One important determinant in whether or not Israelis will be willing to accept any further territorial withdrawals from the West Bank is whether or not they believe the Palestinians in fact want peace. One question consistently posed by the Peace Index in its surveys of Israeli public opinion since 1996 has gaged Israeli opinions on the following statement: "In fact, most Palestinians do not accept the existence of Israel and would destroy her if they could."
In at least one month in every year between 1996 and 2010 with the exception of 2003, 2006, and 2009, the survey has asked this question in more or less this form. The February 2000 question substitutes “Arabs” for “Palestinians” and the October 2010 question measures only simple agreement or disagreement. Both graphical and numerical measures are provided below as percentages of Jewish Israeli respondents.
"In fact, most Palestinians do not accept the existence of Israel and would destroy her if they could."
|S Agree||Agree||So-So||Disagree||S Disagree||dk|
The results are quite striking. In every survey, a significant plurality of respondents have strongly agreed with the above statement. Moreover, the only time simple disagreement has not accounted for over 50% of the sample was in 1999. In this survey, strong disagreement was the largest of any survey period at 18.8%. However, disagreement still did not outweigh agreement at 48% to 23% with the difference in balance made up by the most sizeable “so-so” response (ככה ככה) in the history of the survey at 19.8%.
Reading this data in isolation of other responses, particularly willingness to withdraw from contested territories, it is problematic to suggest policy prescriptions for negotiations or engagement with the Israeli public. However, it does offer a picture of Israeli public opinion that is highly skeptical of Palestinian desires for true peace. If a significant correlation does exist between Israeli perceptions of Palestinian hostility and a willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations, for proponents of negotiations, a real need exists to shift these perceptions.
There may be some explanatory power in placing the burden of these beliefs on the “false consciousness” of an Israeli public raised to believe that Arabs do not want peace. However, with Hamas’ regular bombastic public statements threatening violence against Israel, the Palestinian Authorities’ continued unwillingness to recognize the principle of a Jewish state in exchange for Israeli recognition of a Palestinian one, and public opinion polling showing that Palestinians see the implementation of a 2-state solution as a stepping stone toward a single state of Palestine in the whole territory of Israel, blaming Israelis alone is fallacious to say the least. Clearly, a major objective of my data analysis down the line will be to test the statistical correlation of these factors.
All data presented here comes from the Peace Index, a project of the Evens Program for Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute. The raw data cited here can be found on their website: http://www.peaceindex.org. Every monthly survey is includes between 500 and 600 respondents and exact calculations of measurement error for each survey can be found in their monthly reports.