Partners for Peace: Israeli Arabs and diaspora Jews and Palestinians
In Carmiel, N. Israel, the Galilee Circus aims to bring Israeli Arabs and Jews together by teaching friendship and co-operation through the performing arts. Waste of time? – or will these children grow up to be free of the mutual hatred and suspicion that marks Orthodox Jewish adults and Palestinians in the oPt? There are 50 Arab and Jewish performers, from mainly Jewish Carmiel and Israeli Arab villages, who meet for classes twice a week in a community centre gymnasium. See more pictures of the circus, which has an Israeli Arab manager and four Jewish teachers, atBBC news.
A report on a comprehensive survey of attitudes among Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians in the Occupied Lands, Refugees in Lebanon, Refugees in Jordan, and Jewish Americans. To read the whole report and survey findings, click headline above.
Prepared exclusively for the Sir Bani Yas Forum by Dr. James Zogby, Zogby Research Services
During the month of September, 2012, we conducted an extensive survey of public opinion among: Israeli Jews and Arabs; Palestinians in the West Bank,Gaza, and East Jerusalem; Palestinian refugees inLebanonandJordan; and the American Jewish community. The polls were conducted exclusively for the Sir Bani Yas Forum. Overall we surveyed: 1,061 Israeli Jews; 414 Israeli Arabs; 1,264 Palestinians in the West Bank,Gaza, and East Jerusalem; 497 Palestinian refugees inLebanon; 489 Palestinian refugees inJordan; and 500 Jewish Americans. We asked all groups the same questions in order to measure and compare their attitudes toward the problems and the prospects of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
A surface review of the results establishes the enormous challenges confronting peacemaking efforts. Wide gaps separate Israeli Jewish and Palestinian opinion making it appear that, at present, no easy agreement can be reached on issues as fundamental as:
the location of borders,
the disposition of Israeli settlements and settlers,
the resolution of the refugee issue, and
the status ofJerusalem.
Israelis and Palestinians hold widely divergent views on most of these issues. For example, while one-half of Israeli Jews claim that it is their right to build settlements
wherever they please, three-quarters of all Palestinians say that all of the construction in the occupied lands is illegal and they maintain that settlements should be evacuated.
Similar difficulties exist with regard to the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and villages, with majorities of Palestinians supporting that right and two thirds of Israelis strongly opposed. An even greater gap in attitudes exists with regard to the proposition that Jerusalem is the “undivided capital of Israel.”
In addition to the “top-line” findings in our report, the survey revealed several important demographic realities unique to each subgroup covered in the survey.
1. Israeli Jews are deeply divided, not so much by party, but by demographics. Israelis who self-describe as secular (60% of the population) hold dramatically different views from their compatriots who are Orthodox or self-describe as “traditional or nationalist” (37% of the population). Secular Israelis are more willing to take risks for peace and to acknowledge Palestinian rights. Orthodox Israelis are not so inclined. Similarly, settlers who live beyond the Green Line in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have more hardline views than Jews living in Israel.
2. Palestinians from the West Bank,Gaza, andEast Jerusalem, interestingly, do not display these internal differences and this, itself, is important to note. In reviewing the responses to question after question, we find virtually no differences between young and old, university educated and those who have not received higher education, religious versus secular, men and women, etc. There are only slight variations in the attitudes of those who live inGaza, the West Bank, orEast Jerusalem. And on very few questions there are some very minor differences between those who are refugees and those who are not. Most importantly, we do not see differences on almost all issues between those who say they are supporters of Fatah and those who support Hamas. This is significant to note because unlike inIsraelwhere the differences in attitudes of the political parties are driven by the demographic groups who form the base of each party, it appears the demographic and attitudinal make-up of the major Palestinian parties are virtually the same.
There is one final and troubling observation that must be made about the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. What comes through in the polling data is that about one-third of these Palestinians appear to have lost faith in the peace process, and have become profoundly cynical and quite negative. In question after question this group makes it clear they no longer believe in promises, trust Israelis, or believe that any resolution is possible. It may be possible to get one more chance to move this group, but it would be wise to use that chance carefully.
