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Israelis only understand force — and it makes them angrier, polls show

New polls find that a majority of Jewish Israelis support the ‘voluntary transfer’ of West Bank Palestinians, a majority want to strip East Jerusalem Palestinians of Israeli residency. It’s true that most peace efforts followed war and violence — but not because the Israeli public wants them. Even in times of crisis, a brave leader can change all that.

Israeli army soldiers take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. (File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli army soldiers march through the Palestinian city of Hebron,  June 17, 2014. [Archive photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The latest crisis of violence has become a successful campaign of terror: Israelis are profoundly shaken. Many have reverted to the Second Intifada mentality of personal risk calculations based on self-selected danger factors and fingers in the wind. People avoid Jerusalem and buses, and innocent people have been killed in frenzied anticipation of attacks.

It is too early to know what the lasting impact of the current violence will be, but Israeli attitudes being documented in real time raise some longstanding questions: is violence the only thing that shakes Israeli complacency and makes Israelis consider concessions? Or does it spark an eye-for-an-eye mentality?

A majority of Jewish Israelis supported giving up on the Palestinian areas of Jerusalem in two recent polls – 66 percent in a Maariv poll from mid-October, and 56 percent in a small poll of 300 Israelis for the Knesset channel, published in late October (Channel 2 reported 50 percent from the same survey). The reporting does not specify whether the sample includes Arabs, instead referring to “the Israeli public” – although it is a small sample with a nearly six percent margin of error.

Giving up parts of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem has generally been considered a center-left position. It reflects the vision of the Oslo, Camp David and Clinton/Geneva two-state negotiations in which the city would be divided so that two states can have their capitals there.

Does this mean Israeli society has tacked to the left? If so, is it true that “Israelis only understand force?” (Of course Israeli Jews are also deeply committed to the image that Palestinians and Arabs only understand force. It is this axiomatic belief that the Right uses to advocate military action as the answer to nearly all political dilemmas.)

Some Israeli analysts insist that Israel has only ever made concessions or advanced peace negotiations after wars: the 1973 Yom Kippur War led to the first Camp David negotiations in 1977 and ultimately the peace agreement with Egypt; the First Intifada led Yitzhak Rabin to realize that the occupation must eventually end and pursued Oslo; the Second Intifada led Israel to withdraw, partly, from Gaza. In the most detailed book on public opinion during the Second Intifada, veteran Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki and Israeli academic Jacob Shamir showed that during the most violent years of the Second Intifada, public support for certain concessions such as withdrawing from settlements rose, and Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan from Gaza emerged at this time with high support.

But the other side is that violence enrages Israelis. The mentality of reprisal floods the national consciousness and Israelis believe they must hit back hard to crush them – whatever “crush” and whoever “them” means. Shamir and Shikaki also found that during the most intense phases of violence in the early 2000s, support for tougher military action against Palestinians increased. The near-consensus support, often upwards of 80 percent, that Israelis displayed for all three wars in Gaza are further evidence that for Israelis, the only answer to rocket fire on civilians is a heavy military response.

Israelis gather on a hill to watch  the Israeli army attacks on rhe Gaza strip, and rockets that are fired from Gaza to Israel, near the city of Sderot, July 15, 2014.

Israelis gather on a hill to watch the Israeli army attacks on the Gaza strip, and rockets that are fired from Gaza to Israel, near the city of Sderot, July 15, 2014.

Further, one look at the last decade of elections shows that since the Second Intifada, Israelis have voted almost consistently for right-wing governments. This cannot be disconnected from the perception that left-wing political visions are irrelevant in the face of what the public perceives as exclusively Palestinian violence.

In other words, Israelis may express some declarative support for concessions when the price of violence is particularly high. But over the last decade, there have been two major qualifications.

First, they simultaneously embrace conditions that preclude reaching those concessions: undertaking harsh military action that can be a game changer in itself, and voting for politicians who are unlikely to advance real negotiations – which are viewed broadly as a matter of giving gifts to terrorists.

Second, the kinds of concessions Israelis tend to support at these times are piecemeal, aimed at patching up bleeding wounds rather than addressing root causes. Israelis do not wish to transfer areas of East Jerusalem like Kufr Aqab to the PA as a goodwill gesture or a way to reach a two-state solution. They want to get rid of these areas because Jewish Israelis never go there anyway and they hope that cutting off a diseased limb might save the patient. (To be clear, that is how Israelis see it, not my personal opinion.)

At the same time, another ominous trend is setting in: like in other countries, the wartime mentality leads to even greater disregard for democratic norms, and civil and human rights.

Fully 58 percent of the public polled for the Knesset Channel supported revoking the permanent residency status of East Jerusalem Palestinians – the equivalent of stripping someone of their citizenship, except that these people are already stateless.

In the Maariv poll, nearly 70 percent of the Jewish population supported a detailed plan to get rid of specific Palestinian neighborhoods and revoke the residents’ Israeli ID cards, stop providing social services (already far inferior to the services provided to Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere), while allowing full freedom of military action for Israeli security services in the Palestinian neighborhoods “just like in Judea and Samaria,” Maariv reported.  It was essentially a question asking whether Israelis support expanding the occupation.

That same survey, for reasons hard to comprehend other than sensationalism, tested Jewish Israeli support for a “voluntary transfer” plan for “the Arabs of Judea and Samaria” advocated by the late far-right minister Rehavam Ze’evi, who was assassinated in 2001. Another strong majority of Jews, 58 percent, supported the idea.

Nearly 80 percent in the Knesset Channel poll also expressed support for house demolitions for the families of terrorists – though an IDF study concluded that this fails to deter – and Avigdor Liberman ranked first as the person Israelis would like to see in charge of security. It is therefore no surprise that three-quarters in the same survey said that a single bi-national state cannot be democratic. Yet there was no no outcry when Netanyahu recently stated that Israel must continue controlling all the territory for the meantime – a situation that is far less democratic than one state where all are citizens, even if they are not equal.

