Polls: Division of Jerusalem and Israelis

jerusalem-neighborhoods-mapIn my previous post, I examined data drawn from a recent survey of Jerusalem Arabs polling their attitudes toward partition of the city. It was found that Arab residents of East Jerusalem are more in favor of acquiring Israeli citizenship and having their neighborhoods remain in sovereign Israeli territory than they are of becoming Palestinian citizens or having their neighborhoods transferred to Palestinian control. In this post, I will be examining Israeli attitudes toward division of the city.

Since the capture of Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and reunification of the city, Israelis have been staunchly opposed to division. Jerusalem is frequently and popularly referred to as the eternal, united, and indivisible capital of the Jewish people. This attitude is reflected in the municipality and state’s considerable investment in the Old City, particularly the Jewish quarter, its development of archaeological projects and parks in the most historical portions of the city, and its 40 years of neighborhood construction particularly in its expanded eastern “envelope.”

In its latter efforts, it has both sealed gaps between Jewish western Jerusalem and the once isolated enclave of Mount Scopus, and built (and rebuilt) neighborhoods north, south, and eastward to both house the city’s booming population and solidify its hold on the historical core. This growth has also effectively sealed in Arab neighborhoods that were a part of old East Jerusalem like Sheikh Jarrah, Wadi Al-Joz, Silwan, and Ras Al-Amud, and the once peripheral villages of Beit Hanina, Shuafat, Beit Safafa, and Sur Baher to name but a few.

The majority of the public has been consistently opposed to division. Yet, beginning with the Oslo process, governments from Rabin to Netanyahu have publically debated how Jerusalem might be partitioned to satisfy Palestinian and international demands that the east become the capital of a new Palestinian Arab state. In the past decade in particular, there has been a softening of Israeli attitudes toward division of the city. This was at least partly catalyzed by Ehud Barak’s rather striking offer at the Camp David negotiations in 2000 to partition Jerusalem, including detailed plans for borders, administrative division of the Old City, and special status for religious sites. Although rejected by Yasser Arafat, many have argued that the offer itself stimulated a broadening of the public conversation about Jerusalem’s future.

The outbreak of the second intifada in 2000 after the failure of the accord, the dramatic increase in suicide terrorism across Israel, and plummeting perceptions of personal security also pushed Israelis to support the idea of geographic separation from the Palestinians, most clearly manifest in the construction of the West Bank security barrier. While the impact was less pronounced in terms of a willingness to “divide Jerusalem,” it did encourage more “creative” thinking about division.

Rather than viewing the division of Jerusalem as recreating the bad old days of the Jordanian occupation, the Israeli public and politicians alike began to speak about both the consolidation of Israeli control over Jewish majority neighborhoods and a disengagement from peripheral Palestinian ones. This was also reflected in shifts in public opinion polling, whereby it was no longer generally asked if one supported division of Jerusalem, but rather withdrawal from Arab neighborhoods. This change, marked in INSS’ data in 2000, led to a leap in support for withdrawal trending previously between 10 and 20% to 51%. Support subsequently decreased to about 40% in 2009. Meanwhile, support for concessions on the Temple Mount remained steadily low, between 27 and 17.5%, from 2005-2009.

In July 2008, the Peace Index survey asked several questions with regard to Jerusalem including “Do you agree or disagree that Jerusalem is already divided into two cities, East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem?” and “If a full peace agreement with the Palestinians were dependent only on the question of Jerusalem, would you be prepared to pass the eastern portion of the city to the Palestinians?” The answers to both are quite instructive.

Do you agree or disagree that Jerusalem is already divided into two cities, East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem?

  Definitely Agree Agree Disagree Definitely Disagree Don’t Know
Already Divided (g) 24.6 31.1 12.3 28.8 3.3
Already Divided (j) 22.2 33.7 13.5 27.7 2.9

If a full peace agreement with the Palestinians were dependent only on the question of Jerusalem, would you be prepared to pass the eastern portion of the city to the Palestinians?

  Definitely Yes Yes No Definitely No Don’t Know
Would Divide (g) 21.7 17.7 12.5 43.3 4.8
Would Divide (j) 16.7 17.5 13.2 48.3 4.3

In response to the latter question, Jewish Israelis and Israelis in general expressed very strong opposition to the idea of dividing Jerusalem at 48.3% and 43.3% respectively. Basic opposition stands only at 61.5% and 55.5% respectively, which is not in itself that overwhelming. However, that strong opposition makes up such a significant portion of opposition, and even outweighs all those willing to divide the city, 34.2% and 39.4% respectively, is a clear indicator as to why Israeli policy on Jerusalem is so resolute.