3. Israeli Arabs are often overlooked in discussions of peacemaking, but our polling indicates that this may be a mistake, since the size of the Israeli Arab community and their attitudes indicate that they could play a consequential role. When asked to rate the importance of the opinions of various parties to the conflict, Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank andGazaeach overvalue their own importance and undervalue the importance of the “other side.” But both groups surprisingly agree that the opinions of Israeli Arabs are the second most important to be considered in any discussion of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. And yet Israeli Arabs, who are 20% of Israel’s population, are almost never brought into the conversation by any side—and while hardline Israelis reject any role for this community, it is clear from our polling that other Israelis do not.
A review of Israeli Arab attitudes establishes that they are more moderate and more forward-looking on most issues than either Israeli Jews or Palestinians from the occupied lands. They are more open to a solution that saysJerusalemis the capital for both the Israelis and Palestinians. They are more willing to take risks for peace and more supportive of the Arab Peace Initiative and the Clinton Plan than any other group. More than 40 years ago, Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani stated that in his opinion the Arabs inIsraelwere the most interesting and politically advanced portion of the Palestinian community. Someday, he said, they will lead the way. From a review of the data, he may be right.
Israeli Jews or Palestinians from the occupied lands. They are more open to a solution that saysJerusalemis the capital for both the Israelis and Palestinians. They are more willing to take risks for peace and more supportive of the Arab Peace Initiative and the Clinton Plan than any other group. More than 40 years ago, Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani stated that in his opinion the Arabs inIsraelwere the most interesting and politically advanced portion of the Palestinian community. Someday, he said, they will lead the way. From a review of the data, he may be right.
4. Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon and Jordan have also been sidelined in discussions about Israeli-Palestinian peace. Israelis refuse to accept them as a legitimate part of the Palestinian constituency, and after the PLO was forced out of Jordan and Lebanon and then relocated in Ramallah following Oslo, the refugees have been “out of sight, out of mind.”
Yet, as the survey demonstrates, the role of the refugees remains critical to a final peace arrangement. What comes through so clearly is how important the issue of “the right of return” of the refugees is to Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The refugees may be ignored in peace talks, but they are not forgotten by ordinary Palestinians. It is also important that Palestinian refugees be invested in the discussion so that they will be invested in the outcome. It would be a tragic mistake to assume that an agreement can be reached without them or at their expense, or that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is just, as the Israelis have insisted for decades, a West Bank and Gaza issue.
What the data makes clear is that despite the hardships the refugees have endured and despite not being directly involved in the peace talks, their thinking has evolved. They still cling to their rights and still desire to return home. But when confronted with the possibility that they may not be able to return and when given concrete options for the future, they are open to picking from among these options. The bottom line is that better than ignoring the refugees or presenting them with a fait accompli it would be important to work with this community early in the process to get their ideas and get them invested in the proposed solution.
5. American Jews – Although not a direct party to the conflict, lobbies claiming to speak on behalf of American Jews play a critical role in Washington decision-making and so an examination of their attitudes is useful. Several observations can be made:
a. On most issues American Jews are less hardline than Israeli Jews. They are, for example, more willing to see Jerusalem as the capital of two states, more willing to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees, and less inclined to support settlement construction in the West Bank.
b. They are not a monolith. In general, when American Jews think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: 28% say that they “support whatever policies are advocated by the Israeli government”; 42% say that they “have their own views of what the Israeli government should do and support policies that agree with their own beliefs”; and 29% say that they “do not believe my views should play a role.” When asked to identify which organization they most support: only 23% say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); 33% identify with American Jewish groups that side with Israel’s peace camp; and 32% say that “this is not a matter of great concern to me.”
c. This leads to a division in how American Jews see their role in U.S. politics. They are evenly divided over whether the U.S. government should side with Israel or steer a “middle course” between Israel and Palestine. And if the U.S. government were to pressure Israel to freeze settlement construction: 36% would support such a move, 28% would be neutral, and 32% would oppose it. American Jews are not a single-issue constituency. They say that in an election for public office if they agreed with a candidate on most issues but disagreed with that candidate’s views on the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, 49% would still vote for that candidate while only 33% would not.
