Polls: Will Israel Become a Bi-National State?

bi-national-state-flag

For close observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, discussion regarding the emergence of a bi-national state on the whole of the land in the place of a two-state solution is a familiar, frequently distressing trope.

When Palestinian Authority officials really want to scare the Israeli public, they threaten to dissolve the PA and seek a “one state solution.” Similarly, when left-leaning parties today want to highlight their opposition to continued settlement construction in the West Bank, they raise the issue of a looming “demographic threat.” So too, has it become a significant trope within the major Israeli political parties, Kadima, Likud, and Labor alike to varying degrees, that territorial withdrawal is necessary to preserve Israel’s status as a “Jewish and Democratic state.”

When surveyed on the question of final status arrangements that would end the conflict, Israelis have consistently expressed their preference for the preservation of a Jewish majority state under a democratic regime instead of a bi-national state. The familiar formula for the preferred option, “Two states for two peoples,” generally assumes that there should be two states between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River which satisfy the national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians separately. Palestinians would then relinquish national claims on Israel, whether for Israeli Arabs or the descendants of Palestinian refugees, just as Israelis would no longer claim national rights to the emergent Palestinian state.

preferred-outcome-to-conflict

Preferred Political Outcomes to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

   

2 for 2

Bi-National

Status Quo

Other

Don’t Know

General Mar 2008 71.3 18.5  

4.4

5.8
Mar 2009 53 8.2

25.3

5.9

7.6
Mar 2010 66.6 15.1     18.3

Jewish Mar 2008 75.5 14.2   5.1 5.3
Mar 2009 50.8 6.6 28.4 6.5 7.6
Mar 2010 66.1 13.8     20.1

Arab Mar 2010 69.5 22     8.5

Polled in March 2010 by the Peace Index, Israelis expressed a strong preference for the 2 for 2 formula over a bi-national one at 66.6% and 66.1% respectively for the general and Jewish populations. Preferences for a bi-national state were at only 15.1% and 13.8% while undecided responses were quite high at 18.3% and 20.1%. Interestingly, the Arab population expressed an even stronger preference for the two-state solution at 69.5% as well as a higher preference for the bi-national option at 22% and a much lower level of uncertainty at 8.5%.

High uncertainty rates among the Jewish (and by extension general) population may be partially explained by findings one year earlier in March 2009. In this Peace Index poll, the option was given to prefer the existing status quo arrangement to either a two-state solution or a bi-national state. Although the 2 for 2 option remained most strongly preferred at 53% and 50.8% for the general and Jewish populations respectively, the status quo was preferred at 25.3% and 28.4%. Uncertainty dropped significantly to 7.6% for both while unspecified “other” solutions were preferred at 5.9% and 6.5%. This may suggest a lower level of support for the creation of a Palestinian state than is seemingly apparent from the strong 2 for 2 showing.

In March 2008, the poll presented a slightly different version of the question, asking whether the bi-national solution was better or worse than the two-state option. In the table below, preference for neither solution is labeled under “other”. Presented in these terms, the 2 for 2 formula was even more strongly preferred at 71.3% and 75.5% for the general and Jewish populations respectively. The bi-national solution was preferred at 18.5% and 14.2%, levels similar to the 2010 survey.

Even with preferences being clear, it is not obvious that Israelis are as afraid of a looming one-state solution as today’s political rhetoric would suggest. In September 2009 and December 2010, the Peace Index survey posed questions which asked whether Israelis feared that the conditions generally considered to lead to a one-state solution, if fact would. The resulting data is somewhat surprising.

September 2009: Do you agree or disagree with the opinion that continuing to build in the settlements will prevent in the end the possibility of a solution of two states, and actually produce a bi-national state, namely a joint state by Jews and Palestinians?

December 2010: Some say that without an imminent breakthrough in the peace process, there is a great danger that the Palestinian Authority will collapse and Israel will find itself ruling over territories heavily populated by Palestinians who lack civil rights, and hence will lose its character as both a Jewish and democratic state. In your opinion, is there or is there not such a danger?

concern-bi-national

Concern Regarding a Bi-National State

   

Definite Danger

Danger

No Danger

Definitely No Danger

Don’t Know

No Reply

General  Sep 2009 14.2 19.8 21.8 35.8 8.5  
General  Dec 2010 10.7 23.5 31.3 24.8 8.9 0.7

 
Jewish  Sep 2009 10.4 21.2 24.2 35.3 9  
Jewish  Dec 2010 9.1 23.5 34.5 23.3 9.3 0.2

 
Arab Dec 2010 20 23.3 13.3 33.3 6.7 3.3

Among the general population, concern of a creeping one-state solution passed no more than a third of the population with most of the weight on the “danger” rather than “definite danger” response. In 2009, “definitely no danger” took the plurality of responses at 35.8% while in 2010, it was “no danger” at 31.3%. Among the Jewish population, concern was somewhat lower with “danger” receiving double the response of “definite danger.” The strongest response in 2009 was “definitely no danger” at 35.8% and “no danger” at 34.5% in 2010. The Arab population was more split in 2010, however, they too expressed the strongest response to “definitely no danger” at 33.3% followed by “danger” at 23.3%.

The jump in fear of a one-state solution might be attributed to increasing frustration at political deadlock in negotiations. It may too be that settlements are seen as removable or incorporable within the final borders of the Jewish state while an inoperative Palestinian Authority is seen as irreparably problematic. If there is no body to govern the Palestinians, Israel might well indeed be left to “foot the bill” and re-take direct responsibility. Yet even with this concern, Israelis do not appear to be as alarmed by developments on the ground as political rhetoric seems to suggest.

This argument has consistent support among a third of the electorate, certainly from the ten to fifteen percent who sense “definite danger”. However, it has very little resonance with anywhere between one half to two thirds. So why continue to employ this argument? From my own experience speaking to politicians who advance this argument, they believe the “demographic threat” to be true. Moreover, with the international consensus behind an immediate implementation of a two-state solution, arguments which would push the Israeli public toward this are popular with public figures seeking world approval. Perhaps more importantly, in a multi-party system like the Israeli one, playing to niche interests no less than those which speak to a third of the voting public is strategically advisable.

Yet this argument works both ways. The quarter to third of the population that senses “definitely no danger” of a bi-national state is very responsive to arguments which reject the demographic argument entirely. Reports like the “Million Person Gap” and “Demographic Trends in the Land of Israel” have gained significant traction in center-right political circles in Likud as well as nationalist religious ones. While the trend at the moment seems to be toward greater concern, the availability of alternative data and the apparent strong receptivity of the public to these accounts may herald a shift. Only time will tell.

4 Responses to Polls: Will Israel Become a Bi-National State?

  1. […] indicate that they are ready to resolve the conflict on the basis of two states for two peoples, also strongly preferred by Israelis to a single bi-national state. Tied to this recognition would be the cessation of refugee claims […]

  2. […] whole of Gaza, the West Bank, and eastern Jerusalem, however they are more opposed to the idea of a bi-national state, strongly prefer a two-state solution to the conflict, and remain strongly supportive of continued […]

  3. […] to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the very least, the “2-for-2” solution remains the most strongly preferred outcome to the conflict although strong uncertainty pervades recent […]

  4. […] to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the very least, the “2-for-2” solution remains the most strongly preferred outcome to the conflict although strong uncertainty pervades recent […]

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