Polls: The UNGA and a Palestinian State, Part 3

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In the previous two posts, I have explored the Israeli public response to the Palestinian Authority’s intent to unilaterally declare independence and seek international diplomatic recognition at the UN General Assembly in September 2011.

Monthly public opinion data gathered by the Peace Index over the last six months indicates that Israelis are increasingly of the belief that the PA’s efforts are credible and that Israel will suffer international condemnation, greater diplomatic isolation, and potentially a new Palestinian intifada if it refuses to recognize a Palestinian state in the territories of Gaza, the West Bank, and eastern Jerusalem. However, polling also indicates that Israelis believe that international pressure will not increase significantly nor would greater political moderation by the Israeli government result in a Palestinian return to negotiations or the aversion of a new violent Palestinian uprising, particularly if Israel still refuses to withdraw from the West Bank.

I closed the previous post with this question: How can the desire to both preserve Israel as a Jewish state and the achieve peace with the Palestinians be reconciled with apparent Israeli unwillingness to accommodate the declaration of a Palestinian state in the near future? Although there is a general belief that Israel’s diplomatic isolation will not be significantly worsened by PA efforts and that popular Palestinian violence is inevitable, this is not sufficient to explain Israeli hesitancy to reach a final peace settlement on the seemingly internationally popular Palestinian terms. Surely some gains would be made domestically and internationally by bringing the conflict to an end?

Israelis’ hesitancy to withdraw from different disputed territories can be explained only in reference to a complex mix of emotions, historical experience, and strategic rationalizations often particular to each of the territories under examination. However, when asking why Israelis are apparently willing to bear international sanction and internal violence as a result of not recognizing a Palestinian state, the best explanation appears to be that Israelis themselves are not convinced that such recognition would bring about a true end to the conflict.

January 2011: Do you accept or not accept the claim that most of the Palestinians do not see the two-states-for-two-peoples solution as the end of the road, and even if a permanent peace agreement with them is signed, it will not end the conflict because they will continue the struggle for a Palestinian state in all the Land of Israel?

 

Don’t accept at all

Don’t accept

Accept

Strongly accept

Don’t Know

General 14 19.2 29.3 34.2 3.3
Jewish 11.5 17.1 31.1 36.9 3.3
Arab 27.8 31.1 18.9 18.9 3.3

As of January 2011, most Israelis were of the opinion that it is the Palestinians’ intention to continue to fight for a Palestinian State in all of the Land of Israel even after achieving a “permanent” peace settlement. This claim was accepted by 63.5% of the general population and 68% of the Jewish population. Of these measures, strong profession of this belief was the plurality of responses at 34.2% and 36.9% respectively. Opposing this view was the Israeli Arab population with 58.9% rejecting this belief and only 37.8% accepting it. Of this, the plurality of responses was with weak rejection at 31.1%.

The general and Jewish sectors’ outlooks on this question have been remarkably consistent over the last decade and a half. Tracked by the Peace Index at least since the signing of the Oslo Accords, it has found that Israeli perceptions of Palestinian hostility have remained high with disagreement with the statement that “most Palestinians do not accept the existence of Israel and would destroy her if they could,” only outpacing agreement in 1999, although even in this period strong agreement still making up the strong plurality of the sample.

This perception has been regularly bolstered by internal Palestinian public opinion polling in which majority rejection of a two-state solution as a basis for conflict resolution is the norm. In a June-July 2011 survey of 1,010 Palestinian adults in the West Bank and Gaza conducted by an American pollster in partnership with the Beit Sahour-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and sponsored by the Israel Project, a mere 34% accepted the notion of a two-state solution while 61% rejected it. Much more worrisome was the survey’s finding that 73% of those surveyed agree with the hadith quoted in the Hamas charter about the need to kill Jews hiding behind stones and trees. By contrast, 65% preferred the route of negotiations to violence while 20% preferred violence over talks.

May 2011: In your opinion, will the Palestinian leadership try to prevent or, alternatively, encourage the outbreak of a third intifada in the event that an independent Palestinian state is declared?

  Prevent Encourage Don’t Know
General 36.1 56.1 7.7
Jewish 33.7 58.2 8.1
Arab 49.9 44.5 5.6

Popular Palestinian perceptions aside, the Israeli public has also made clear its belief that the Palestinian leadership too is not interested in peace on the ground. Asked by the Peace Index whether the PA would prevent or encourage the outbreak of a third intifada, only 36.1% of the Israeli public believed they would prevent such violence while 56.1% believed they would encourage it. Amongst the Jewish public, 33.7% expected the PA to engage in prevention while 58.2% expected they would encourage violence. Among Israeli Arabs, 49.9% expect prevention but 44.5%, a reasonably large number, expect encouragement of violence.

