If we are to expect anything at all from the dying months of George W Bush’s lamest of lame duck presidencies, look to Israel/Palestine. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, has been spending an increasing amount of time in the region, and Bush, the first president to explicitly endorse the goal of an independent Palestinian state, may feel that his middle eastern legacy could do with some bucking up.
Is a deal likely? Two-state-solution optimists often point to the fact that in opinion polls, a large majority of Israelis say they support the idea of an independent Palestinian state. And almost two thirds even want their government to talk to Hamas—a proposal which would probably kill stone dead any of the three remaining presidential candidacies.
Yet dig beneath the surface and you find that in many cases, the support of Israelis for Palestinian independence probably has more to do with a desire to rid themselves of their troublesome neighbours than a commitment to their political rights. Two thirds of Jewish Israelis say the border between Israel and an independent Palestine should be closed. Two thirds say they wouldn’t want to live in the same building as an Arab, and half would not even let an Arab into their home.
This widespread antipathy of Israeli Jews towards Arabs is reflected in the rise of Beitar Jerusalem FC, who have just won the Israeli title for the second consecutive season. Beitar’s fans, particularly the “La Familia” ultras, are notorious for their anti-Arab racism and their hostility towards accommodation with the Palestinians. Yet these attitudes, as David Goldblatt reports in the new issue of Prospect, are if anything spreading beyond the Beitar terraces.