Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Palestinian polls and arriving at the two state resolution, which "everbody knows" is the answer

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There is a re-appearing assumption that "everybody knows" the general outline of a future two-state peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, that both peoples support the idea, and that it is only distrust and the politics and limitations of the leaders of both sides that prevents it from coming about.

This default peace deal is broadly summarised by the "Clinton Parameters" presented by the US Clinton Administation to both sides in Dec. 2000 - a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 94-96% of the West Bank, with land swaps to make up most or all of the difference; Jerusalem divided by the ethnicity of neighbourhoods with special arrangements for the holy sites; no Palestinian "right of return" to Israel, only to the new Palestinian state, plus compensation for refugees; and security arrangements including agreement the Palestinian state would be "non-militarized".

 

But what do Palestinians really think about the "everybody knows" peace deal? Well, there's good news and bad news.

The bad news is that, as Rick Richman of Commentary recently noted (‘Everybody Still Doesn't Know What Everyone Supposedly Knows,' 4.4.2013) even polls that show that a narrow majority of Palestinians support a two-state outcome in principle also show that same majority also envision it to be something quite different than what their Israeli counterparts and international mediators have in mind. This is especially the case when it comes to refugees and the so-called "right of return," demilitarisation and the territorial compromise needed for such an agreement to eventuate. In other words, the majority of Palestinian public opinion does not support the deal "everybody knows" will be the end result of the peace process. Referring to the most recent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) poll, Richman notes:

In addition to polling whether Palestinians support a two-state solution in general, the PCPSR polls the support for a two-state solution modeled on the Clinton Parameters, described by the PCPSR as involving the following:
(1) an Israeli withdrawal from more than 97 percent of the West Bank, with a land swap for the other 3 percent; (2) a Palestinian state with a "strong security force" (but no army), and a multinational force; (3) sovereignty over land, water, and airspace, but Israeli use of airspace for training and retention of two West Bank early-warning stations for 15 years; (4) a capital in East Jerusalem, including all Arab neighborhoods and the entire Old City, except the Jewish Quarter and the "Wailing Wall"; and (5) a "right of return" for refugees to the new state of Palestine (with compensation for "refugeehood").
In the January 2013 PCPSR poll, only 43% supported that solution. Moreover, in every poll PCPSR poll since 2005, that package has failed to generate Palestinian majority support.

According to a PCPRS poll conducted in March, 55% of Palestinians support a two-state outcome as the best solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which is an increase of 6% in support for the two-state outcome among Palestinians since June 2012), while 42% support mutual recognition of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland, and of Palestine as a Palestinian homeland in any final peace agreement. Richman emphasises the negative implications of these figures, but perhaps there is some upside as well - an element of "good news."

At the end of the day - there is a clear majority in favour of a two state outcome among Palestinians, and a considerable level of support for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state - something the Palestinian leadership has steadfastly ruled out, but viewed as essential by most Israeli opinion leaders. In addition, support for the Clinton Parameters is sizeable at 43%, even if short of a majority. These figures do show that the Palestinian public, as Richman suggests, is not yet fully ready to make the kind of compromises necessary for a conflict-ending deal establishing a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. However, these figures also show strong support for such an outcome, and a sizeable base of support among Palestinian for the compromises needed to reach the deal "everyone knows" will lead to a two-state peace.

There are also grounds for optimism when taking into account the growing rejection of violent means to promote Palestinian goals among the Palestinian public, and the recent drop in support for Hamas (‘Palestinian Poll: Major drop in Support for Rocket fire, Hamas,' Ynet, 11.4.2013). A recent poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (JMCC) reveals that 83.8% of Palestinians support non-violence means to advance the Palestinian cause, and 60.2% of Palestinians are against "military operations" against Israel. At the same time, the support for "armed resistance" dropped, and in the current survey only 31.3% support it (down from 50.9% support in December 2012). Support for rocket launches at Israel also dropped to 38.4% (down from 74% in December 2012). The decline in support for violence and terrorism, the ongoing support for a two-state outcome, and the significant levels of support for solutions with include compromise on core issues such as refugees, are encouraging signs for the longer term, and should be acknowledged.

Just to complete the picture, the Israeli side's views are much less complicated. Two polls late last year showed 67% and 68% support for the Clinton Parameters among Israelis, and even strong majority support among voters for right-wing Israeli parties.

Still, Palestinian opinion means that the moment of "ripeness" needed for successful resolution of the conflict and a final status agreement still seem far off. Yet current levels of Palestinian public support for a two state outcome, decreasing support for violence and some level of flexibility regarding issues such as mutual recognition and refugees might indicate readiness for interim agreements, negotiations and other steps to advance the two state outcome. If pursued, these in turn might make it seem more tangible and feasible, and increase the support for compromise to achieve it. Just as Palestinian opinion on violence has steadily changed over recent years, and there has a been a strong recent upward tick in support for a two state outcome, changes in Palestinian opinion on the compromises needed for peace also seem possible.

So Palestinian polls effectively offer the discerning peacemaker - such as US Secretary of State John Kerry, just back from the region - some policy advice. Don't go for an immediate final deal - Palestinian opinion is simply not ready. At the same time there is absolutely no reason to give up on a two-state solution in the longer term. Instead, look for interim agreements and arrangements which might shift the polls enough on the compromises needed for peace so the "everybody knows" peace deal, currently not feasible, eventually becomes achievable. Finally, absolutely do not turn a blind eye to Palestinian official incitement (see recent examples here and here) which is seeking to move Palestinian opinion in the opposite direction - towards rejection of compromise and violence.

US Secretary of State Kerry did suggest one important way of advancing and increasing the current Palestinian support for the peace process and negotiations. Kerry said US efforts would focus on promoting and developing the Palestinian economy, and its economic ties with Israel and the US, to increase trust between the parties, as reported by the New York Times ('Kerry to Focus on Palestinian Economy as Part of Peace Process,' 8.4.2013):

"I'm having discussions about those steps that would get at this issue of mistrust," Mr. Kerry told reporters after meetings on Monday with Israeli and Palestinian officials. One step, he added, is to move on the "economic front because that can be critical to changing perceptions and realities on the ground, all of which can contribute to forward momentum."

It's a good start - now more in the same vein is needed.