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Polls show Israelis rational about policy, misguided on elections

It’s easy to disagree with Israelis about many things. But two new polls show that on key current issues, the public is at least thinking rationally and seeing clearly:

*On Gaza, the majority know that Israel is no better off after the war in Gaza, and that the ceasefire won’t hold.

*On the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the majority supports negotiations, supports the basic outlines of the Arab peace initiative and knows that the Palestinians cannot simply be beaten.

*The majority acknowledges discrimination against Arabs in Israel, and a strong majority believes democracy is either more important than Jewishness of the state, or that they are equally important.

The data here comes from the most recent survey by Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull of the University of Maryland (always an excellent resource) and the Peace Index by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and Israel Democracy Institute. Both samples were surveyed following the war with Gaza (Telhami and Kull’s research began just hours before the ceasefire began), with 600 respondents in the U. of Maryland poll, and 598 in the Peace Index. Both therefore have just a small sample of Arab respondents.

Gaza. Israelis do believe that the war was justified in light of the results – the Jews (84 percent), with Arabs evenly divided. Forty percent of Jews and one-quarter of Arabs believe Israel’s deterrence power is better than before the war, according to the Peace Index; the remainder think it is the same or weaker (or have no opinion).

But people hold no illusions about having solved any problems: just 19 percent believe that the ceasefire will last more than a year; the majority, 54 percent, believe it will last between a few months up to one year, in the Peace Index. The remainder say it’s only a matter of days or weeks until further fighting.

And just 37 percent believe that the government actually fulfilled its goals (without specifying what those goals were) – with no real difference between Jews and Arabs. Over half of both groups believe that only some or none of the goals were achieved. Only one-quarter (27 percent) in the U. of Maryland survey believes that a military approach can solve the Gaza problem at all.

So why do Israelis justify the war? Mostly because they believe Israel had to respond in self-defense to the rocket fire and this was the only option. After all, no leader has suggested or even entertained a non-military response. Note to self: In my next survey, I’ll ask “what is the best response,” and offer military and non-military options; I want to believe people believe there’s another way.

Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Although both surveys show that people are pessimistic about the idea that peace can actually work, the majority of Israelis (including nearly 60 percent of Jews) support negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Critics will say that Israelis favor negotiations just in order to drag them out – but the finding still represents a divergence from the record of the Israeli leadership, which has not managed to hold them. (For the record, I think that during the brief and partial settlement freeze, Abu Mazen should have agreed to negotiate, although Netanyahu’s “conditions” made it nigh impossible.)

A majority of the public accepts the Arab Peace Initiative as is, or as a basis for negotiations  – even though in the U. of Maryland survey they were told only that this involves a solution along the 1967 lines, with adjustments. Among Jews, 50 percent accepted this, compared to 46 percent who did not.

Nearly three-quarters of the whole public realize that if the two-state solution collapses, the situation will be bad. Note: this is my interpretation. It includes 37 percent who said the status quo would continue; but given that this survey actually began during and following a war that saw rockets fired on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and a bus bombing sent PTSD shockwaves from the second Intifada rippling through the population – it’s hard to believe that respondents love the status quo (although prior to this war, many did view it as tolerable). Another 35 percent said there would be intense conflict for years if the two-state solution falls (72 percent total). Thirteen percent envisioned a one-state solution; only six percent believe Palestinians will just give up one day. (All from the U. of Maryland study.)

Democracy, discrimination and Arab citizens. The U. of Maryland survey offers no great news; but with 55 percent who believe there is discrimination against Arabs, at least the majority is not hiding from reality.

One-third (Jews only) say democracy is more important to them than the Jewishness of the state, up from 26 percent last year. At that time, 47 percent said both were equally important; at present 35 percent say so. That’s not a bad thing in itself: it’s natural that people wish for a state that reflects their national character. The question is rather how the national character is defined and implemented; and it is non-negotiable that a democratic state must ensure total and equal rights, de jure and de facto, for citizens who do not share the majority identity. Thirty-one percent say Jewishness of the state is more important to them than democracy; that’s likely to create a genuine obstacle to equality of all citizens.


Here are a few takeaways:

*The Netanyahu government is not fooling citizens with its military bluster. Most do not believe anyone can win this way.

*The Telhami/Kull (Maryland) poll, like various others throughout the year, also shows only a minority in support of a unilateral strike on Iran.

