JERUSALEM -- The Israeli public seems more prepared than their leaders to see a Palestinian state existing beside Israel.
A majority of Israelis believes that such a state will be created at the end of the peace process, according to a public opinion poll released yesterday. Elected leaders continue to insist that no such state will be created.
There are other signs, too, of the Israeli public's view of what the peace process may lead to. While the government of Yitzhak Rabin insists that no Jewish settlements will be removed from the occupied territories, hundreds of Jewish settlers are reported to be willing to move.
The offers were serious enough to prompt Mr. Rabin this week to publicly squelch rumors the government will buy the settlers' homes.
"I don't want to further encourage the exodus at this time," Mr. Rabin told his Cabinet ministers. "If the government says it is ready to give compensation, it will encourage more people to leave."
There are approximately 120,000 Jewish settlers living among 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The most strident settlers claim the land as a deed from God for Israel and have vowed to resist any attempt to move them. But many others moved to settlements because of cheap housing and government subsidies, and are willing to leave rather than live under Palestinian control.
The current negotiations with the Palestinians are bogged down over details of how Israel will control and protect the 120 Jewish settlements in line with Mr. Rabin's promise than none will be uprooted.
Israel has demanded control over almost 40 percent of the Gaza Strip to protect the 3,000 Israelis who live among 800,000 Arabs there.
A few voices are questioning the wisdom of trying to hold on to all those areas.
"Some questions have to be asked out loud," Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Israel Radio this week.
He noted that many of the tiny settlements, which often use imported labor rather than hire Palestinians, will be difficult and costly to protect.
"What is the point of maintaining a settlement with 28 families that needs workers from Thailand, that needs an army platoon to guard them, needs to have their road guarded by patrols?
"Where is the logic? What is the point?" he asked.
The right-wing settler leaders reject such questions.
They have embarked on a campaign to create settlements without government approval and have said they will mount civil disobedience.
"We will continue our activity, continue to build, continue to demonstrate," vowed Tzvi Handel, head of a council of settlers in the Gaza Strip.
The agreement signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization Sept. 13 in Washington outlines a five-year period to settle these issues.
In the interim period -- the details of which are being negotiated in Cairo and Taba, Egypt -- the Jewish settlements are to stay and the Palestinians will have some government rights within "autonomous areas" of the West Bank and Gaza.
Mr. Rabin and even the more liberal Mr. Peres have denied that the autonomous areas will ultimately become a Palestinian state.
But a poll commissioned by the Hebrew daily Yidiot Ahronot newspaper found that 64 percent of Israelis believe such a state will be created. Thirty percent said they believed one will not.
Fierce opposition to that idea has long been a staple of Israeli politics, and few politicians have dared to suggest otherwise.
Nissim Zvilli, the secretary-general of the ruling Labor Party, violated that maxim and was bitterly condemned in his own party last week when he predicted the inevitability of a Palestinian state.
"The Palestinians will adopt the position of having a Palestinian state," he told a party convention. "I don't believe we will be able to force the Palestinians to accept another option. It seems to me that those are going to be the prices."