Polls: Two-state solution was a casualty, even before the war

Turns out most Israelis support the establishment of a Palestinian state – until they read the fine print.

There is a natural obsession with short-term, immediate details of the situation in Israel and Palestine: where is the siren or rocket or bomb? How many bodies are piling up in Gaza? Israelis’ memory at present seems to go back only a few weeks, to the murder of three teens that they believe set off this cycle.

But for Palestinians, there was life before the Israeli kids were murdered, and it wasn’t good. Many are seething under a reality of no prospects, no citizenship or statehood, rage at their leaders, rage at their occupiers. What both sides share was a realistic lack of hope for the recent negotiations for long-term resolution.

While leaders again proved them right, public support for the two-state solution may become the long-term victim of the accelerated cycles of aggression.

Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres in Jordan, May 26, 2013 (Mark Neiman / GPO)
Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres in Jordan, May 26, 2013 (Mark Neiman / GPO)

Several new surveys paint a dismal picture for this paradigm.

A survey of Palestinians from June by the right-leaning Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that more than twice as many respondents now support “reclaiming all of historic Palestine,” than those who choose “end the occupation and reach a two state solution.” In response to +972’s query, the Institute says this is a new finding compared to similar (but not identical) questions asked in the past, when support for a two state-solution typically ranged between 40-55 percent. Here is the data (n= 1200 Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, margin of error, +/-3%):

Please state your view about the main Palestinian goal for the next five years

– The goal should be to work toward reclaiming all of historic Palestine from the river to the sea: 60%
– The goal should be to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and achieve a two state solution: 27%
– The goal should be to work for a one state solution in all of the land, in which Arabs and Jews will have equal rights in one country, from the river to the sea: 10%

Two further questions on this topic yielded similar data: one asked how people would perceive a negotiated two-state solution (accept that as end of the conflict, or continue seeking to liberate all of historic Palestine) and what people believe the leadership’s actual goal in such a case would be (to end the conflict, or liberate historic Palestine in phases). Again, roughly twice as many chose the “all of Palestine” option.

I usually advise against trusting a single survey for an unusual finding. The key is to see if other surveys show similar trends. They do. A Pew Research poll from April and May 2014 (with a sizable sample of 1000 each – Palestinians and Israelis) provides similar insight.

In this comparative poll, when asked “Do you think a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to co-exist peacefully or not?”

– 63 percent of Palestinians said “no.”
– Israelis were split in half (45% “no” to 40% “yes”)
– Jordanians, who have greatest interest in seeing such an arrangement, expressed skepticism: 39 percent said “no,” 29 percent said “it depends”  and 26 percent said “yes”- making Jordan among the most optimistic of the seven nations tested.

There is a certain irony here: According to the survey, Palestinians may retain a maximalist dream, but Israel is the one that is actually physically expanding its sovereignty over the territory under question.

        Read: The only two-state solution that might work

At first glance, a recent Haaretz poll showed different results. Sixty percent of Israelis said they support an agreement with the establishment of a Palestinian state (from a representative sample of 500 – which means that probably fewer than 100 Arabs were polled – and error of +/-4.4%).

“If the Prime Minister reached an agreement in the framework of which a Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel would you support or not support the agreement?”

– Support: 60%
– Do not support: 32% (Haaretz’s article uses this wording, rather than “oppose”)

Nir Hasson of Haaretz writes that compared to similar (not identical) polls in December 2012 (just weeks after the last Gaza war), the current data represents a drop from around two-thirds support then.

Newsletter banner 5 - 540

However, when simple details are given about the two-state agreement, support crumbles. The basic outline in the subsequent question mirrors the Camp David talks from 14 years ago, and many doubt whether this formula is even applicable anymore.

Consider that in the framework of an agreement, most settlers are annexed to Israel [sic – ds], Jerusalem will be divided, refugees won’t return to Israel and there will be a strict security arrangement, would you support this agreement?”

– Yes: 35%
– No: 58%

As a pollster, the contrast between the idea of a two-state agreement and the lack of support for the detailed version is dramatic enough to warrant methodological suspicion. When my polls show results like that, I automatically check for technical errors or glitches in data processing.

But supporting data from other polls and questions usually signal that there is no technical error, only the contradictions of human nature. Notably, there is little contradiction given findings from two polls nearly one year ago that are remarkably similar, which I wrote about then: when the Prime Minister presents a general agreement, 55 percent supported it; when the details are given (without mentioning the Prime Minister), precisely the same portion accept or reject it (38% to 56%) as this year.

Further, in the current poll, when asked if people would prefer to evacuate settlements for a peace agreement, or give up on an agreement to preserve settlements, Israelis are evenly split (45% to 43% respectively – a statistical tie). The 43 percent who resist dismantling any settlements, since the question didn’t specify, are probably mostly right-wing. It’s not hard to imagine another 15 percent drawn from the center or even self-described left who are in no mood for this arrangement at present.

There are other ominous findings: the majority of Israelis supports unequal rights for Palestinians:

If Israel were to annex territories, do you think it should give Palestinians living there full rights, including the right to vote in Knesset, or partial rights, without Knesset vote?

– Full: 31%
– Partial: 56%

So when shown the details, the majority of Israelis are opposed to a two-state agreement and support denying civil rights to Palestinians. This finding may be mitigated by the fact that 62 percent do not support Naftali Bennett’s plan of annexing Area C. But that itself is mitigated by the fact that Israel is already doing so.

It is worth noting that all three surveys were conducted just prior to the kidnapping of the Israeli teens and the current escalation. But there is little reason to think the events will have a strong impact on these specific questions, given long term trends in public opinion, and on the ground. But if they do, that impact is unlikely to favor the classic two-state formula.

After Kerry, only BDS may save the two-state solution
COMIC: Why even god can’t reach a two-state solution
The only two-state solution that might work