*The public cannot be an excuse for the government’s failure to advance negotiations with the Palestinians. There is every reason to believe that a reasonable two-state agreement could still be passed (although as I’ve written, the situation on the ground makes that increasingly unlikely).

Thus the number of areas where Israelis differ from the Netanyahu leadership is significant.

Further the much-discussed demographic rightward shift is not necessarily what it seems. When the positions on specific issues are checked, the population may be evenly balanced, or a majority can be found that is moderate, ready for compromise, prepared for restraint, or does not believe in military solutions.

The final puzzle, then, is why Israelis insist on supporting a government with which they disagree on such key policies, that has failed them on both security and socio-economic fronts for three years?

I believe it has to do with the fact that with relation to conflict, the government says things the population can agree with: we want peace, we are prepared for a two-state solution, but this isn’t the time. Perhaps if the government were to tell the truth about its policies: “we don’t intend ever to reach a two-state solution because we can never accept the idea of a Palestinian state, we are doing everything to create a territorial and diplomatic reality that demolishes any cohesive notion of a Palestinian entity and we intend to govern all the land ourselves including an additional 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians” the electoral map might be different. That is, if the people are as rational as their answers imply.

Click here for more election polls from +972’s Poll Tracker.

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    1. Shlomo Krol

      I believe, from what I hear from talking with people, that such strange discrepancy between voting and views stems from the view that there is no readiness to compromize on the other side, the famous “no partner” concept. I don’t know the public athmosphere in Palestine, but I think it is probable that there is a mirror image of this “no partner” perception there. Which creates the deadlock of self fulfilling perceptions, resentment, fear, sense of victimhood, blame game on the both sides. If what I am saying is true, the pressure on.Israeli government to make a minimal effort and to fulfill its obligations by the roadmap, including dismantlement of the outposts and construction freeze beyond the green line would be welcome.

      Reply to Comment
      • I have been trying to think of “underlying theses” which generate the unending “peace” debate. From my reading of 972 pieces and commenters thereon, here is a guess at one:

        Race is incarnated as a decision. So Arafat’s refusal of an offer was the Palestinian’s “decision.” The election of Hamas was ratification of terror. The Palestinians “refused” the 47 partition. On the other side, Bibi speaks for the decision of Israeli Jews. Lost is the possibility of internal opposition, pluralism, and alternative. The Boycott Law is affirmation of a single “decision.”

        Lost are decisions, which in a democracy can be reversed or ammended upon repeated samplings of the electorate. I see, in the framing of Palestinians as having “decided” their own fate, a mirror image in the proposed loyalty oath, the Boycott Law, the Citizenship Law Case, and even the mass incarceration of infiltrators which the nation/race has “decided” must go. The settlements are a “decision” to support Jews in ancient land and engender more “security” through presence.

        Incrementalism has vanished. Racial “decisions” keep everyone where they are. The Wall protests are mocked, for they are not the true “decision” of the Palestinians. If you want diversity to wedge even the possibility of a new approach, you are going to have to see some of the opposition as potential allies, autonomous allies, but also in some ways also opponents. And movement toward these will not be “solutions” (racial “decisions”) but incremental options within the present regime, meaning within the occupation. If you deny all opponent moves which are not “racial decisions” you ultimate will face violence–and violence has a way of deciding for all of us, when it happens.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron Gross

      I don’t see the discrepancy here. I’m well within the Israeli mainstream as described in this and other surveys; in +972 terminology, I’m a fascist. I hope for an end to the post-1967 occupation, I supported the operation in Gaza, I believe that most settlement activity (including E-1) should stop, I believe that there is no military solution to the conflict, and I believe that there is no end to the conflict in sight, hence that a peace agreement at this time would likely be very harmful. Given these beliefs, I see no reason not to vote Likud Beitenu. Who else would I vote for?

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        What is this harm you believe will result from a peace agreement? Is this a rational belief?

        Reply to Comment
      • Carl

        Aaron, not sure why that’d make you a fascist though I don’t share your analysis.

        Being that you “hope for an end to the post-1967 occupation … believe that most settlement activity (including E-1) should stop, … [and] that there is no military solution to the conflict”, I can’t see why you would vote Likud/YB: they’re diametrically opposed to your views.

        Abstention or spoil your paper maybe?

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          Carl, I don’t care what the Likud politicians hope for thirty or forty years from now. I care what the government is doing today, and I mostly, not completely, support that. In other words, I’d support mostly the same policies today whether or not I wanted Israel to withdraw eventually from Judea and Samaria. (Gaza’s a slightly different story.)

