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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn't have to be a zero-sum game

A new poll shows that most Israelis and Palestinians support the idea of two states, but reject the practicalities of it. But there is a way out of this mess.

By Michal Haramati

Jewish and Arab protesters march during a prtoest against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Jewish and Arab protesters march during a prtoest against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A recently published opinion poll sought to answer our region’s million-dollar question: is the two-state solution still relevant?

Unlike many others, the poll was carried out simultaneously by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and included largely similar questions for both sides. The results are eye-opening.

In keeping with previous polls, while the two-state solution is still preferred by most (51 percent of Palestinians and 58 percent of Israelis), a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians think the other side seeks to annihilate and dispossess them (53 percent in both). A majority on both sides fears the violence of the other (76 percent of Palestinians, 70 percent of Israelis) and, unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority on both sides believes the violence will not come to an end in the foreseeable future.

However, when you break the poll down to the different questions, the picture becomes much bleaker. By and large, every statement that is endorsed by Israelis is, at the same time, rejected by the Palestinians, and vice-versa. The only thing Israelis and Palestinians see eye to eye on is their opposition to dividing Jerusalem.

This is apparently not at all interesting, if you take into account another thing Israelis and Palestinians see eye to eye on: that the conflict is a zero-sum game. In other words, 70 percent of Palestinians and 51 percent of Israelis agree that what’s good for the Israelis is bad for the Palestinians, and what’s good for the Palestinians is bad for the Israelis.

The separation wall, which encircles the village of Hizma, cutting it off from Jerusalem. (photo: Tamar Fleishman)

The separation wall, which encircles the village of Hizma, cutting it off from Jerusalem. (photo: Tamar Fleishman)

The two-state solution now seems a lot less attractive, and indeed, when asked again at the end of the questionnaire, only 45 percent of Israelis and 40 percent of Palestinians supported the two-state solution. Though the rate of support is far from negligible, most believe that a majority, on their own side and on the other side, is against.

The one-state solution is not a cause for celebration either, except among Palestinians citizens of Israel, who probably feel it would rid them of the tasking charges of dual loyalty (34 percent of Palestinians and 25 percent of Israelis, among them 52 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel, support a single state with equal rights for all).

This isn’t Europe

Most of the opponents of the two-state solution didn’t change their mind even when a “reward” was offered to them – like suggesting that the independent State of Palestine would become a member of the European Union. Similarly, the prospect that Israel realize its years-long dream to become a European country was met with sweeping opposition (more than 70 percent), and so did the notion that Israel come under an American security umbrella. In other words, Israelis don’t see the West as conducive to the resolution of the conflict. In a similar vein, both sides (except Palestinian citizens of Israel) believe that if a solution would be the result of a multilateral process, it is preferable that it would involve Arab countries, rather than the United States, the United Nations or Europe.

Also, according to the poll, the Palestinians care much more about the evacuation of settlements and the realization of the right of return than the construction of a viable democracy. When the day comes and the Palestinians will have the privilege to deal with domestic issues, their sovereign regime will likely have a somewhat Islamic character (63 percent are against separating religion and socio-political life). In Israel, similarly, most people care more about the Jewish majority (35 percent) than about democracy (20 percent), and there are more Israelis who define themselves as Jewish, first and foremost, than Israelis (47 to 33 percent).

Right-wing Israeli settlers demonstrate after marching from Ma'aleh Adumim settlement to the E1 area on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, during a protest calling for an expansion of Jewish settlements in E1, West Bank, February 13, 2014. (Activestills)

Right-wing Israeli settlers demonstrate on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem calling for an expansion of Jewish settlements, West Bank, February 13, 2014. (Activestills)

One interesting omission is a question to the Israeli public about their desired system of government, as if it is to be taken for granted that Israelis necessarily subscribe to democracy – unlike the Palestinians, of course. Recent polls have shown that it isn’t necessarily so.

The “Two States, One Homeland” initiative, of which I am a member, of seeks to transcend the zero-sum paradigm. The main difference between our initiative and the two-state solution is perhaps the premise that we and the Palestinians have mutual interests.

Our initiative offers the following: settlers will remain in their homes while Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return to their towns and cities of origin. Everybody will enjoy complete freedom of movement, and Israel/Palestine will go back to being a single geographical unit, in which two political entities live side by side with open borders. The assumption that only separation by concrete walls could put an end to violence and misery is misguided, and have been losing its appeal over time.

