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SURVEYS: Israelis, Palestinians support 2-state - but why bother?

The latest polls from two regular series show some hopeful results in terms of Israeli Palestinian negotiations, concessions, and a future agreement. But are pollsters asking the right questions?

Here’s a selection of data from a few recent surveys of the Israeli and Palestinian publics, showing the same old story: support for negotiations, some concessions and an agreement, which won’t happen and won’t bear fruit. In the future, I’d like to see more detailed public discussion of new stories.

I’ve used initials for poll citations – and full survey information, with links, is available at the end.


The Good News:

Caveat: this is good if you’re a supporter of TSS (the two-state solution), and a fan of OP/CGP (Oslo Process/Clinton Geneva Parameters) – the “bad news” below relates to that approach as well. That’s because two of the survey series’ I report on here – The Peace Index and the Joint Israel-Palestinian Polls (both conducted surveys in December) – are rooted in these paradigms and faithfully track attitudes on a range of detailed positions regarding TSS.

So, for example, 65% of the Israeli public supports negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians at this time (Jews more than Arabs, but still a majority of both populations, PI). Further, 60% thinks the government should make a special effort to renew negotiations given the specific circumstances at this time.

This number has been generally consistent for years now. So sure, it’s encouraging, but if the government routinely ignores it, how relevant is public opinion on this issue?

A close observer might note that negotiations were held (among negotiators, not politicians) this week in Amman. But he or she would have to be a very, very close observer – perhaps with bionic vision – to have noticed the talks in Israel, since the Israeli press hardly covered them at all. I can’t find one informed person who viewed them as anything other than diplomatic window-dressing. I would love to be proven wrong.

There is evidence that if serious negotiations were to produce an agreement, support for a final status package is on the rise. The JIPP poll shows that 58% of Israelis and 50% of Palestinians surveyed in mid-December support an overall final status package along the lines of the Clinton parameters. The authors are happy about these modest numbers, because they indicate the first time both sides show majority support since 2004.

There was also some rise in support for most of the basic elements of the plan on both sides. However, as always, the items about Jerusalem and refugees fail to gain majority support from either side: 42% and 45% of Israelis and Palestinians, respectively, support the 5-option refugee compromise, and 38% and 40%, respectively, support the basic divide-Jerusalem compromise.

Once upon a time, before the Camp David negotiations in 2000, these were breakthrough numbers. I do believe that if an agreement were on the table, with both leaders boldly prepared to sign and strong third-party backing, the numbers would inch towards a majority and in any case, support for the whole package would be clear. But without leadership, the public won’t rise up and demand something it doesn’t truly want.

So now, the numbers have become the symbol of stagnation. Why?


The Bad News

The strong majority of both populations support the conditions that are preventing negotiations: 78% of Palestinians support President Mahmoud Abbas’ precondition that Israel must freeze settlements before entering negotiations, in the JIPP survey (which is far more support than Abbas has overall – in a November JMCC poll, 55% of Palestinian approve of his leadership, a sharp drop from the Israel Project survey in July, pre-September UN bid). In other words, this policy may be one of the strongest ones Abbas has left to maintain public support for his leadership right now.

Further, 69% of Israelis reject Abbas’ demand – in other words, they support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position that negotiations should not be held with Palestinian preconditions (JIPP). And 51% of Israelis (although only 33% of Arabs) approve of how Netanyahu’s government is handling the conflict (PI).

This is incontrovertible evidence that the Israeli public has no interest in pressuring its government to negotiations that have any potential for leading to a two-state solution. One might say the same about Palestinians, but it really is hard to see the logic of negotiating for a pie that will be all gone at the end of the talks.


And in other news:

But perhaps questions about the old peace paradigms from the last two decades aren’t as relevant as they once were. Israelis mostly seem intent on maintaining the status quo. Palestinians seem to be waiting-and-seeing whether there will be increasing de facto acceptance of the statehood they requested in September, from key global actors or forums.

There is more talk in the air about a one-state solution/reality/dream/nightmare than I ever remember in the past. Figures on the mainstream left in Israel, who staked their entire political identity on the TSS, are increasingly raising this possibility. Some right-wing Israelis have their own version of one state. Some Palestinians – activists and leaders – have discussed it for years.

At present, polls on the Palestinian side are contradictory and inconclusive: the JMCC survey shows that twice as many Palestinians, and an absolute 54% majority, choose two states, over 22% who prefer a single bi-national state – similar numbers are seen in past JIPP polls. But the TIP poll shows that a 52% majority (or 66% depending on how the question was asked) sees the ultimate goal as a single Palestinian state. TIP did not ask about a binational state with equal rights for all.