          Scheindlin’s explanation fits my own reasoning pretty well except that I do want Israel to try to prevent “any cohesive notion of a Palestinian entity,” because we’re at war. But not by expanded settlement.

          By the way, I doubt that Netanyahu or anyone else, except on the extreme right (“transfer”), thinks there’s a military solution to the conflict.

          Reply to Comment
      • Why not an opposition which will not win now, but prepare for different policy later? Knowing the Likud block will win, one can try to create an alternative platform in the Knesst. A kind of strategic voting that looks beyond the next win.

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          Greg, who is this opposition? Which party is trying to avoid a (false) peace agreement today, but set the ground for peace tomorrow?

          Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          OK, I think I misunderstood your point before but I understand now. I think you’re saying, vote for a list like Hatnu`a that wants a peace agreement now (which I don’t), because they’ll lose anyway, but it will prepare for a real peace later.

          I don’t accept that reasoning. I think that, domestically, there’s no preparation for peace needed. Israelis believe in land-for-peace, as they have for decades. If and when Israelis see that as feasible, there will be a huge wave of electoral support for the pro-peace parties. For good or ill (I’d say both), Israeli public opinion can change overnight in reaction to events.

          Reply to Comment
          • Aaron, I’m a kibitzer in the truest since of the term. I live in Arizona, USA, and know no one in Israel (I used to, but that was 15 years ago). I don’t know most Israeli party platforms.

            But suppose there is one opposed to settlements, one that might actually get in the next Knesset. If you think similar on that issue, and think it an important one for peace, then I would vote for it. The parties are not the electorate. I hope you are right that there could be a massive electoral shift under the right circumstances. If you think there is a party whose voice might be crucial if that possibility approached, then I would vote for it. The next win is predetermined. So one asks who do I want around if a serious change becomes possible. I would vote for that slate.

            Reply to Comment
          • Aaron Gross

            I’ve seen sudden, enormous shifts in opinion on the “peace process” twice since I’ve been here. The first was after Rabin’s assassination. That shift really scared me, because it was the political expression of pure sentiment. The political conditions hadn’t changed at all.

            The second time was in September 2000, when the entire Israeli left and center-left changed their minds overnight, except for this tiny remnant at +972. We’re still living in the aftermath of September 2000.

            If, per impossibile, the Palestinians were to somehow demonstrate their acceptance of Israel’s existence, I’m practically certain there would be another sudden shift.

            Reply to Comment
    3. ish yehudi

      first- i really identify with what Aaron wrote– (i’d still have a hard time voting for likud/ beitenu especially for economic policy reasons). But whats crucial to understand- in understanding the discrepancy mentioned in the article/ poll above is the deep lack of trust about what wil happen as a result of signing some agreement.
      To ask Israeli’s to again go for “land for peace” when the enmity towards us from the Palestinians is if anything greater than 20 years ago (especially amongst te youth). I’m not standing on a stump expecting/ demanding of the Palestinians to “recognize us” acknowledge the Jewish peoples right to a state or or all the things that people say. But it’s those statements that would show some kind of chnge to allow Israeli’s to take a serious risk as opposed to the discomfort of the status quo.
      So- I understand that Aaron despite his ideals and hopes is still hesitant to make the move away from the conservatives. And moral outrage/ international pressure are not the key ingredients here, because the Israeli obstinance is pointing to a real factor the left needs to worry about and Palestinians in true favor of a 2 state solution also- is there a chance for a foundation for peace being laid in the hearts/ minds of us people?
      I understand what Meshal is saying-that without strength in action, Israel won’t listen… another self-fulfilling prophecy.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      There is absolutely no discrepancy here. Israelis want peace. They also want security. So far, peace talks have not brought security and if anything have made the average Israeli more insecure.

      When the right said that giving West Bank cities to the PA will bring more violence, could you honestly argue they were wrong?

      When the right said that handing over all of Gaza to the Palestinians will bring rockets on Ashdod and Ashkelon can you honestly argue they were wrong?

      When the left said that military measures would be unable to stop suicide bombings can you honestly argue they were right?

      The simple conclusion that all Israelis draw is that peace talks bring violence and Israeli territorial concessions bring stronger weapons closer to Israeli cities. This doesn’t change the desire of Israelis for peace or even for a two state solution, but it certainly makes them very uneasy about the processes proposed on the left for getting there.

