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What Do Israelis and Palestinians Think?
American public opinion on Israel/Palestine doesn’t matter as much as the views of those impacted by the conflict in resolving the situation.
Lost in American media and political debates about the current conflagration between Israel and Hamas is a simple but important point: no one in the rest of the world can overcome the decades-long status quo that has blocked the formation of two independent states for two peoples—a Jewish state in Israel and an Arab state in Palestine, with security and opportunities for both sides and full democratic rights for minorities in each country.
As vital as international diplomacy is to addressing the current crisis, domestic political realities in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza will ultimately determine if and how the conflict gets resolved in the long run.
But what do we know about what Israelis and Palestinians themselves think about matters? What are they most worried and hopeful about? What can realistically be done to address these concerns to create the frameworks for peace and political negotiations?
Two interesting polls conducted and released just before the outbreak of the current conflict provide good insights into what ordinary Israelis and Palestinians think and feel about their current situations and potential futures.
The Israel Democracy Institute’s most recent “Israel Voice Index” shows a population increasingly pessimistic about both security and democracy in Israel. As seen in the figure below, just half of Israelis say they feel optimistic about the future of Israel’s security, and only around 4 in 10 Israelis feel optimistic about the future of democratic governance in their country.
As the authors of the study describe, concerns about security cut across all ideological groups, while concerns about democracy are concentrated more on the center and left than on the right:
The disparities in optimism on security by political camp (Jews) are relatively small: left – 46%, center – 50%, right – 57%. The low rate of optimists on the future of Israel’s democratic governance is also evident in all the camps, but here the gaps are much larger: left – 15%, center – 26%, right – 47%. This finding is interesting in light of the fact that, for the first time in a long period, there is a significant chance of forming a government based on parties of the center and the left.
This is just one poll. But what this time series indicates is that if pessimism about security continues to exist widely among Israelis, progress on democracy, on peace with the Palestinians, and on a host of domestic economic and social issues will be elusive. Although there is widespread dissatisfaction with the most recent election—less than one fifth of Israelis are satisfied with the results of the latest of four elections held in two years—the right, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular, will continue to dominate Israeli politics if large chunks of the population express worries on security.
Even before the most recent round of fighting, the Israeli public’s perspective seemed clear: no real security, no prospect for peace or two states. It’s unlikely the recent round of violence will improve Israeli public attitudes.
Views on the Palestinian side are equally grim, but with a different emphasis. The latest round of polling by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research—the main Palestinian public research institution—shows a Palestinian population divided on politics ahead of delayed elections, and increasingly distressed about the economic and social conditions they live in today.
What was on the minds prior to the latest blow up in Gaza? Findings on priorities indicate that:
The top most vital goal should be the creation of a Palestinian state after ending the occupation according to 43% of the public.
The most serious problem confronting Palestinians today is poverty and unemployment according to 30% of the public followed by corruption and the continuation of occupation.
Findings show that 43% of the public believe that the first most vital Palestinian goal should be to end Israeli occupation in the areas occupied in 1967 and build a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. By contrast, 31% believe the first most vital goal should be to obtain the right of return of refugees to their 1948 towns and villages, 14% believes it should be to establish a democratic political system that respects freedoms and rights of Palestinians, and 11% believe that the first and most vital goal should be to build a pious or moral individual and a religious society, one that applies all Islamic teachings. Moreover, the most serious problem confronting Palestinian society today is poverty and unemployment in the eyes of 30%, the spread of corruption in public institutions in the eyes of 25%, the continuation of occupation and settlement activities in the eyes of 24%, the continued siege of the Gaza Strip and the closure of its crossings in the eyes of 13%, and the lack of national unity in the eyes of 6%.
On the issue of statehood, 40 percent of Palestinians support a two-state solution compared to nearly 6 in 10 opposed. Only a third of Palestinians back a single state of some sort. Palestinians are split on the best means for ending the occupation, with 37 percent supporting armed struggle and 36 percent favoring political negotiations. However, more than half of Palestinians do not believe a two-state solution is even possible due to Israeli settlement expansions.
So hopelessness, confusion, and desire for economic improvement understandably dominate the minds of many Palestinians. Palestinians want their own state but are split on what it should be, how to get there, and who should lead it. If legislative elections were held, PCPSR finds that the Fatah party would get 43 percent of the vote compared to 30 percent for Hamas.
If the world community wants to see a real solution to the standoff between Israel and the Palestinians, it needs to listen more to the voices of the people who will live with this solution and find ways to meet their respective desires.