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End of year poll updates: Israel and Palestine

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)

Survey information:

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%

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    1. Ben Israel

      I recall having an interesting dialogue here with you a few weeks ago about an earlier poll you posted.
      Like that one, this one seems to go against results I have been hearing from other polls regarding things like the settlement freeze, which had a majority opposing it in those polls.
      It is interesting to note that your polls has 1/4 of the Arabs answering OPPOSING a freeze! Maybe these are the ones who work in the settlement construction field.

      69% of the Palestinians wanting a ‘peace agreement’ doesn’t necessarily mean that 69% want peace with Israel, they may view an agreement as a way station in continuing the struggle against Israel. Also having 62% saying that HAMAS should change its policy towards Israel could simply mean that the FATAH-PA approach of supporting negotations is more effective in getting Western money and support which they may think is more effective in the confrontation with Israel than allying themselves with Iran and an absolutist position.

      I have often wondered about the reliability of Palestinian polls. They are a society with no history of democracy and free speech in the Western sense. It seems to me that there are always majorities for whatever the local ruler’s position is…in the West Bank what FATAH-PA say, and in Gaza they reflect HAMAS’ position. After all, can the person being questioned feel that his anwers will remain secret and not get back to the authorities, even if they are assured that there is no danger of this?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Zach

      By only showing the statistics depicting the Palestinians as peace pursuers, you ignore nearly every other poll showing how Palestinians want peace with Israel, but are unwilling to compromise on key issues, and, more importantly, on refugees.

      Palestinians maintain the demand to allow ALL refugees to return to Israel because they understand it would mean the end of Israel. In countless polls, Palestinians still wish for Greater Palestine (which entails the demise of Israel).

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      • Zach, your comment has been edited for personal insults. Also, you have not provided links to any source – credible or otherwise – that supports your claim re. Palestinians demanding the return of all refugees to Israel.

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    3. Zach, I have chosen data I found relevant for exploring two issues we all care about – peace and democracy. Having said that, feel free to raise any points or counterpoints based on actual data – all the links are here, nothing is hidden. Just look at the numbers and we can have a meaningful dialogue.

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    4. anti-Israeli

      Of course it’s a blatant falsehood to insist that Palestinians are utterly inflexible on the issue of right of return. As Lisa correctly states, the evidence of that is zero and indeed there is considerable evidence that Palestinians are willing to negotiate. The text of the Geneva Accord and other efforts toward equitable peace refer only to “a just resolution of the refugee issue.’

      That said, the law unambiguously guarantees right of return to those ethnically cleansed from their homes by Israel. The ICJ, the world’s highest legal authority once again reaffirmed this inalienable right in the text of its decision on the illegality of the separation wall. It is true that were Palestinians to exercise their legal right, Israel would no longer be a Jewish state. In other words, Israel is illegal. It can only exist through an ongoing act of criminality–the denial of Palestinian right of return.

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    5. Ben – like last time you raise a number of legitimate questions in your first part but they are all speculations. We can’t really know until we test them systematically, it won’t help to select a few clips from the media. However, there is a ton of data available (the full reports I’ve cited are posted here) so feel free to look for your own interesting material and I’ll respond to that too.

      The place where I would disagree is: “They are a society with no history of democracy and free speech in the Western sense.” Not true. Palestinians have held multiple rounds of elections designated as free, and they have a civil society and a lively press. How free it is – that’s hard to know but certainly less than most western democracies and certainly more than some of the worst non-democracies (Surely Freedom House has a serious rating, i’m happy to look it up and get back to you).

      Also, the difference you cite between Gaza and WB does not hold up in most data I’ve seen – there may be small difference of a few points, but sometimes in the opposite direction you cite!

      however, the methodological problems you cite are real and it is a real challenge. Jamil Rabah is very thorough and in the past has combined telephone with face-to-face to verify similarity of answers, and try to balance out this problem. Polling in general is not a perfect science and in most situations there is some major problem that compromises validity. In Israel we don’t use cellphone samples, for example. That means we probably underestimate the right-leaning trends, b/c young people (less likely to have land lines) are increasingly right wing.
      hope that helps.

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    6. maayan

      Right of return demand by lead Palestinian negotiator claiming such right exists for 7 million Palestinians: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/10/israel-palestine-refugee-rights

      Enforceability of 194: Zilch, UNGA resolutions do not carry the force of law and neither do ICJ rulings.

      Percentage of Palestinians who have stated that a 2 state solution is merely a gateway to the final one state solution: 60% – http://www.jta.org/news/article-print/2010/11/22/2741858/palestinians-want-one-palestine

      Denial of Jewish connection to holiest site in Judaism: claimed by the Palestinian Authority

      Current status of Palestinian leadership in Gaza: undemocratic; elections past due.

