If the Israeli public were at the negotiating table, what would they support?

A recent poll finds that 77 percent of Israeli Jews oppose even the principle of the Palestinian right of return, and more than half are against dismantling settlements. 

Nir Elias/REUTERS
Robi Damelin, whose son was killed 11 years ago by a Palestinian while serving in the Israeli army, poses for a photograph in Tel Aviv August 13, 2013. Damelin on Tuesday told Reuters she recognized the need to free Palestinian prisoners as a pragmatic step towards advancing the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Whatever is decided in today’s peace talks, or subsequent rounds during the nine months that Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to negotiate, ultimately any deal will be put to the Israeli public in a referendum.

So the results of a recent Israeli opinion poll are highly relevant in gauging how much maneuvering room Israeli negotiators have, since at the end of the day they will need the public to support any concessions they may make.

The monthly Peace Index, carried out by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute, found that a majority of Israeli Jews oppose four concessions Palestinians have long sought. Here’s a breakdown from the index’s authors, broken into bullet points for easier reading:

  • 77 percent of Israeli Jews oppose recognition of the Palestinian “right of return” involving the return of a small number of refugees and financial compensation for the rest;
  • 63 percent oppose withdrawal to the 1967 borders with land swaps;
  • 58 percent oppose dismantling [all but the largest] settlements while leaving Ariel, Maale Adumim, and the Gush Etzion bloc intact; and
  • 50 percent oppose transferring Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority along with a special arrangement for the Holy Places.
  • Worth noting is that nearly a third of Israeli Arabs polled (32.3 percent) also said they would not support dividing Jerusalem, under which Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would become the capital of a future Palestinian state. The index’s authors surmised that this may be due in part to respondents who live in these neighborhoods opposing the idea of living under the Palestinian Authority. Another reason may be that many Israeli Arabs are Christian and do not place the same emphasis on Muslim control, politically or otherwise, of a city considered to be the third holiest in Islam.

    That may be a moot point, however, for many Israeli Jews, nearly half of whom (49 percent) think that a referendum on a peace deal should be limited to Israeli Jews only and not their fellow Arab citizens, who account for about a fifth of the population. After all, the “Arabs of ’48,” who stayed behind when more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled when Israel was established in 1948, tend to be more sympathetic toward Palestinian aims. Some Israelis, particularly on the right, see them as undermining Israel from within. 

    But interestingly, these Arab Israeli expressed far more faith than their Jewish compatriots that the Israeli government is sincere in its attempts to reach a peace deal, with 37 percent of Arab respondents agreeing with the statement “I’m sure it wants to” compared to 23 percent of Jewish respondents.

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