      The Israeli right has been consistently correct about how the various developments in the Middle East would play out. It has also been right about Israel being able to have economic growth and make no concessions to the Arabs. Why wouldn’t an average Israeli vote for Likud Beiteinu?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Isaelis have peace, most of the time. As K9 points out, compared to the early 2000’s Israelis now live in a much securer world. I guess “peace” means removal of the occupation with continued security, perhaps some concept of “threat removal” as well. But, even with a viable Bank State (yes, I fear Gaza is lost), there will most likely be at least attempted terror attacks.

      You are asking people to give up a sure bet for risk, and the Kahneman and Tversky experiments show that is hard to do. That is, the framing of reality is on the right’s side.

      Then why cannot expanded settlements be somehow framed as a risk? Why cannot the question be phrased thus: If the settlements continue, a Bank State will become impossible. Should these continue to expand, risking violence in a permanently controlled population, or should expansion stop? This is not a land for peace frame, but a sub question under occupation. What seems missing in much or most of the “peace” discussion is incrementalism: are there things Israel can do within the occupation which are peace improving without much risk. Certainly freezing expansion is such a thing. It would also be a cost settlers already present would have to endure, their return pay for being protected while living there.

      Again, the right, by framing things as all or nothing, controls the framing of risk. Accepting this is a strategic mistake on the part of those who want to eventually see change.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      84% of Jewish Israelis feel that the last military operation is justified by the results, and 60% think that deterrence is the same or weaker in the aftermath.

      Perhaps a significant percentage sees the excess of deterrence as a problem, and that problem was alleviated by the operation. With luck, subsequent operations (the next expected within a year) will move this even further. Eventually, the situation will stabilize like it happened with Hezbollah in Lebanon. (Equilibrium of deterrence.) From that point of view, the government not fulfilling its goals is a distinct plus.

      A surprising corollary is that the country needs somewhat stupid government that achieves positive goals against its wishes.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Joel_O


      Do you know of and could you point me to some polls that look at voting priorities in different segments of Israeli society? I would be very interested to know to what extent siocioeconomic / personal leadership / over ideology / habit / security / education / the conflict / etc issues are prioritized in voting behaviour.

      My point is that we tend to assume that the stance to the conflict both among Israelies and Palestinians is the determining factor for support of various factions, but I’d like to see if and to what extent it actually is so.

      Reply to Comment
      • Joel_O

        Right. Read before you open your mouth. :p Just opened The Peace Index and there we go…

        Reply to Comment
    8. Joel – Actually the Peace Index doesn’t provide breakdowns by sector, only Arab and Jewish (but remember, this is a very small sample of Arabs). The Israel Democracy Index which is published annually provides some further breakdowns, although not specifically of electoral issues you mention. Still it’s a very good resource: http://en.idi.org.il/media/1365574/Index2012%20-%20Eng.pdf

      A survey of mine is about to be released by Shaharit that also goes into depth about different sectors. If you contact me by regular email I’ll keep you posted about it.

      Reply to Comment
      • The framing of risk shapes response. So Livni’s add “Bibi and Lieberman – international boycott; Tzipi Livni – diplomatic solution. Food for thought from Hatnua” attempts to shift risk by shifting the frame, to the US and Europe, mostly. I am not endorsing her (right, like that could matter), but just note that she seems to understand the right’s (which actually seem the center in terms of proportion) monopoly of risk avoidance. Risk has to be reframed.

        Reply to Comment
    9. XYZ

      I have never understood the polls that consistently show that 60% of the Israeli public supposedly wants negotiations with the Palestinians. After all, it is clear, in spite of the deceptive promise of the Left-“Peace Camp” in Israel that the ONLY possible way to reach an agreement is for Israel to agree to a complete withdrawal to the pre-67 lines, including the division (i.e. the the destruction) of Jerusalem, Israeli admission of guilt regarding the Nakba and Israeli acceptance of an unrestricted Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees. I don’t believe more than 1-2% of Israelis would ever accept such terms, so what does it mean that 60% of Israelis want negotiations with these as the only possible outcome? Is it because naive Israelis believe the Left-“peace camps” siren song that the Palestinians will accept less than what they have been demanding for decades now? Or is it that they believe that talking will supposedly keep things quiet even though it has been repeatedly proven that the acceleration of peace negotiations have always been accompanyed by increased terrorism and violence in order to make the Israeli side more “flexibile” (this is the division of labor between FATAH-PA and HAMAS, FATAH does the talking and HAMAS carries out the terrorism in its name to push Israel to make further concessions).

      Reply to Comment
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