      Current status of Palestinian leadership in Judea and Samaria: undemocratic; elections past due.

      And yet, I congratulate the author. As I was reading the report, for a minute there I thought Israel was the undemocratic, illiberal society and the Palestinians were open, democratic and liberal society (even if their journalist association agrees with the PA and Mutawakil Taha that Jews have no connection or rights to the Western Wall).

      Reply to Comment
    7. Eran

      The ICJ never affirmed, nor has it reaffirmed, the right of return of 1948 refugees.
      It is also not to the case that the “law” “unambiguously guaranteed right of return” to 1948 refugees. That’s simply false, I’m sorry.
      That said, a resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict will not be possible without both sides acknowledging past mistakes, and understanding each other’s narrative and feelings of victimization. That includes an agreed solution to the refugee problem (as stipulated in the Saudi Initiative), which would, as everybody knows, include monetary compensation, right of return to Palestine and possible a limited number of refugees returning to Israel.
      This is why it is also not the case that It is also not true that Israel “can only exist through an ongoing act of criminality” (even assuming that the denial of the right of return is an “ongoing act of criminality”, which it is not). Israel could continue to exist after the refugee problem is settled. The question is whether the current Israeli leadership is interested in resolving these issues and in peace. Unfortunately, it is not.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Dahlia, I think you provide an interesting rundown on many of the trends, particularly on the continued desire for a negotiated settlement. However, I think you skip over some of the more worrying signs. I’m particularly referring to the decline in support among Palestinians for an agreement along the lines of the Clinton parameters or the Geneva agreement, found in both the Khalil Shikaki Palestine-Israel poll that you cite as well as in my own recent work for the International Peace Institute, up on my firm’s website (www.charneyresearch.com). This will both complicate the work of reaching any agreement — if negotiations are somehow re-launched — and also mean it is not certain the plan would be approved in a Palestinian referendum, if one should be held. While I don’t think the figures are reason for despair — a real negotiating process might well move the numbers — I do think they are cause for concern. Both Palestinian and Israeli leaders need to prepare their peoples for compromise if the process is to work; instead it appears the opposite is occurring.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Craig, thanks for a very helpful comment that is a real, if troubling, contribution. I’m grateful for your additional resources and hope readers will look at them – and will look forward to writing about them in the future (as I have in the past). If I have to sum up what I tend to see over the last number of years on both sides, it’s (roughly) stability of support for negotiations, stability in the belief that they won’t yield anything; some fluctuation on the “medium sensitivity” aspects of an agreement, and decreasing support for the most sensitive compromises – which as you point out, will probably rise again if an agreement was imminent. Both sides show erosion in support for the overall package over the last couple of years, although at different levels. That’s a quick and dirty analysis, but curious if you agree or want to add.
      I definitely agree that the numbers can move if there is a serious process – we know this from experience – but that seems very distant right now. And to think, September was just four months ago…

      Reply to Comment
    10. Broadly I’d agree with what you say and do hope that real talks would produce more conciliatory attitudes. Work by our mutual friend Stan Greenberg (described in his latest book) showed how Israeli attitudes softened during the Camp David talks. When we were doing the IPI focus groups in Israel last September, during the week when the aborted talks began, we also saw that day by day the groups became more intrigued by the talks and the chance of peace (although that did NOT increase their willingness to make hard compromises). Moreover it is important not to fall into the trap of assuming that only Israeli attitudes matter, as Greenberg and Barak did in 2000. (They didn’t poll the Palestinians until 6 months after the talks failed — when they discovered that Arafat’s stances were in line with what his people then thought.)

      It seems to me that the political atmosphere and the lead given by both leaderships in public is crucial, not just what progress they make in private. From this standpoint, the ethnocentric political appeals of the Israeli leadership are as discouraging as the PA’s recent endorsement of denials of historic Jewish connections to Palestine. Both are leading in the wrong direction and I think we see the results in the polls we’ve discussed.

      Reply to Comment
    11. anti-Israeli

      Israel has never been called upon to make any “hard compromises.” That’s like saying that a convicted murderer is making “hard compromises” by promising not to kill anyone else. It’s preposterous. The “hard compromise” Israel is called upon to make is to end its transparently criminal behavior, abide by international law and stop brutalizing innocent people and stealing their land. This is apparently too “painful” for them.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Just to add some clarification on Resolution 194 and the right of return…

      That right has the full force of law. The right of repatriation of refugees had already become what is known as “customary international law” by 1948, and this is binding upon all states.

      This is clear from the language used by the UN mediator in his recommendations, namely that the right of “Arab refugees to return to their homes in Jewish controlled territory at the earliest possible date should be *affirmed* by the United Nations” – affirmed, not created.

      So the right of return has the full weight of international law, Israel has been, and continues to be in violation of it.

      Reply to Comment

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