create a vacuum and for them to manage their own security affairs. And at the same time, Israelis are not interested in managing...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

PLESNER: ...The Palestinians.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Well, that would explain why Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders in recent years give an impression of preferring to manage this conflict rather than solve it because the solutions don't seem to be ideal for them. But I'd like to know now, did the attack on October 7 cause some Israelis to question whether it's practical to just manage this conflict forever?

PLESNER: Well, I think, as I mentioned, the Israelis are confused. The idea that you can just manage the conflict obviously has received a serious blow. But at the same time, also the idea that Israel can just move out - all of these Palestinian areas are just a few miles from 80% of Israel's population centers, so you can just move out and leave a security vacuum, is also not a very appealing idea to so many Israelis. I think there's the one clear understanding - that without dismantling Hamas, there will be no peace and no chance for a Palestinian state.

This is a terror organization that is interested in an Islamic Shariah state - as they mentioned, from the river to the sea, or in other words, to eradicate Israel. So as long as Hamas is there, this entire discussion is very theoretical. Once Hamas is removed, I think there will be an interim period with the support of our European friends, our American allies, moderate Arab states and moderate Palestinians to try and create a different reality that can be trusted and hopefully, down the road, a political entity that manages itself with serious constraints on its security capabilities.

INSKEEP: Well, let me just ask, though, how much of the Israeli public, including settlers who've gone into the West Bank but get to vote in Israeli elections - how much of the Israeli electorate has a maximalist solution in mind for them? They would like to control everything from the river to the sea, and they wouldn't mind if Palestinians went somewhere else.

PLESNER: Well, as I mentioned, you know, the same figure - you mentioned that there's a sort of a wary Israeli public opinion about a Palestinian state because Israelis, when they hear a Palestinian state, they understand, you know, a state with all of the capabilities. But when we asked the same Israelis in the same poll, only 25% want to - even now, in the midst of war, want to control Gaza permanently, so a vast majority are not interested in it.

INSKEEP: Are those 25%, though, very particularly influential?

PLESNER: I don't think so. Right now, even the prime minister said he's not interested. I think this is a marginal voice in Israeli public life. And the main voice is how do we move out, not control the lives of the Palestinians and, at the same time, make sure our security interests are taken care of?

INSKEEP: OK. Yohanan Plesner is president of the Israel Democracy Institute. Thanks so much.

PLESNER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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