This assumption derives from boardrooms in European capitals, where men in suits decide what’s good for us, rather than from our own autonomous interaction with our political space. We can change that, now, for the first time since Oslo.

Michal Haramati is a member of Two States, One Homeland, and is a doctoral student of sociology at University of the Basque Country. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. R5

      Really futile how the “right of return” cult keeps trying to bury the lead and push through a massive Arab land grab. “human rights”….”international law”…before, not its “settlers can stay”….”open borders”…..just stop man. No matter how much obfuscation you throw at the public or change the name of your group, settling millions of Arabs in Israel = destruction of Israel. This will always be the burning dumpster in the middle of the street. You’re going to fool some people some of the time, but never enough so quit wasting everyone’s time with it.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      @R5: Is the America of 1776 “destroyed”?

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    3. Ben

      “settling millions of Arabs in Israel = destruction of Israel”

      But… settling millions of Jews in Palestine does not equal destruction of Palestine.

      You gotta love that. Now, a Trumpian narcissistic sociopath could devise such an equation and apparently feel no shame. But not someone I take seriously. What’s next? “We’re going to build a separation wall and make the Palestinians pay for the wall”? Oh, wait, that is exactly what Israel has done, except it’s the Americans and Europeans paying for the wall in dollars and euros and the Palestinians paying in flesh and blood. And you know, the right wingers here look on what I just wrote not with shame but with satisfaction. “Yeah baby, we got everyone else paying for us! Cool!” This is approximately the moral state of affairs.

      Reply to Comment
    4. R5

      @ Bruce Gould/Ben: bringing the State of Israel to its knees, to the point where it cannot physically defend against a wave of Arabs from Lebanon and Jordan pouring over its borders is a recipe for a civil war that the Arabs would lose very, very badly. Try Nakba X 10. Look at the Israeli military in 1948 and look at it now. Which shows exactly why both of you belong to a cult. You don’t examine reality closely enough to even see the real-world consequences of what you’re proposing. You drool at the prospect of making Israeli Jews suffer and that’s about as far as your minds can go.

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    5. AJew

      I am not a frequent poster in forums such as these but I cannot let the hutzpah of this Ben character un answered.

      Before shooting his mouth off about how the Arabs are losing land to greedy Israel, Ben should take another look at the map. The land of Israel represents maybe about 0.3% of the lands which Arabs have. Even on that tiny portion of land, Israel’s population comprises 20% of Arabs. But Ben cries about the prospect of some Israelis who live in the West Bank. According to Ben, no Jew must live in what he calls Palestine which according to Ben, must be ethnically pure and Arab.

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    6. Ben

      R5: a wave of Arabs pouring over the borders of a defenseless Israel, bringing it to its knees? All because you pulled your swimming pools and daycare centers out of Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim? And stopped persecuting the population of the West Bank based on race? What hysterical fever dream is this? You expect us to buy that? Seriously? See this:

      Both you and “AJew” here are trying to move the goal posts of a sane conversation into some anti-Semitizing la la land. Nakba x 10 is not just your threat, I think it is your unstated goal and I think you are deadly serious about it. Honestly I have always thought the right wing’s premeditated end game must be to let things fester and fester and fester at then at the right moment provoke a conflagration so as to, under the cover of “the fog of war” commit mass population transfer. I don’t see how the far right’s behavior makes any sense strategically except if I posit this is their calculated end game.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben

      To “AJew” who announces with his name his worldview and his tone of voice typical settler arrogance and then maintains the charm by proceeding to “shoot off his mouth” about Jews being ethnically cleansed: It is in fact Israeli Jews who have invaded and illegally colonized the West Bank and who are committing slow ethnic cleansing (read the August 16th article here on water deprivation by Eitan Kalinsky). Not the other way around. “Chutzpah.” I take it as a compliment. You’re the far right extremist and I’m the sane moderate. Not the other way around. You are moving the goal posts of a sane conversation to someplace in settler la la land. This “Judenrein” device is an old one and was answered a long time ago, for example here, by Peace Now:
      Check out their several related arguments under the “Are settlements really a problem?”

