The latest polls from two regular series show some hopeful results in terms of Israeli Palestinian negotiations, concessions, and a future agreement. But are pollsters asking the right questions?
Here’s a selection of data from a few recent surveys of the Israeli and Palestinian publics, showing the same old story: support for negotiations, some concessions and an agreement, which won’t happen and won’t bear fruit. In the future, I’d like to see more detailed public discussion of new stories.
I’ve used initials for poll citations – and full survey information, with links, is available at the end.
The Good News:
Caveat: this is good if you’re a supporter of TSS (the two-state solution), and a fan of OP/CGP (Oslo Process/Clinton Geneva Parameters) – the “bad news” below relates to that approach as well. That’s because two of the survey series’ I report on here – The Peace Index and the Joint Israel-Palestinian Polls (both conducted surveys in December) – are rooted in these paradigms and faithfully track attitudes on a range of detailed positions regarding TSS.
So, for example, 65% of the Israeli public supports negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians at this time (Jews more than Arabs, but still a majority of both populations, PI). Further, 60% thinks the government should make a special effort to renew negotiations given the specific circumstances at this time.
This number has been generally consistent for years now. So sure, it’s encouraging, but if the government routinely ignores it, how relevant is public opinion on this issue?
A close observer might note that negotiations were held (among negotiators, not politicians) this week in Amman. But he or she would have to be a very, very close observer – perhaps with bionic vision – to have noticed the talks in Israel, since the Israeli press hardly covered them at all. I can’t find one informed person who viewed them as anything other than diplomatic window-dressing. I would love to be proven wrong.
There is evidence that if serious negotiations were to produce an agreement, support for a final status package is on the rise. The JIPP poll shows that 58% of Israelis and 50% of Palestinians surveyed in mid-December support an overall final status package along the lines of the Clinton parameters. The authors are happy about these modest numbers, because they indicate the first time both sides show majority support since 2004.
There was also some rise in support for most of the basic elements of the plan on both sides. However, as always, the items about Jerusalem and refugees fail to gain majority support from either side: 42% and 45% of Israelis and Palestinians, respectively, support the 5-option refugee compromise, and 38% and 40%, respectively, support the basic divide-Jerusalem compromise.
Once upon a time, before the Camp David negotiations in 2000, these were breakthrough numbers. I do believe that if an agreement were on the table, with both leaders boldly prepared to sign and strong third-party backing, the numbers would inch towards a majority and in any case, support for the whole package would be clear. But without leadership, the public won’t rise up and demand something it doesn’t truly want.
So now, the numbers have become the symbol of stagnation. Why?
The Bad News
The strong majority of both populations support the conditions that are preventing negotiations: 78% of Palestinians support President Mahmoud Abbas’ precondition that Israel must freeze settlements before entering negotiations, in the JIPP survey (which is far more support than Abbas has overall – in a November JMCC poll, 55% of Palestinian approve of his leadership, a sharp drop from the Israel Project survey in July, pre-September UN bid). In other words, this policy may be one of the strongest ones Abbas has left to maintain public support for his leadership right now.
Further, 69% of Israelis reject Abbas’ demand – in other words, they support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position that negotiations should not be held with Palestinian preconditions (JIPP). And 51% of Israelis (although only 33% of Arabs) approve of how Netanyahu’s government is handling the conflict (PI).
This is incontrovertible evidence that the Israeli public has no interest in pressuring its government to negotiations that have any potential for leading to a two-state solution. One might say the same about Palestinians, but it really is hard to see the logic of negotiating for a pie that will be all gone at the end of the talks.
And in other news:
But perhaps questions about the old peace paradigms from the last two decades aren’t as relevant as they once were. Israelis mostly seem intent on maintaining the status quo. Palestinians seem to be waiting-and-seeing whether there will be increasing de facto acceptance of the statehood they requested in September, from key global actors or forums.
There is more talk in the air about a one-state solution/reality/dream/nightmare than I ever remember in the past. Figures on the mainstream left in Israel, who staked their entire political identity on the TSS, are increasingly raising this possibility. Some right-wing Israelis have their own version of one state. Some Palestinians – activists and leaders – have discussed it for years.
At present, polls on the Palestinian side are contradictory and inconclusive: the JMCC survey shows that twice as many Palestinians, and an absolute 54% majority, choose two states, over 22% who prefer a single bi-national state – similar numbers are seen in past JIPP polls. But the TIP poll shows that a 52% majority (or 66% depending on how the question was asked) sees the ultimate goal as a single Palestinian state. TIP did not ask about a binational state with equal rights for all.
It isn’t as easy to find Israeli polling data about the one-state option. But the Truman Institute JIPP series provides one survey from March 2010 with useful data: just one-quarter (24%) of Israelis supported one state back then (that survey showed 29% of Palestinians who supported it). But there was one follow up question, with an interesting result: when asked about two states, with some joint institutions leading to some sort of confederation, 30% of the Israeli public supported it, six points higher than those who supported one single state.
There is a plethora of data about old paradigms, but it’s hard to find anyone – analysts and policy elites, or the public itself on either side, who believes they still work. And there is a paucity of information about any new or different approaches – one state, a confederation, the mechanics and character of various political configurations, shared institutions, separate symbols. Instead of tracking a few percentage points shifting around the old paradigms, I’d like to see more data showing how much either public will consider new ones.
PI: 5-6 December, 2011. N=616.
JIPP: Palestinian sample: December 15-17, 2011 (WB/G/East Jerusalem). n=1270, error: +/- 3%, face-to-face. Jewish sample: 11-14 December, n=605, Hebrew/Arabic/Russian, error: +/- 4.5%.
JIPP: 4-6 March 2010, n= 1270.
TIP survey: Jun 20 – 8 July 2011. N=1010 (WB/G).
JMCC survey. 17-20 November, 2011. N=1200, face-to-face.