This week, for instance, we learned how much more advanced the citizens of the region have become: Even their most extreme members are more willing to compromise than their leaders. First, the Palestinian Arab political scientist Dr. Khalil Shikaki surprised the world with a large-scale, credible survey of the 4.5-million Palestinian refugees living on Israel's borders. It showed that a startling 73 per cent would give up their claim to homes and lands seized by Israel since its foundation in 1948, if they were just given cash compensation.
Only 10 per cent want to return to Israel, meaning that the controversial "right of return" demanded by many Palestinians would not, as is often argued, result in Israel's cultural destruction.
Then, on Wednesday, the same question was put to the Israeli Jewish settlers living defiantly in Arab territories. Amazingly, 74 per cent of these 200,000 zealots said they would leave their homes in return for cash compensation. Only one per cent said they would consider resorting to violence to keep their homes. In other words, the Orthodox extremists are far fewer in number, and therefore easier to get past, than was previously believed.
The leaders were not ready for this explosion of moderation. Both the Palestine Liberation Party and Ariel Sharon's Likud Party denounced the pollsters this week for even asking such questions. They seemed embarrassed by the news that the vast majority of Palestinians don't actually want to drive the Jews into the sea, and that even the most religious Israelis are very unlikely to be Zionist madmen bent on overtaking the whole region.