"How many troops has the Pope?"
If you are old enough to remember that question, you know that the answer is somewhere between "None," and "Not too many."
The modern equivalent is, "How many troops has world public opinion?"
Same answer, to the great sorrow of the Palestinians.
Israel has not responded to their insistent demands for turning back the clock to 1947, or their most generous offer of 1967. No sign that the refugees and their families are returning to what they claim as their homes, that Israel will take down the major settlements in the West Bank, and maybe not even the smaller ones. Same response to the occasional cry that the Jews move back to Poland, Iraq, Morocco, or Yemen.
The Palestinians are doing well on the international stage. Heads of governments call out the honor guard, have themselves photographed shaking hands with the ostensible head of the Palestine National Authority, and speak positively about the creation of a Palestinian State. They are not so forthcoming about the refugees, their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, but they may say that it is an issue, along with detailed borders, that must be left to negotiations between Palestine and Israel.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are doing their part, along with United Nations organs, in documenting the misery of the Palestinians and endorsing their narrative of Israeli evil. Public and other media generally are on the same side. They may flick in the direction of balance and say a few words about Palestinian violence or intransigence, but the more common message is to support the justice of Palestinian claims.
But where are the troops?
They are in the same place as those that could do something about North Korea and Iran. That is, they are somewhere over the horizon, or busy in the frustrating wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Partly because of those wars, the great powers are relying on engagement with North Korea and Iran.
The troops are even farther from the Israeli-Palestinian front. The reasons include Israeli efforts at accommodation and Palestinian extremism. Israeli officials and citizens are not the only ones who feel that the Palestinians must contribute more than they have to the peace process. World public opinion, NGOs, and the media might not bother with the details, but they are persuasive to the heads of governments that actually do control troops.
Palestinians' appeal to the world does provide benefits. Their academics, activists, and nominal officials get invitations to distinguished encounters, where nice things are said about them. They may derive pleasure from western academics, media personalities, and NGO reports that support the Palestinian story of what has happened since 1947. The commotions that keep Israelis from speaking in the same forums might also warm Palestinian hearts. The occasional judge who signs an arrest warrant in response to a claim of Israel's violation of international law may be worth another moment of gratification.
As Israelis lick their wounds from the battle for world public opinion, it helps them to recall who does have the troops. Lebanon and Gaza added to the Palestinian case in the eyes of world public opinion, but soldiers are training and equipping themselves in case they have to do it again.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem