Here’s a summary of some of the top quality polling being done by Israelis and Palestinians, about Israelis and Palestinians. From masses of data, I’ve selected highlights addressing two main themes: the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and the state of democracy in both societies.
All the data comes from sources I trust. I use names or abbreviations of the surveys, and full information about each is at the end of this post, with links where possible – there’s plenty more on most topics that might interest readers of this post. Since I’m drawing from different surveys, the questions are not identical on both sides, but just a very small, rough sample to illustrate some points.
The Israeli Palestinian Conflict and Negotiations
Support for negotiations remains high among both societies, which directly contradicts the behavior of their leaders.
>>Sixty-nine percent of Palestinians support reaching a peace agreement with Israel; 31% oppose it (NEC, 12/10). This is ten points higher than the level of support in July (59%) and fairly average for the monthly polling starting in 2007 (support ranges from 84% to 51% at its lowest).
>>Seventy percent of the Israeli public supported the bilateral negotiations in October (Peace Index, 10/12)
Think of these next two pieces of data as illustrating each public’s willingness to some things that it would take to actually advance negotiations.
>>Sixty-two percent of Palestinians called on Hamas to change its position toward the elimination of Israel. This finding fluctuates just a little, and does not show a clear trend from 2007 onward – when 61% felt this way. (NEC, 12/10)
>>Palestinians increasingly support the relatively moderate leadership of Salam Fayyad over Hamas: Nearly seven in ten (69%) of Palestinians now say Salam Fayyad is the legitimate government of the Palestinian territories (a straight and steady rise from 62% in October, and the highest since NEC began testing him in 2007) –the percentage who chose Ismail Hanieh’s government has dropped from 15% in October to 10% (one-fifth believe neither are legitimate). (NEC, 12/10)
>>Sixty percent of Israeli Jews would freeze settlements either completely or outside the large settlement blocs, compared to 33% who would allow unlimited construction (seven percent don’t know) – three-quarters of Israel’s Palestinian citizens call for a total settlement freeze. (JIPP, 11/10)
>>Israelis are willing to negotiate with Hamas (50%) and many would dismantle most settlements for an agreement (43%). But far fewer believe that the majority of Israelis support each of these policies (24% and 29%, respectively). That means that even if they support such steps, they don’t believe their compatriots feel the same way – which might discourage them from speaking out about it. (JIPP, 11/10)
>>And regarding the solution to the conflict? JIPP meticulously and thoroughly tests each aspect of a Clinton+Geneva+Saudi Plan-based agreement, then tests the whole package at the end. The result: 52% of Israelis (and 51% of Israeli Jews) approve it; 40% of Palestinians do. Thirty-nine percent of Israelis are opposed compared to 58% of Palestinians are.
Democracy, Racism, anti-Democratic Trends
Even Jeffrey Goldberg is finally worried:
“But I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people…that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I’m speaking here of four groups…The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews…; the working-class religious Sephardim… represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement…; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the “Israel is Our Home” party.”
With all due respect, who has Goldberg not been talking to? Pollsters, clearly. 2010 will be remembered as the year of the shocking (sometimes purposely so) polls showing major erosion in support for basic democratic values, from freedom of speech to equal representation or voting rights for citizens. Every few months some terrible numbers appeared but Goldberg seems to have missed some of the most important trends: young people, for example, are nowhere on his list although they are an unmistakable force behind the non- or anti-democratic sentiments. This is not only due to demographic growth among Haredim. Also: not only Russian immigrants put Lieberman in power – good old (or young) Sabras were there for him too, giving him over one-third of his party’s vote.
Here is a selection of data on democracy, racism and equality in Israel.
>> Thirty-nine percent of all Israelis support the call of rabbis in Safed not to rent apartments to Arabs (oops, I almost made a typo and wrote “Jews”). A 54% majority are opposed. Among Jews, the split is 44% (support) to 48% (opposed). (JIPP, 12/10)
>>Fifty-five percent of Israeli Jews support a law requiring all immigrants to swear allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state; six percent support it for non-Jewish immigrants only and ten percent actually support it for Jewish immigrants only; just over one-quarter oppose it altogether. (JIPP 12/10). This question was irresponsibly misreported in Haaretz today, where in one graph, the text read: “55% support the law of the loyalty oath to a Jewish and democratic state.” The article text reported simply that 55% support the law requiring immigrants to swear allegiance, ignoring the helpful nuances that the (more responsible) poll authors developed in this question.
>>Jewish Israelis break dead even on support or opposition to a law that allows committees to determine admission to communities based on “character” – which most assume means allowing them to discriminate against Arabs. 40% support this and 40% are opposed (three percent opposed it if the law allows discrimination against Arabs, five percent oppose it if it allows discrimination against religious people; 13% didn’t know). (JIPP, 12/10)
>>The principle of equality before the law is hanging on by a thread – a 51% majority of Israelis believe there should be full equality of rights for Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel” (Democracy Index, 2010)
Democratic freedoms and liberal values are facing erosion among the Palestinians as well. (Ultimately, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who tend to support such values most enthusiastically, may just end up being the most committed democrats between the Jordan and the sea).
In a fascinating (and very long) study on liberalism, the following question was asked in 2007 and in 2010: “Liberal political principles stand for civil rights, equal opportunities, free market competition, pluralism, openness and the limited role of government. Do you approve or disapprove of this ideology?” In 2007, 66% (two-thirds) of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians approved this. In 2010, just 46% (keep in mind that people are also assessing the part of the question dealing with free market and limited government). (NEC Liberalism, 2010)
But when asked flat-out whether all people equal rights irrespective of religion, a strong 86% majority accepted this in 2007, with only a four-point drop (just over the margin of error) in 2010 to 82%. Those who reject this rose from 11% to 14%. (NEC Liberalism, 2010)
There are mixed feelings about democracy as a system of government for Palestine: 78% say it would be good – almost the same in total as in 2007. But there has been an eight-point drop in the percentage who say it is definitely good. Palestinians are not as certain democracy will work for them – 62% – both years believe that democracy could work, but again there has been a small drop in the percentage of those who are sure (from 20% to 15% in 2010). (NEC Liberalism, 2010)
NEC: Near East Consulting, under the direction of Jamil Rabah (his surveys are cited as “NEC”); the December survey: 5-7 December, n=850, margin of error: +/- 3.4%; the Liberalism study is called: “Liberalism: A survey on Public Perceptions Towards Liberal Values in Palestine.” It was commissioned by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and conducted by NEC in cooperation with Freedom Forum Palestine. 24 June – 4 July, 2010; n=1159 (margin of error not cited – unfortunately this is not yet available on line, but keep checking the NEC website). The July+October survey is here.
JIPP (December 2010): Ongoing polls authored by Khalil Shikaki and Jacob Shamir, longtime partners in the “Joint Israeli Palestinian Poll,” a joint project of the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University and the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research (cited as JIPP). Israeli Poll #(34)21-30 Nov 2010; N=919 Jews and Arabs; Palestinian Poll #(38) Nov-Dec 2010; N=1270).
Peace Index (October 2010): Formerly of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, currently at the Israel Democracy Institute and together with the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University. 18-20 October, 2010, n=601 Jews and Arabs)
Israel Democracy Index (2010): Ongoing project of the Gutman Center at the Israel Democracy Institute: “Auditing Israeli Democracy: Democratic Values in Practice.” Authored by Asher Arian (z”l), Tamar Herman, Michael Philippov, Yuval Level, Hila Zaban and Anna Knafelman. Data collected March 2010, n= 1,200 Jews and Arabs; margin of error: +/-2.8%