Easily one of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israeli-Arab conflict at large is the status of Jerusalem. The city is holy to three religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and is claimed by at least two national movements to be its capital, Israel and the Palestinians. Designated as an international territory by the 1947 UN Partition plan, divided in 1948-1949 between Israeli and Jordanian control, and reunified and expanded after Israeli capture of the Jordanian-occupied east in 1967, Jerusalem has remained a strategic and political football. Today the whole of the city is officially claimed by Israel to be its united, eternal capital.
This position has been overwhelmingly popular with the Israeli public since 1967, contrary to a real reticence to formally annex most other captured territories like Sinai, Gaza, or the West Bank. Unlike the Arab residents of these territories, the Arab population of East Jerusalem were also offered Israeli citizenship soon after annexation, although this was almost universally rejected. This is generally taken to be indicative of both the high costs Israelis are willing to pay to preserve a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty and the fervent design of Jerusalem Arabs to be a part of a sovereign Palestinian state. A recent poll of Jerusalem Arabs has thrown this consensus into question.
The poll, conducted by Pechter Middle East Polls for the Council of Foreign Relations and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, showed that Arab residents of East Jerusalem may actually prefer to live under Israeli sovereignty rather than a Palestinian state. Conducted in the 19 Arab neighborhoods of “East Jerusalem,” it included a representative sample of 1039 people with a 3% margin of error. When asked if they preferred under a two-state solution to be citizens of a Palestinian state with all accordant rights or the citizens of Israel with all accordant rights, only 30% chose Palestinians citizenship. 35% chose Israeli citizenship while 35% either refused to answer or did not know. Asked about the preferences of “most people in your neighborhood,” 31% estimated a preference for Palestinian citizenship, 39% for Israeli citizenship, and 30% declined to answer or had no response.
When asked if they would move into Israel should their neighborhood become a part of a Palestinian state, 40% responded affirmatively, while only 27% said they would move to a Palestinian state if their neighborhood were to become Israeli. Among those who chose Israeli citizenship, they cited freedom of movement in Israel, higher income and job opportunities, and Israeli health insurance as their reasons. For those who chose Palestinian citizenship, they cited nationalism/patriotism as their top priority. The leading concern was losing access to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Old City given uncertainty as to where the new border would lie.
This reticence to become citizens of a Palestinian state is particularly interesting given several other responses in the survey. A majority of those surveyed indicated that they felt discriminated against as Arabs in terms of receiving services from the Jerusalem municipality, with 36% citing a great deal of discrimination, 20% a fair amount, 19% only a little, and 8% hardly any or none. 52% identified delays and restrictions at checkpoints to be a big problem and an additional 17% cited them as moderate problems. 55% also identified “delays and restrictions created by the building of the wall in Jerusalem” as a big problem and a further 14% as a moderate problem. 31% cited threats and intimidation from “Jewish settlers” as a big problem and 18% as a moderate problem, while 28% identified threats and intimidation from Israeli police and border guards as a big problem and 18% as a moderate problem.
One might think that this level of dissatisfaction, although certainly not overwhelming, should be at least enough to stimulate greater popular interest in being the citizen and resident of a Palestinian state. Moreover, in terms of participant identities, some 46% responded that being Palestinian was extremely important to them and 23% very important. Among Muslim participants, the vast majority of those surveyed, 50% responded that being Muslim was extremely important to them and 22% very important.
However, respondents also identified that being a “blue card holder” (permanent resident) was incredibly important to them at 42% and very important at 27%. Being a Jerusalemite received similar scores at 42% and 26% respectively, while being a resident of their particular neighborhood scored much lower at 25% and 21% respectively. These factors, coupled with the aforementioned emphasis on the receipt of Israeli government services and employment opportunities, appear to largely counterbalance if not slightly outweigh nationalist aims. It also may be that the high levels of abstentions in the citizenship preference questions are indicative of some preference for Israeli citizenship over a Palestinian one coupled with social pressures against giving such a response. That interviews were given in person by local Arab interviewers may have exacerbated this effect.
It is highly unlikely that these responses or perhaps even the opinions of Jerusalem Arabs in general will have any impact on the form and content of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority, the leaders of other Palestinian nationalist movements like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and PFLP, the Arab states, and the international community at large have already cast their lots as to what are the “legitimate demands” of the Palestinians. A Palestinian capital of Al-Quds in eastern Jerusalem is taken by these parties as a given outcome in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
It does, however, provide much food for thought regarding the future of a Palestinian state and the salience of Palestinian national identity. That even strongly self-identified Palestinians who live in the heart of what most Palestinians consider to be their rightful capital would seem to at least somewhat prefer to live under Israeli control does not speak well to constituent confidence in the emergence of a stable, credible, or legitimate Palestinian state. It may also indicate that national identity suffers as an indication of political preference where standards of living and other material consideration are strongly in doubt. These considerations are also reflected in Israeli Arab citizens who also strongly identify as Palestinian yet are strongly opposed to a transfer of sovereignty to a Palestinian state in Arab majority regions of Israel.
For the full text of the report, detailed information regarding its methodology, and a large selection of graphs, charts, and images, visit the Pechter Middle East Polls website here. Having written on Jerusalem Arab views on their citizenship and the status of the city as a whole, I hope in my next post to examine Israeli perspectives on these questions. As with previous public opinion posts, I will be drawing extensively from the Peace Index and the INSS data. Stay tuned for more…