It isn’t as easy to find Israeli polling data about the one-state option. But the Truman Institute JIPP series provides one survey from March 2010 with useful data: just one-quarter (24%) of Israelis supported one state back then (that survey showed 29% of Palestinians who supported it). But there was one follow up question, with an interesting result: when asked about two states, with some joint institutions leading to some sort of confederation, 30% of the Israeli public supported it, six points higher than those who supported one single state.


There is a plethora of data about old paradigms, but it’s hard to find anyone – analysts and policy elites, or the public itself on either side, who believes they still work. And there is a paucity of information about any new or different approaches – one state, a confederation, the mechanics and character of various political configurations, shared institutions, separate symbols. Instead of tracking a few percentage points shifting around the old paradigms, I’d like to see more data showing how much either public will consider new ones.


Survey citations:

PI: 5-6 December, 2011. N=616.

JIPP: Palestinian sample: December 15-17, 2011 (WB/G/East Jerusalem). n=1270, error: +/- 3%, face-to-face. Jewish sample: 11-14 December, n=605, Hebrew/Arabic/Russian, error: +/- 4.5%.

JIPP: 4-6 March 2010, n= 1270.

TIP survey: Jun 20 – 8 July 2011. N=1010 (WB/G).

JMCC survey. 17-20 November, 2011. N=1200, face-to-face.

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    1. Richard Witty

      No proposal passes. The proposal with the most support still is the two-state from your summary.

      The way to increase the support numbers in Israel, is to describe that a Palestinian leadership is willing and able to realize it.

      I think a Netanyahu voluntary 6-month, then 5-year moratorium on settlement construction, unilateral, would change the Palestinian numbers.

      The society’s are NOT integrated, but distinct. If self-governance is a relevant term (it has to be), then the two-state approach makes the most sense ultimately.

      The discussion has to be electoral. Those that advocate for a single state have to pose that as a policy platform, and achieve more than a token vote.

      Those that advocate for two-state approach with a prerequisite moratorium on settlement construction have to pose that as a policy platform, and achieve a dominant vote.

      It starts with hearts and minds, and is confirmed electorally.

      A summary of “there is no hope”, is a defeated attitude.

      Reply to Comment
    2. AYLA

      stepping off the anti-normalization threads, I find the pre-condition of a settlement freeze before entering negotiations to be entirely reasonable, and that most Israelis don’t see it that way to be a disturbing block. Most of those same Israelis are probably against the settlements/occupation. We really all need to get over ourselves.

      Reply to Comment
    3. directrob

      Most remarkable is that 70% of the Palestinians are optimistic about the future but are not optimistic about the peace process. They do like going to the UN, they do not like violent resistance. Obama and the quartet are ‘out’. 972mag will have a busy year…
      Some questions are revealing:
      “And to endanger other Jews (Israeli Arabs were asked: Other people)?” So strange, what were the interviewers thinking?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Seth Morrison

      This research just reinforces that neither side is capable of making peace through direct negotiations. It is time for President Obama and the Quartet to bring both sides together and mediate a solution.

      This won’t happen until after the US election in November, but it is clear that without outside pressure the situation will continue to fester and is at risk of blowing up.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Bosko

      “The strong majority of both populations support the conditions that are preventing negotiations: 78% of Palestinians support President Mahmoud Abbas’ precondition that Israel must freeze settlements before entering negotiations, in the JIPP survey (which is far more support than Abbas has overall – in a November JMCC poll, 55% of Palestinian approve of his leadership, a sharp drop from the Israel Project survey in July, pre-September UN bid). In other words, this policy may be one of the strongest ones Abbas has left to maintain public support for his leadership right now.
      Further, 69% of Israelis reject Abbas’ demand – in other words, they support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position that negotiations should not be held with Palestinian preconditions (JIPP). And 51% of Israelis (although only 33% of Arabs) approve of how Netanyahu’s government is handling the conflict”
      Here are two options to address this impasse:
      1. Have a total freeze in areas that are nominated by both sides as being under dispute. By TOTAL, I mean a freeze observed by BOTH Arabs and Jews. NOT JUST Jews.
      2. No freeze on either side. Just negotiate the borders ASAP and after an agreement, it would be evident which areas remain as part of Israel and therefore there still won’t be a need to institute a freeze there. While in other areas which would be earmarked for Palestine, a freeze would be instituted till after the formal signing of a peace deal.
      Either one of those options is fair. The first one though may not be practical.