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben

      But you know, AJew, go ahead, annex the West Bank and grant one man one vote to all. It’s called The One State Solution. What’s stopping you? I mean you insist that Jews and Arabs should be able to share all this land, right? No “ethnic purity” for you, right? You’re all for folks mixing. Great. The One State Solution beckons to you, I hear it calling your name. And while you’re at it I’m sure you will redouble your efforts to strike down the racist “Admissions Committees Law” your Supreme Court upheld which allows towns to reject Palestinian citizens of Israel and other marginalized groups from residing in them on the basis that they are “unsuitable” for Jewish communities. And I am sure you will redouble your efforts to prevent the forcible removal of Arabs from Negev towns that is going on so that the incredibly pure, sensitive Jews moving in are not sullied by having Arab neighbors. And I’m sure you will fight mightily to prevent the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs of Sussiya and many other places in the West Bank. Because you loathe ethnic cleansing and “ethnic purity” arrangements. Good on you mate.

      Reply to Comment
    9. AJew

      And Ben’s hutzpah just keeps rolling on. He is urging us to annex the West Bank but note who is talking about annexation. Not me, he does. He salivates about the prospect.

      I was talking about 500,000 Jews living in the West Bank where Jews always lived other than during the few years of Jordanian rule when the West Bank became Judenrein after 1948 (to use Ben’s quaint description).

      I was also reminding our hutzpadick Ben that Israel already has 1.2 million Arab citizens yet Ben wants to keep his Palestine ethnically pure Arab and Jew free. And he thinks of himself as a moderate. Hutzpah is too mild a word to describe him.

      This was my last post here. The atmosphere is oppressive.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ben


      I’m not salivating I’m calling your bluff. And you haven’t an answer.

      “about [a mere] 500,000 Jews living in the West Bank where Jews always lived”

      You’re not going to get past a crap detector the proposition that this offhand description captures what is going on with the occupation.


      This is what?—your sensitive, cultivated, non-“oppressive” attempt at mutual understanding?

      “This was my last post here. The atmosphere is oppressive.”

      Two thoughts come to mind. You posted here but you have not read in any depth here what +972 Magazine’s on-the-ground Israeli writers have documented over and over and over—faithfully and with sobriety and integrity, and with remarkable intelligence and thoughtfulness to boot—about the lawlessness, the deviousness, the brutal denial of human rights and absence of plain human decency that is the occupation; and the damage it is doing to your own country. And, you are posturing about an “oppressive” atmosphere because the kitchen is too hot for you to stay and you can’t handle the truth and your last refuge is to play the victim: swoon and declare oh my it is so “oppressive” here. This from a person who by all appearances is absolutely clueless about the massive oppression that is the occupation. You can’t take the “oppression” of a blog site called +972 but are just fine—what’s the problem?—with the brutal oppression of an occupied people documented here in convincing detail. But run along, we wouldn’t want to burden you.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Average American

      Give R5 a chance. Why does lots of Arabs = destruction of Israel? Are you saying municipal services like water and power would be overwhelmed? Housing would be crowded? Schools would have second-language issues? Voting demographics would change? What are you saying would be destroyed?

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    12. R5

      Average American: Forcing millions of enemy civilians into the country and you will have a civil war and state collapse. What comes next would probably be a Jewish state from the river to the sea with fewer Jews and almost no Arabs, ruled by a military government. BDS cult lemmings like you ignore history and imagine based purely on fantasy that your goals are peaceful. They are not. You just want to force a death struggle on the Israeli Jews without regard to how it would affect Palestinians. And you’re so tantalized by the possibility of making Israeli Jews suffer, that you don’t realize they would actually win.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Ben

      @R5: Excuse me?
      “Forcing millions of enemy civilians…civil war…Jewish state…no Arabs…death struggle….”?
      On September 4, R5, I already anticipated this wild eyed far right wing mass population transfer dream of yours and noted it is not just your threat but your goal. Read it. You plainly project. You are the one who is tantalized.
      You want, furthermore, to peddle the offensive and paranoid notion that Bruce Gould and I want to make Israeli Jews suffer. This is what I mean by your trying to shift the goal posts to some la la land where proponents of a sane two state or one state solution must really be “tantalized by the possibility of making Israeli Jews suffer.” This is nuts. Offensive anti-Semitizing nonsense. It is unhinged. Not serious commentary.
      I will reverse categories however and assert that you are not nearly as disenchanted as you ought to be by the reality of making Palestinian Arabs suffer.

      Reply to Comment