Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Poll: Plurality of East Jerusalem Arabs want to stay in Israel

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The influence of public opinion polls is having a significant impact on the politics of the Middle East, given that the ‘Arab Spring' has taught us that the will of the people can be stronger than the will of its leadership.

Further, one of the accusations often hurled at Israel by its most vehement critics is that it is supposedly intent on "Judaising" Jerusalem, supposedly forcibly evicting Arab residents from their homes or driving them out of the city. So what do the city's 300,000 Arab residents say about their situation?

The Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs has conducted a rigorous survey of east Jerusalem Arabs to find out their views. In east Jerusalem the total sample was 1,039, and it covered the entire city, every neighborhood and was based on face-to-face interviews. The sample was representative of the overall Palestinian population of the city by age, education, gender, occupation, neighborhood, and income.

Interestingly, the survey found that more Palestinians in east Jerusalem would prefer to become citizens of Israel than be citizens of a new Palestinian state. Moreover, 40 percent said they would probably or definitely move in order to live under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule.

The survey also found:

  • 44 percent of the Palestinians in Jerusalem say they are very, or at least somewhat, satisfied with their standard of living. This is a very high percentage compared to most other populations in the Arab world. There were also high levels of satisfaction with important issues in their daily lives, including education, access to a nearby place of worship, health care, and basic services such as electricity and water.
  • Only 30 percent sympathise with either Fatah or Hamas or with the Israeli Arab Islamic movement. Politics is not a major preoccupation. 
  • 75 percent of east Jerusalem Arabs are at least a little concerned, and more than half are more than a little concerned, that they would lose their ability to write and speak freely if they became citizens of a Palestinian state rather than remaining under Israeli control. 
  • 41 percent thought that the armed conflict probably or definitely would continue even after a peace agreement, and this is from the most moderate population of Palestinians.
  • Only 33 percent said that a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence at the UN would have a positive effect on their lives. Sixty six percent said that such a unilateral step would have no positive effect.

David Pollack of the Washington Institute for Near East - who reveals this findings in an article titied "What Do the Arabs of East Jerusalem Really Want?" - notes that these poll results chould have significant implications for the future disposition of Jerusalem in any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Pollock writes:

"For people who tend to assume that a fair and practical solution for the Jerusalem issue is for the Arab neighborhoods to become part of Palestine and the Jewish neighborhoods to become part of Israel, these findings suggest that this could be somewhat problematic from the point of view of the people who actually live in east Jerusalem. This factor needs to be taken into account or we are going to end up with a very disgruntled population of Palestinians who will be forced to come under Palestinian rule when a plurality do not want that. At a minimum, there needs to be some arrangement that responds to people's personal needs and aspirations, not just to their collective identity or political leadership."

Simiarly, former senior UN officiial Elliot Abrams has also commented on the importance of the poll's results, writing:

"The paper is well worth reading, and sets the actual opinions of real live Palestinians in Jerusalem against the rhetoric, ideology, and demands of their rulers in Ramallah and received opinion in most Western capitals. It would be ironic indeed if a partition of Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine saw tens of thousands of Palestinians flee ‘their' new country. (Would UNRWA adopt them as new Palestinian refugees, by the way?) Unable to cast ballots to determine Palestinian policy, they might vote with their feet. One path out of such a mess would be to ask the 300,000 Palestinians who live in 19 Jerusalem neighborhoods what they want as part of any future peace deal. We might find that many of them, like Israelis, want a united Jerusalem that is part of Israel. The partition of Jerusalem might be shown by such a vote to reflect the demands of Palestinian politicians rather than the majority of actual Palestinians actually living there."

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