WHAT WE LEARN
1. A Cautionary Note
As with any poll measuring opinion on a controversial topic, the data can be picked over and used in any number of ways. Opponents of peacemaking on the Israeli side can point to the fact that only 25% of Palestinians are willing to “take risks for peace” or that 35% of Palestinians in the occupied lands see settlements as a serious impediment to peace. Likewise Palestinians can point to the 41% of Israelis who say that they are opposed to a “Palestinian state that is independent, sovereign, and contiguous” or the 47% of Israelis who insist that it is the right of Israel to “build anywhere it pleases in the land it currently holds.”
Looking at the responses to individual questions can provide “grist for the mill” of opponents of peace. But playing “gotcha” politics would be a misuse of the findings. To observe that there are deep divisions between the two sides – or that many Palestinians have lost hope and become cynical, while many Israelis have hardened their views—is simply to note the obvious. What is required is to probe more deeply into the findings. As the data shows, there are many areas where some common ground can be found or, at least, where impediments to consensus can be identified, providing ideas that can advance peacemaking efforts.
2. Two States: Still the Only Viable Option
The first and most telling point of consensus is that a two-state solution remains the only viable option that is acceptable, albeit with differences, to both sides. The one-state solution is rejected by all parties, including Palestinian refugees. Other options like absorbing Palestinians into Israel where they would have autonomy but not equal rights (which some would argue would be the outcome of the current path being pursued by Israel) is rejected not only by Palestinians, but by a substantial majority of Israelis. All parties also reject a Palestinian confederation with Jordan. Israeli Arabs are the most supportive of the 1967 borders being used to define the boundaries between Israel and a future Palestinian state. A plurality of Palestinians in the occupied territories and refugees in Jordan also support the 1967 lines. Refugees in Lebanon say they reject this option. But when refugees in Lebanon and Jordan are asked to rate how important it is to them to see a Palestinian state located in “all of the West Bank and Gaza,” with a capital in Jerusalem, 97% of refugees in Jordan say it is important as do 77% of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
The border Israelis least oppose is “the current location of the separation barrier”; it is opposed by 28% which is 14 points lower than any other option proposed. What is not clear, however, is whether it is the matter of the “barrier” itself, or the barrier’s “current route” that drives this response. If it is the security provided by the barrier, and not its route, then it should be possible to move this barrier making it more accommodating to Palestinian needs.
What is clear is that Israelis and Palestinians want separation. Israelis want security and Palestinians want independence and sovereignty. The polling data also shows that both sides agree with the notion that security arrangements that provide guarantees for both are important. Somewhat surprisingly, Israelis and Palestinians both agree that the future Palestinian state should have control of its borders so it can freely trade with other countries. The task left for peacemakers will be to further test the possible combinations of borders, swaps, and the role of a security barrier or other forms of security arrangements that create the right mix for all sides.
3. Trust Is an Issue
After four and a half decades of occupation, including two decades of a failed Oslo peace process marred by dramatic settlement expansion and devastating violence, both Israelis and Palestinians have been shaken. Mutual trust has been broken.
This becomes especially clear when both sides are asked what issues are most important to them and what behavior they each want to see from the other side. What both ask for are signs of trust. For example, what Israelis most want is for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and what Palestinians most want is for Israel to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees. Said another way, when asked what they identified as the biggest obstacle to making peace, both agreed that it was their “lack of trust in the intentions of the other side” and “the refusal of the other side to accept our right to self-determination.”
When asked what behaviors from the other side would make them believe that peace was more likely, Israelis responded with “renouncing violence” and “recognizing Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.” What the Palestinians most wanted to see was Israel recognizing Palestinian selfdetermination and the right to an independent state, ending the siege of Gaza, and stopping settlement activity on the West Bank. What is important to note, however, is that what the polling data shows in every instance is what the Palestinians most want from Israelis, the Israelis are least willing to give, and what the Israelis most want from the Palestinians, the Palestinians are least willing to give at the present time.
This, however, should not be the end of the story. These “trust issues” can be separated into behavioral matters (e.g., “renouncing violence and controlling violent elements” or “removing roadblocks, the blockade of Gaza, etc.”) and existential concerns (e.g., “recognizing Israel as a Jewish state” or “acknowledging responsibility for the refugee problem”). The behavioral issues can and should be addressed first. But since the existential concerns may create hurdles too high to climb at the beginning of the process, it might be advisable to put off addressing them until a later stage.