      Reply to Comment
    6. I’m way not good enough to solve this problem. What I see, however, are decades lost by freezing thought until a solution is found. The effective outcome of these questions is to freeze thought on smaller matters. I recall your report that, among Israeli citizens of Arab descent (how many more phrases must be made?), those calling themselves “Palestinians” at first blush rather than “Arab Israelis” were MORE likely to be (verbally) open to alliances with Israeli Jews. Why? And to what end? I guess that someone saying “Palestinian” sees the present Arab Israeli networks as not open to them or stagnant. Directed questions as to how they might conceive a better life, through REAL ACTION TOWARDS LIVELIHOOD (sorry for yelling) might provide a tool for parties within Israel. Stop trying to make everyone solve the giant problem and see if surveys can provide data/tools for changing thinks, piecemeal, in Israel proper. I really think here social science might do some real good. There are quasi elites lost out there (J14?); find a way to give them new tools.
      Sorry for the outburst. I just see these polls as the Super Bowl in slow motion, raw raw, us against you. And I hate the Super Bowl.

      Reply to Comment
    7. AYLA

      @Seth–a while ago I would have agreed with you–and I certainly see the connection between the election and Obama’s harmful lameness in the so-called peace process. But I think Obama played his last card in September, when he was a mere puppet for Aipac etc. The good and bad news: apparently, we were not meant to be saved by an American President.
      This past year shows us that it’s up to the people. Also good and bad news…

      Reply to Comment
    8. Aaron

      What difference do little issues like preconditions make when two thirds of Palestinians view a two-state agreement as a stage towards a single, Palestinian state (i.e., no more Israel)? See the TIP survey for the exact questions.
      While that was probably the most relevant question in the survey from the Israeli point of view, even that question is only mildly relevant. Suppose the numbers were reversed. What then? The real question is, Given a continuation of the armed struggle to liberate *all* of Palestine after the two-state agreement, would Palestinians support their state’s suppression and disarmament of those militias such as Hamas, etc., even by force? When the answer to *that* question will be Yes, then there will be a real basis to a two-state solution.

      Reply to Comment
    9. @ richard witty, i would have agreed with you except that we’ve been clinging desperately to this attitude for years and years, through wave after wave of hopes, disappointment, and recurring violence. About four years ago, I tested every possible conciliatory statement you can imagine a palestinian leader saying – most israelis were unmoved. it will take something much more dramatic.
      @ Seth, i definitely agree that the two sides won’t do it alone, and international involvement is vital. But it’s getting too simple to say that without further detail: Who? the US can’t do it alone, apparently – Obama was the best shot. Egypt, no longer a capable 3rd party negotiator. European countries? which? how? outside pressure alone will only backfire as well.
      @ Greg, i agree with your critique of such surveys, and also with the potential for social science to advance fresh thinking about a better life on the ground level – With a big “but”: the people of this region will never give up on the huge issues either. piecemeal cannot be a sustainable substitute for permanence, peace of mind, national self-realization (whatever form that takes) and – the most complicated – justice.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Aaron

      DS, when you tested those conciliatory statements four years ago, did you emphasize to Israelis that these leaders’ statements would be addressed, consistently, to their own people, in Arabic not in English? I suspect that the Israelis might have been thinking about conciliatory statements in English for Israeli and Western consumption – think of all those wonderful peaceful statements Yasser Arafat used to make in English. If it wasn’t clear to the Israelis you talked to that these hypothetical statements would be said consistently and in Arabic, that might explain some of their skepticism.

      Reply to Comment
    11. @aaron, funny you should ask. We did precisely that. We even tested palestinian leaders making such statements in arabic “to their own people and on arab media” and in english, although i’d have to go back and check my records to see if we tested hebrew as well. We tested things way beyond palestinians accepting a two-state solution, it was really dramatic stuff. for the record, i have done informal tests of parallel statements from isr to palestinians but nothing quantitative!

      Reply to Comment
    12. Aaron

      If you ever want to dig up your old files on your survey, I think it would be interesting to see.
      I’m pretty sure, just from anecdote and common sense, that Israelis support land-for-peace in principle as much now as at the start of Oslo, maybe even more. It’s just that they’re very skeptical (rightly so, in my opinion).
      The whole idea of a “kablan mishneh” against terror (to use Rabin’s words about the PLO) would be sufficient to convince Israelis now as it did then. The evidence would have to be a lot stronger this time, though. “Fooled me once, shame on you….”

