For today’s post, I am drawing information from reports written for the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), which incorporates the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. The INSS releases monthly reports on a number of issues including Israeli public opinion on national security issues, Israeli national security, and Middle East military affairs in general. Among the more interesting of the public opinion polling data they have released regards Israeli attitudes to territorial withdrawal in the West Bank.
Although reports on Israeli security attitudes were published by the INSS from the mid-1980s, data on Israeli support for withdrawal from specific areas of the West Bank began in 1994 and have continued through 2009. The four areas originally included in the reports were Gush Etzion, the Jordan Valley, Western Samaria, and East Jerusalem. In 2001, the language regarding East Jerusalem was changed to the “Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.” In 2005, questions were included about the Temple Mount and Eastern Samaria, and, in 2009, a question was added about Hebron.
The data offered here is drawn from the entire time period of 1994-2009 with the exception of 2004, for which the reports offer a longitudinal graph of attitudes toward withdrawal but no actual percentages, and 2008, for which the answers to these questions were not reported.
% Support for Relinquishing Control of Specific Areas of the West Bank
Arab East Jerusalem
In the INSS’ 2005-2007 report, “The People Speak: Israeli Public Opinion on National Security,” the authors note several prominent trends: After the Olso Accords were signed in 1994, there is a general, slow but steady trend toward increasing willingness by the Israeli public to concede “land for peace.” However, with the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, this trend was reversed.
East Jerusalem is identified as a special case and a clear example of how wording of a question can alter responses to it. When, in 2001, the East Jerusalem question was reworked to read “the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” support to withdraw from these spaces jumped significantly. The authors suggest that this points to an overriding demographic interest in preserving a “Jewish” Jerusalem even at the cost of losing some neighborhoods. The incredibly low support for withdrawal of Israeli sovereignty from the Temple Mount in particular, in turn, supports the idea that Israeli territorial claims in Jerusalem are based more on cultural and religious values than security ones.
For the results of 2006 and 2007, they group the territories into four groups: Gush Etzion, the Jordan Valley, and the Temple Mount, with only a quarter willing to concede, western Samaria with one third, the Arab Neighborhoods of Jerusalem with between 40-50% support for concession, and “isolated settlements on the mountain ridge of eastern Samaria” with a majority as high as two thirds willing to withdraw in exchange for a peace settlement and an end to the conflict.
Strong opposition to withdrawal from Gush Etzion may be explained by several factors, namely the reality of dense Jewish population residing there, while the Jordan Valley continues to be popularly perceived as absolutely critical to Israel’s strategic security. Western Samaria, although much less dense in Jewish population than Gush Etzion, is home to a number of settlements and overlooks Ben Gurion Airport and the Tel Aviv metropolitan area at large. Eastern Samaria has the sparsest of Jewish communities relative to Arab ones in the West Bank and is farthest from major Israeli population centers. However, since the disengagement from Gaza and parts of Northern Samaria in 2005, support for further withdrawals has fallen off even here.
Low willingness to withdraw from Hebron could be indicative of cultural and religious valuation of the territory, but it could also be indicative of a hesitancy to engage in another massive eviction of Jewish Israelis from their homes. While the city of Hebron itself has a rather small Jewish population, some 800 people at most, including Kiryat Arba and the surrounding smaller Jewish communities yields a population of around 10,000, about 1500 more than were expelled from Gush Katif.
In the INSS’ 2010 report, “Vox Populi: Trends in Israeli Public Opinion on National Security 2004-2009,” the authors continue to emphasize the reality of “over 300,000 Jews living in more than 100 communities throughout the West Bank” as a significant consideration for Israelis on the question of Land for Peace. However, they too noted that support remains for the evacuation of settlements under certain conditions, particularly the small and isolated ones. See my first post on this subject. Although this position has been clearly weakened since the disengagement, a bare majority of Israelis still support some form of settlement evacuation.
The data presented above, however, also offers evidence to the contrary. While Israelis have expressed a weak willingness to evacuate from territories in the West Bank, particularly absent major settlement blocs, it is not clear from where they would actually be willing to withdraw. While the numbers provided do not offer percentages of those who oppose withdrawal from any particular area, they still do not offer majority support in any of the seven areas listed.
If willingness to withdraw is strongly correlated with threats perceived by Israelis to their security, as the INSS authors suggest, further improvements in the security environment should also bolster willingness to withdraw. However, given that willingness to withdraw from each is different across all seven categories and magnitudes of change from year to year are also different across all seven categories, other important explanatory factors must be at work. Both the INSS authors and I have suggested that questions of demography and national/cultural attachments to land may explain the difference.