4. The Whole is More Acceptable than the Parts
Taken individually, attitudes are far apart and rigid. But when options are presented, “trade-offs” offered or issues paired, both Israelis and Palestinians display greater flexibility. For example, our survey finds that only 26% of Israeli Jews feel that it is possible that any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement can be reached in the next five years. But should the “Palestinian leadership unify their ranks, renounce violence, and pledge to suppress elements that use violent means,” the percentage of Israelis who see peace as “more likely” doubles. Similarly, the numbers of Palestinians who see peace as more likely would increase significantly should Israel “freeze settlement construction and indicate a willingness to move a large number of settlers from the West Bank” or “remove roadblocks, the blockade of Gaza, and other restrictions to the travel and commerce.”
While most Palestinians accept the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative (API) offered by the Arab League, most Israelis reject it. When asked whether they support or oppose each individual part of the API, the Israelis register their opposition. But when all the pieces are put together and coupled with the Arab League’s commitment to normalize relations with Israel, Israeli opposition drops dramatically and support rises. Forty nine percent of Israeli Jews supported and only fifteen percent strongly opposed this proposition: “In exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, the establishment of a Palestinian state, and an agreed solution to the refugee problem, the Arab states will consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over and will sign a comprehensive peace agreement and establish normal relations with the state of Israel.”
Much of the same may be true with regard to the other sensitive “final status” issues. For example, a majority of Israeli Jews and Arabs support the Clinton Plan approach to settlements: “A sovereign, viable Palestinian state coexisting with a secure state of Israel; Palestinians will have sovereignty over Gaza and a vast majority of the West Bank; settlement blocs in the West Bank will be incorporated into Israel with land swaps to compensate for such annexation.” The same formula is rejected by Palestinians in the occupied lands and by an even greater number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.
When, however, the same issue is reframed to say “Several settlement blocs will be annexed by Israel; those that are not will be dismantled and settlers relocated either into the annexed blocs or within Israel” (even without a mention of “land swaps”), Palestinian opposition drops significantly.
Our findings demonstrate a remarkable flexibility on the part of Palestinian refugees as they work through the painful compromises dealing with the existential issue of their “right to return.” Israeli Jews, on the other hand, appear to demonstrate little interest in making any accommodation in this matter. They reject acknowledging any responsibility for the refugee issue and also deny any “right to return” for the refugee population. Israelis, however, do want the normalization provided by the Arab Peace Initiative—understanding that this includes the condition of “an agreed solution to the refugee issue.” This may provide an incentive easing the way to some accommodation.
Jerusalem is another difficult knot to untie, with no party (other than Israeli Arabs) indicating flexibility. Israelis want the city to remain “the undivided capital of Israel,” a position overwhelmingly rejected by all Palestinians. It is interesting to note that Israelis maintain this position despite strong majorities acknowledging that they see as unimportant or do not even know the location of Arab areas that are included in the Israeli annexed “greater Jerusalem.” For their part, the Palestinians reject not only Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, but also its division into East and West and the Clinton formula for Jerusalem. What has not been tried is an approach that sees Jerusalem as an undivided city with two capitals.
This idea would most likely be met with resistance, although our data suggests that this option may face somewhat less opposition than most other proposed solutions for Jerusalem. The data clearly points to the difficulty in attempting to find separate solutions to each piece of the puzzle. But the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish responses to the Arab Peace Initiative and the Israeli acceptance of some of the Clinton parameters establish that a comprehensive vision that presents not only the compromise needed for a solution, but also makes clear the trade-offs and benefits and provides international backing may be the only way to proceed. Such a comprehensive approach must include a vision of the future so compelling that people are drawn to it, especially when it is contrasted with a portrait of what the future would look like if nothing is done. It will not be easy and as our data demonstrates between 15% and 30% will most likely oppose any proposal, either out of fear, lack of trust, ideology or cynicism.
But with both a unified Palestinian leadership and an Israeli leadership committed to peace, and an international leadership not only presenting a comprehensive plan, but also willing to work to sell it, peace may be possible.
—Dr. James Zogby