May 2011: It emerged from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the Knesset that Israel will insist on retaining the large settlement blocs in the West Bank and on retaining military control of the Jordan Valley. In other words, Israel would be prepared to evacuate the rest of the settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. What is your view of Netanyahu’s position on this matter?

  Insufficient Appropriate Dangerous Don’t Know
General 23.6 31.8 36.5 8
Jewish 17 33.1 41.3 8.5
Arab 61 24.5 8.9 5.6

It follows that when considering the possibility of territorial withdrawal to accommodate a Palestinian state, many Israelis oppose such a move on the believe that any withdrawal at this point would be dangerous, even one in which Israel retains control of key strategic points and Israeli population centers. In May 2011, the Peace Index asked for Israeli responses to PM Netanyahu’s speech before the Knesset in which he laid six basic issues of “national consensus” with regard to the formation of a Palestinian state. Among them were the demand that Israel retain control of the major settlement blocs and maintain a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley.

The Peace Index poll suggested that this meant that the current government was prepared to withdraw from the rest of the West Bank. Would this be an insufficient move to advance peace, an appropriate move, or a dangerous one? Among the general population, 36.5% believed it to be dangerous followed by 31.8% as appropriate, and 23.6% as insufficient. Among the Jewish sector, a strong plurality at 41.3% believed such a move would be dangerous, followed by 33.1% as appropriate, and 17% as insufficient. This trend was dramatically the opposite among Israeli Arabs of whom a strong majority at 61% believed the gesture to be insufficient, 24.5% to be appropriate, and only 8.9% to be dangerous.

The responses to this question highlight at least two significant things: first and foremost, it would seem to confirm the maxim that the majority that the Israelis are willing to offer to the Palestinians is less than the Palestinians are willing to accept. If 61% of Israeli Arabs are of the belief that a gesture largely in line with the Israeli consensus is insufficient for peace, and if a plurality of 41.3% of Jewish Israelis believe this gesture to be dangerous at this time, there does not seem to be much space for negotiation.

Secondly, the spread of opinion even within the Jewish sector highlights that although many fear the consequences of territorial concessions, a not much smaller percentage believe such concessions are ultimately appropriate. Those who are of the opinion that such a move would be insufficient cannot be clearly distinguished between those who believe that the Palestinians will accept nothing less than the end of the State of Israel and those who believe that much more far-reaching concessions by Israel are necessary for peace.

In June 2011, the Peace Index asked a series of questions aimed at gauging the particular conditions under which Israelis would agree to a withdrawal from the West Bank. First they asked if those polled would support a complete withdrawal from the West Bank in exchange for a full peace with the Palestinians. Of those who opposed or were undecided, it was asked if they would support a withdrawal from the West Bank except for the large settlement blocs in exchange for peace. Of those who were still opposed or undecided, it was asked if they would support a withdrawal from the West Bank excepting the large settlement blocs and if the Palestinians would declare an end to the historic conflict with Israel and recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people (מדינת העם היהודי).

june-2011-support-for-withdrawal

June 2011: Support for peace agreement with the Palestinians involving withdrawal from West Bank

General

Strongly support

Support

Oppose

Strongly Oppose

Don’t Know

All 19.9 14.3 24.5 37.8 3.6
Not blocs 26.0946 30.2478 16.2773 23.065 4.4153
J State 28.720056 39.2618656 10.283036 18.5532224 3.28182
Jewish

-

-

-

-

-

All 10 15.8 27.7 42.5 4
Not blocs 15.7876 34.0532 18.4016 26.712 5.0456
J State 18.9476296 42.7307416 12.3893224 21.9195704 3.9625768
 Arab

-

-

-

-

-

All 75.6 5.6 6.7 11.1 1.1
Not blocs 82.4796 9.0398 4.2903 3.4398 0.8505
J State 89.7387876 10.3612124      

Unsurprisingly, the poll found that support for withdrawal increased significantly as the conditions of peace were specified in greater detail. Even the Arab sector, in which support for withdrawal comprises the vast majority regardless of the terms for peace, found increasingly unqualified support as the terms came to include explicit recognition of a Jewish state. Among the Jewish sector, opposition to withdrawal comprised the significant majority, at 70.2%, where the withdrawal would mean leaving behind large Israeli settlement blocs with a significant plurality of 42.5% strongly opposed and only 25.8% in support.