The Maariv analysis concluded that Israelis don’t mind pulling left or right – the goal is to “get rid” of Arabs. But I read this as a deep-siege mentality in which symptomatic treatment is preferable to underlying solutions, and democratic norms are thrown by the wayside, considered irrelevant at best, traitorous at worst. The danger is clear: the non-democratic mindset is leaking into other aspects of Israeli society, from the treatment of Palestinian-Arab citizens, to freedom of expression – and we can scarcely afford any further erosion. There should be no illusion that this violence will push Israeli Jews away from right-wing hardline attitudes, despite the fact that the associated policies have been a spectacular failure.

Finally, there is perhaps the most important takeaway: leadership matters. After the the peace treaty with Egypt public opinion shifted dramatically toward support for giving back the Sinai; after Oslo it shifted dramatically toward support for a Palestinian state. But by the same logic, Netanyahu’s suggestion of revoking residency for East Jerusalem Palestinians lends tremendous legitimacy to a fundamentally wrong idea that permanent residency can be stripped just like that – simply because Israel never granted full citizenship to people on the land it annexed.

Netanyahu’s power of persuasion may be frightening — but it goes both ways. More than anyone else in the past decade, Netanyahu could have legitimized a negotiated peace agreement. The fact that he has not is inexcusable.

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    1. Ben

      RE: “violence enrages Israelis . . . [who have] the perception that left-wing political visions are irrelevant in the face of what the public perceives as exclusively Palestinian violence.”

      Ok. More outright narcissism from an Israeli public that simply feels entitled to abuse Palestinians, and externalizes all blame.
      In the words of Michael Omer-Mann: (1) “Firstly, when people talk about addressing the violence at times like these they are generally referring only to Palestinian violence directed at Israelis, not the structural violence of Israel’s occupation and the deadly physical violence it visits on Palestinians. Getting back to “normal” is the goal of Israel and Israel alone.” (2) “There will also never be any occupied and subjugated people that does not employ violence, sometimes abhorrent violence, to resist an oppressive military regime that offers them no avenue or hope for equality and dignity.”

      RE: ” non-democratic mindset”

      This is really too polite a description. If 58% support outright population transfer, that is more accurately called fascism.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Tzial

      A country with very alienated people think in that way

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Same old one sided simplistic propaganda. Now here is a reality check…

        The violence was started by the Arabs nearly 100 years ago because they claimed ALL the land for the greater glory of Araby. Supremacism anyone?

        100 years ago there was no occupation Benny. What was their excuse for the violence against us then?

        The occupation came about as a consequence of Arab violence Benny so it is dishonest to use the occupation as an excuse for violence.

        And it is particularly dishonest to deny the many peace offers which the Palestinians rejected which would have brought about the end of the occupation and your litany of excuses for them for their violence.

        So that brings us to the present. Yes we respond to the above history and no we are not nice to them either but Benny shuts his eyes and yells constantly about occupation and what we do. He is not the least bit interested in the culpability of the Palestinian people, as a people, for what befell them and the situation that they put themselves into and from which they refuse to extricate themselves by making hard pragmatic decisions to settle this conflict which THEY initiated.

        Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Yes, Benny…

        The following bit of history illustrates the cynicism of the types of leaders which the Palestinian Arab people choose to put their faith in. I won’t even metion Hamas whom they clearly supported in the democratic elections which were held in 2006. One does not need to introduce Hamas and what they stand for. They speak for themselves…

        Rabin’s peace overture, the Oslo Accord, was an inferior offer to Barak’s peace offer which included Palestinian statehood not just autonomy. Do you agree or not? If you disagree then please justify.

        Yet, Arafat embraced Oslo or at least he pretended to because it pulled him out of the proverbial s&@t after he made the boo boo of siding with Sadam in the first gulf war which then left him isolated.

        But by the time he got Barak’s peace offer, he felt himself back in the box seat and he was bold enough to respond with a violent Intifada to Barak’s better offer. And please don’t trot out your stock standard BS excuse that the visit of a Jewish leader to Judaism’s holiest site warranted such an intifada.

        The above recent history illustrates why we still have an occupation. We have it because of the intransigence and duplicity of the types of Palestinian Arab leaders whom the Palestinian Arab people choose to support.

        Ok Benny, I eagerly await your specific response to THIS point. Not an irrelevant quote from one of your many co-ideologues who are all driven by the same agenda as you.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Complete nonsense, obsessively repeated. You make no sense. How many times are you going to repeat nonsense? At the time Oslo was a temporary accord, obviously, meant to lead to a Palestinian state. The Oslo Process was to lead to good faith negotiations on borders of Israel and Palestine, Israeli settlements, Israeli military control, the status of Jerusalem, the right of return, etc. The whole nine yards. It’s the right wing Israelis–the real “Oslo criminals”–who deliberately and in bad faith exploited Oslo, turned Oslo into an instrument of permanent occupation and the supposed “inferior offer” you invent. Rabin had *no intention, ever* of letting Oslo lead to a Palestinian state. The whole thing was an Israeli ruse. Presented as something strictly temporary that would lead to a negotiated Palestinian state, but in reality meant as a delaying tactic and a ruse.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Are you saying that Rabin set out to fool the Palestinians Benny?

            Because your own +972 magazine claims that Rabin never intended to allow your Palestinians their own state. Here read it again. Or keep your head in the sand, I don’t care…


            “Yitzhak Rabin never supported Palestinian statehood”

            Read the article. He said so openly in public in a TV debate.

            Reply to Comment