      Reply to Comment
    13. Brent Sasley

      What these polls tell me is that there is a willingness among both societies to explore genuine two-state options–but that neither side has a strong and viable enough alternative to existing political options. For their part, Israelis don’t have a left-wing party that is organized enough, popular enough, and stops eating its own leaders long enough to establish credible policies through patient organizing and politicking. Without a political vehicle for promoting two-states, the one-state (in whatever form) increasingly becomes the default option.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Dahlia,
      Talk of the big solution will always be with you. My guess/hope is that tangible change for Arab Israelis might ultimately feed back into the big solution talk. At present what I seem to see is complete focus on the big problem, which, perhaps not coincidentally, stifles action within Israel. This is not to say that one should advocate people stop thinking of said bid things; they will in any case–which is the point.
      I continue to think that that “Palestinian” self id category;s surprising answer to engagement questions is saying something important; it a lever point, perhpas.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Rose

      there is not any territory “under dispute”, but only Occupied Territories. This is the way in which the ENTIRE international community (the one that gave/confirmed to Israel its legitimacy) considered the Palestinian Territories.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Dahlia, I find the reference to “Israelis” in polls confusing. Sometimes it appears to mean all Israelis and sometimes just Israeli Jews? I’d like to be clear on what “Israelis” means in the last section on one-state. Do you know if the 24% figure refers to Israelis Jews or all Israelis? And if it’s “all Israelis”, is there data breaking down the Arab and Jewish results? Same question regarding the 30% figure.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Jonathan, In all my work, I strive to be accurate: “Israeli” refers to the whole Israeli population. “Israeli Jews” refers to a sample of Jews only. If I’ve written the former, as in this case, it includes Arab/palestinian citizens (although I’ve written elsewhere about the significant problem of “full sample” surveys with very small cells of Arabs – for example, if the sample is 600, you can do the math – it’s not large). There shouldn’t be any confusion – one wouldn’t use the term “Israelis” and leave out 20% of the population, don’t you agree? Having said that, i reviewed this and found one mistake in the opposite direction – towards the beginning, I wrote “Jews” where in fact the data came from the full sample – it has now been corrected. In the paragraphs you cite, “Israelis” refers to the whole sample.

      Reply to Comment
    18. berl

      very interesting. dahlia provides always important tools for a deep comprehension of this balagan/thauda

      Reply to Comment
    19. Cortez

      I’d like to see studies to show people demographic maps of the West Banks with settlements, populations numbers and relevant statistics, to ask them what they think of a 2-state or 1-state solution? These questions are asked in a bubble without knowledge of what has progressed on the ground.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Cortez

      I’d like to see studies that show demographics*

      Reply to Comment
    21. I didn’t realise that this bit referred to your poll. I wouldn’t wish to impugn your accuracy: I’m sure when you say Israelis you mean Israelis. But that helps because I guess you can easily answer the second part of my question: how do the figures break down between the proportion of israeli jews and arabs who back one state – the 24 and 30% figures?

      Reply to Comment
    22. PS. I think you may be wrong about the use of “Israelis” in some polls – though I’m sure not in the case of your polls. During the Gaza war I saw reports of several polls saying 90% plus of Israelis supported the attack. I found that very hard to believe.

      Reply to Comment
    23. @Jonathan – sorry if I wasn’t clear. This entire post is about other people’s polls, not my own. In my comment, I was referring to my reporting about them. since all the polls are linked here, you can read them too – you’ll see that they specify columns for “all Israelis” or “Israeli Jews” or “Arabs”. It’s true that the press has been guilty of reporting on Jewish samples as if they were “Israeli”…however, they do usually try to make the sample clear somewhere in the article. re: cast lead polls, sadly, the average figure might have been correct – but perhaps the number was simply 100% among Jews…
      @Berl – thanks!

      Reply to Comment
    24. I’m interested in the breakdown of support for one-state between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. That seems a politically significant bit of data. The 2010 JIPP poll appears to mean “Israelis” when it says so because it sometimes specifies “Israeli Jews” – and you have now confirmed that is what is meant. So I would like to know how the responses to V33 break down based on ethnicity. Do most Israeli Arabs support a one-state solution, in which case very few Israeli Jews do, or is support more evenly spread. I asked because you’re a pollster yourself and I thought you might have access to the raw data or a friend who was part of the polling team. Sorry if that was presumptuous.

      Reply to Comment
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