Yet when suggesting a withdrawal which excluded major settlement blocs, opposition dropped to 45.1% while support grew to 49.8% where the plurality of support shifted to weak support at 34%. These results are mirrored in an October 2010 peace index survey in which support also rose when settlement blocs were proposed to be retained. More significantly in this June 2011 survey, when peace included an explicit Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, support rose to 61.7% and opposition dropped to 34.3% where the plurality of weak support grew to 42.7%.

These results highlight at least two significant findings. First, that no matter the conditions, there remains an approximately 20-30% “hard core” among Israeli Jewry that is simply opposed to the idea of territorial withdrawal from the West Bank regardless of conditions for peace. Such opposition can be attributed to a number of factors, including deeply ingrained skepticism that peace is possible, a religious, cultural, historic, and perhaps nationalist opposition to territorial withdrawal from any part of the “Jewish homeland”, and a belief that Palestinian political claims should be resolved either elsewhere (often Jordan) or under different terms (a bi-national state, a regional political confederation, or Palestinian autonomy short of independent statehood).

Secondly, and slightly more relevant to mainstream Israeli society, the majority of Israeli Jews would in fact be supportive of a territorial partition of the Land of Israel and a two-state solution if such a solution in fact meant an end to the historic conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and Arab world at large. It is by this facet of the conflict which Israelis have been consistently frustrated at an apparent lack of international understanding or sympathy. Prime Minister Netanyahu is not lying when he contends that Israel is ready for peace with its neighbors but nor is he exaggerating when he expresses Israelis’ expectations that such a peace will mean the end to all further claims on the Jewish state.

The wave of terrorism, suicide bombings, and rocket attacks which have followed every major Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, from Oslo to Camp David to Annapolis have done much to undermine Israeli confidence in any peace deal. Regular pronouncements by Palestinian leaders that the two-state solution is a stepping stone to a single Palestinian state in the whole of “historic Palestine” coupled with popular Palestinian expressions that reject the existence of Israel even under peace and the realization of Palestinian political sovereignty undermine what little confidence remains. This is hardly an environment in which Israelis can be expected to be willing to risk  “painful compromises” for peace.

International campaigns bolstered by prominent human rights NGOs and regular and disproportionate diplomatic condemnations not only by UN bodies chaired by states in the developing world but by liberal European governments to whom Israel once felt close diplomatic, security, and cultural ties have further isolated Israelis and fostered a growing mentality that no level of moderation, concession, or appeasement will bring Israel international approval. With the expectation that Israel will be condemned no matter its course of action and bloodied no matter its efforts for peace, it should come as no surprise that many Israelis are prepared to shoulder greater costs of international isolation rather than pursue a chimera of “peace”.

Not all hope for peace should be considered lost however. Even as Israelis express their intense skepticism at peace with the Palestinians and seem to be thumbing their nose at world opinion, they are also sending clear signals regarding the conditions under which peace as well as territorial concessions would be possible. If there is to be a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it must include an unequivocal declaration by the Palestinian Authority of their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state against which it will have no further claims upon the establishment of Palestinian statehood.

This will require a “painful sacrifice” by the Palestinian national movement: the abandonment of a vision cultivated by both the PLO and Fatah since their inception (not to mention Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad) that the Palestinian state will displace an Israeli one, not exist alongside it. It will also require confronting a disappointed public, particularly the large population of the descendants of the Palestinian refugees of 1948-49, which has been spoon fed this myth without regard for and often in intentional spite of its plausibility or impact for peacemaking.

Those who believe that a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood and diplomatic recognition by the UN General Assembly will only help resolve this longstanding conflict should take note. Lacking such critical assurances that a Palestinian state will mean peace rather than continued warfare and international delegitimization of the Jewish state, Israelis are prepared to oppose Palestinian diplomatic maneuvers at high costs to the Israeli state and society. For those international players who seek real peace in the region, they need not abandon their concern for the humanitarian well-being of Palestinians. They must, however, recognize the roots of Israeli intransigence do not lie in a desire to perpetuate Palestinian suffering but rather in an inalienable right of self-preservation.

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One Response to Polls: The UNGA and a Palestinian State, Part 3

  1. [...] from my previous post, those who strongly reject territorial withdrawal from the West Bank under any circumstance [...]

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