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Israel peace activists defy public opinion as they press for 2-state solution

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in the Middle East this week, trying to get the region to think about the day after the war in Gaza. His message to Israel is that it would have more security if the Palestinians were on a path to statehood. But few are thinking about that in Israel as NPR Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In the basement of a small apartment building, activists with a group called Peace Now understand they're on the margins of Israeli society. In times of war, the most radical views dominate discourse says Mauricio Lapchik.

MAURICIO LAPCHIK: For example, with a two-state solution, a political solution is exactly what Hamas would not want to accept because their vision is a religious Muslim radical state from the river to the sea, and the vision of the radicals from our government or our society is a Jewish supremacy state from the river to the sea.

KELEMEN: His task is to get people talking about a middle ground.

LAPCHIK: We are here to say that at the end of the day, if we want to live in security and freedom, both the peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, will need to understand that the only solution is that giving Israel the right to exist and protect themselves and giving the Palestinians the right to self-determination and also to protect and the security that they deserve.

KELEMEN: Palestinians and the government in the West Bank are furious with the U.S. for vetoing a U.N. security council resolution to upgrade their status at the U.N. Most Israelis don't even understand why the world is talking about a Palestinian state right now, says Dahlia Scheindlin, a public opinion expert who's written a book called "The Crooked Timber Of Democracy In Israel."

DAHLIA SCHEINDLIN: People are talking about it because they're totally incredulous that the rest of the world is talking about it and they think it's absolutely bizarre. They think it's completely, like, happening on another planet.

KELEMEN: She says only about a quarter of Jewish IsraelIs support the idea of creating a Palestinian state. The number is closer to 70% of Palestinians with IsraelI citizenship. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never supported a Palestinian state, and he and others now argue that the October 7 attack was a sign of what a state would look like. That's according to Scheindlin.

SCHEINDLIN: That's not me saying that, OK? That is the kind of things that you're hearing from the Israel right wing, which is a vast portion of Israeli society. You know, the leadership, the government, and over half of all Israelis, and certainly over 60% of Jewish Israelis think in that way.

KELEMEN: Lapchik of Peace Now is looking beyond this current government in Israel, which he says is more focused on expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and fighting, as he puts it, a perpetual war with the Palestinians. He thinks the U.S. should continue to impose sanctions on Israeli extremists in the West Bank, because that is starting to at least have an impact on public discourse at home.

LAPCHIK: People finally started to talk about settler violence, settler terrorism. I prefer to use that term because that's what it is. It is not only violence. It is terrorism, and it should be condemned and avoided and stopped.

KELEMEN: Peace Now is trying to get more Israelis out to protest, but Israeli protest movements are all over the map. There are right-wing Israelis who want to resettle Gaza and block aid to Palestinians. Others are out in force to demand a hostage deal. In those protests, some Israelis do talk about the need for peace. A survivor of the October 7 attack, Iris Ganor, says when she was in a safe house that day, fearing her life, she wrote a letter.

IRIS GANOR: It was supposed to be read by my daughters, and it ended with the words, do not seek revenge in my name - seek peace. I'm still there. I believe that we have to find a way to settle and it's not only our problem, it's the whole west world's problem to find a way to tame the extremists all around.

KELEMEN: Israelis and Palestinians don't have to love each other, she says, but they need to find a way to co coexist.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.