This opposition is particularly striking given the percentage of Israelis, Jewish and as a whole, who believe that the city is effectively already divided, at 55.9% and 55.7% respectively. For this question, the highest score too is weak belief that the city is already divided at 33.7% and 31.1% respectively, although this response lacks the overwhelming support held by definite opposition to political division.

Also interesting to note is that the percentage of the population who strongly believes that the city is already divided is larger for the general population than the Jewish one. Yet, Jewish perception that the city is already divided on the whole (as well as weak belief) is stronger than that of the general population. This may be because Arab residents of Jerusalem are more likely to travel through, work in, and visit the Jewish neighborhoods than Jewish residents are to do the same in Arab ones.

In April 2008, the Peace Index asked a more specific question regarding Jerusalem, namely what concessions Israelis were prepared to make as part of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians.


  Prepared Not Prepared Don’t Know
Old City under the PA (g) 19.1 74.1 6.8
Old City under the PA (j) 11.7 83.3 4.9
Temple Mount jointly managed (g) 35.8 56.6 7.6
Temple Mount jointly managed (j) 33.7 59.5 6.8
Transfer Arab neighborhoods to PA (g) 42.6 50.6 6.8
Transfer Arab neighborhoods to PA (j) 40.5 55 4.5

The first thing to note is that responses on willingness to divide the city are significantly affected depending on the specific areas in question. Although this question did not parse between strong and weak support and strong and weak opposition like the previous question, the aggregate scores are comparable. Recall that basic support to opposition regarding dividing the city between the western and “eastern portion” stood at 39.4% to 55.8% and 34.2% to 61.5% for the general and Jewish populations respectively.

When asked about transferring “Arab neighborhoods” to Palestinian Authority control, support increased to 42.6% and 40.5% for the general and Jewish populations respectively (+3.2% : +6.3%) while opposition decreased to 50.6% and 55% respectively (-5.2% : -6.5%). These values are fairly consistent with the INSS longitudinal data on the division of Jerusalem (Arab neighborhoods) for which 2008 happens to represent a gap in their data. Comparatively, when asked about joint management of the Temple Mount or conceding to Palestinian control of the Old City, support decreased and opposition increased.

When asked about joint management of the Temple Mount, support decreased to 35.8% and 33.7% for the general and Jewish populations respectively (-3.6% : -0.5%) and opposition increased to 56.6% for the general population (+0.8%) yet decreased to 59.5% for the Jewish population (-2.0%). Note that uncertainty regarding the response to this question is higher for each population bracket (general and Jewish) than any other response either in the April or July 2008 surveys. This may be because the question does not specify if joint administration of the Mount actually entails the division of the city. Clearly it entails more concessions than the current cooperative arrangement with the Islamic Waqf, but is ambiguous nonetheless.

The most striking change occurs when asked about conceding control of the Old City to the Palestinian Authority. Here support decreases dramatically to 19.1% and 11.7% for the general and Jewish populations respectively (-20.3% : -22.5%) and opposition increases to 74.1% and 83.8% respectively (+18.3% : +21.8%). Unlike the previous question, this one is unambiguous both on the question of division and on the loss of Israeli sovereign control. However, the effect is significantly more pronounced both compared to conceding Arab neighborhoods and even to basic political division of the city.

Clearly questions of security, demography, and Jewish population displacement have an important impact on how Israelis think about territorial concessions and this is no different in Jerusalem. As the INSS longitudinal data suggests, Israeli willingness to make concessions in the capital do fluctuate along with public perceptions of the security situation. Comparisons within the questions asked by the Peace Index also reveal that Israelis are more willing to give up areas which are populated by Palestinians in order to secure a Jewish demographic advantage, avoid ruling over a hostile population, and ensure control over Jewish majority areas.

However, strong opposition to concessions on places like the Temple Mount (even in cooperative arrangements) and Old City highlight what is really important to Israelis about Jerusalem. Giving up the Old City might give Israel a marginal demographic boost and concessions on the Temple Mount might improve its international standing. Yet these considerations pale in comparison to the belief that historical Jerusalem is the heart of Israel and the Jewish people and must therefore be under Israeli and Jewish control.

This sentiment has been reflected not only in the public opinion polling, but also in the many interviews I have conducted over the past six months here. From politicians to activists, from the left to the right, Jerusalem holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of Israelis. Although those on the left are clearly more willing to make concessions than those on the right, they too are reticent to make the kind of sweeping concessions demanded by Palestinians on the future status of Jerusalem. Even among those in Israel who agree that, in any final settlement, Al-Quds will rise in the east next to Yerushalayim in the west, the vast majority agree that those areas of central importance to Jewish and Israeli national identity must not be wholly relinquished.

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