The first question in this poll asked informants in Israel and Palestine to say which problems in the peace process they thought were ‘Very significant’, ‘Significant’, ‘Of some significance’, ‘Of little significance’ or ‘Not at all’. From a list of over twenty such problems the top five for Palestinians were ‘The freedom of Palestinians from occupation/Israeli rule’ 1st at 94% ‘very significant’ (15th on the Israeli list); ‘The settlements’ 2nd at 89% (13th on the Israeli list); ‘The substandard living conditions of the people in Gaza’ and ‘The security wall’ 3rd and 4th both at 88% ‘very significant’ (16th and 21st on the Israeli list) and ‘The Independence of the Palestinian economy’ 5th at 87% (17th on the Israeli list).
The top five problems for the Israelis were ‘Terror has reinforced the conflict’ 1st at 65% ‘very significant’ (15th on the Palestinian list) followed by ‘Maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel’ 2nd at 62% (16th on the Palestinian list) then ‘Incitement to hatred’ 3rd at 52% ‘very significant’ (20th on the Palestinian list); ‘Agreements not implemented for lack of trust between Palestinians and Israelis’ was 4th at 48% (12th on the Palestinian list) and ‘The problem has become global’ 5th at 42% ‘very significant’.
Two points need to be made here. Firstly the two lists are very different as the problems each society faces are in reality and/or perception very different. Secondly, although the rank orders are different and the percentages for Palestinians are generally higher than they are for Israelis the Palestinian percentages are sometimes very similar to the Israeli percentages. For example the top concern for Israelis is ‘Terror has reinforced the conflict’ at 65% ‘very significant’ and 61% for Palestinians. And second for Israelis is ‘Maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel’ at 62% and 59% for Palestinians (a difference of only 3%). So although the problems have a different order for Palestinians they do seem to understand that the problems Israelis have are significant also. However, this apparent ‘appreciation’ does not seem to be reciprocated as much as might have been hoped. The top problem for Palestinians ‘The freedom of Palestinians from occupation/Israeli rule’ at 94% ‘very significant’ registers at only 30% ‘very significant’ amongst Israelis (a difference of 64%). So in addition to what might be called a ‘problems gap’ there is also a communications or ‘appreciation gap’ that appears to have an Israeli bias.
The second question in this section looked at the problem of process in a slightly different way. This time those being interviewed were asked about responsibility for the lack of progress or what in Northern Ireland was called the ‘Blame Game’. For Israelis the top five points of failure were ‘Weak Palestinian government’ and ‘Islamic extremists are changing a political war into a religious war’ 1st and 2nd both at 52% ‘very significant’ followed by ‘Arming of Palestinian militants’ 3rd at 49%, ‘Palestinians have no accountable single partner for peace’ 4th at 48% and ‘Palestinians divided by Hamas and Fattah’ 5th at 43% ‘very significant’.
The top five points of failure for Palestinians were ‘Israel is not ready to make peace’ 1st at 85% ‘very significant’ followed by ‘Lack of US resolve to establishing a Palestinian state’ 2nd at 82%, ‘UN failure to implement resolutions’ 3rd at 80%, ‘Israel’s refusal to accept 67 borders’ 4th at 79% and then ‘The lack of progress in the peace process led to Palestinian division’ 5th at 73% ‘very significant’.
These two lists are, too a considerable degree mirror images of each other. For example the item at the bottom of the Israeli list is ‘Israel is not ready to make peace’ at only 14% ‘very significant’ while it is 1st on the Palestinian list and the item at the bottom of the Palestinian list is ‘Arming of Palestinian militants’ at 26% ‘very significant’, and this item is 3rd on the Israeli list. Interestingly ‘Palestinians divided by Hamas and Fattah’ (5th on the Israeli list) could not be asked in Palestine as they took the opposite view that ‘The lack of progress in the peace process led to Palestinian division’ (also 5th but on the Palestinian list) and this item could likewise not be asked in Israel because they took the opposite view again.
As part of the peace process in Northern Ireland the people there came to learn the futility of playing the ‘Blame Game’. So much so that at one point the BBC was able to launch a satirical TV comedy series called ‘The Blame Game’, but then Irish humour can be quite black. The antidote to the ‘Blame Game’ are ‘solutions’ and these were the subject of the remainder of this questionnaire.
Some process solutions. The ‘Essential’, ‘Desirable’, ‘Acceptable’, ‘Tolerable’ or ‘Unacceptable’ scale was used again for the ‘process’ solutions. Critically policies that one society expressly want to see implemented as highly ‘essential or desirable’ need to be compared with levels of ‘unacceptable’ in the other society. High levels of ‘unacceptable’ indicate political difficulties while low levels of ‘unacceptable’ suggest the policies in question can be taken forward.
From a list of twenty-four items for rebuilding confidence in the peace process the top five for Palestinians were ‘Lift the siege of Gaza’ and ‘Remove all check points’ 1st and 2nd at 99% ‘essential or desirable’ followed by ‘Release Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons’ and ‘Israel should freeze settlements as a first step to deal with the settlements’ 3rd and 4th at 98% and then ‘Israel should demolish the wall’ 5th at 96% ‘essential or desirable’. Unfortunately all these proposals are resisted by Israelis at quite high levels of ‘unacceptable’ ranging between 47% and 57% except for freezing the settlements, which is only opposed by 23% of Israelis as ‘unacceptable’. As this option is one of the key demands for Palestinians it is a matter of considerable regret that a small but influential minority are able to do so much harm to the peace process.
Fortunately, many other suggestions are welcomed by both Israelis and Palestinians. ‘The new US Administration should place a high priority on Middle East peace’ opposed by only 11% of Israelis and 3% of Palestinians is already happening. The EU and US are working with Egypt to end the conflict between Hamas and Fatah (only 17% and 4% ‘unacceptable’) and through the efforts of research like this poll civil society is getting more involved in the peace process (only 14% and 6% ‘unacceptable’). Almost everyone wants to achieve peace through negotiation (4th on the Israeli list and only opposed by 5% of Israelis and 8% of Palestinians as ‘unacceptable’). Unfortunately, like the freezing of settlements a small but significant minority of Palestinians (24% and 23% respectively) are opposed to the top two Israeli proposals to ‘Stop all suicide/attacks against civilians’ at 90% ‘essential or desirable’ and ‘Stop firing rockets from Gaza’ 2nd at 87% ‘essential or desirable’. Minorities again seem to be holding up peace. But such minorities exist in every conflict and the way to deal with them is to move the peace process forward in support of the will of the majority who do support most (but not quite all) of the proposals tested here.
As both Israelis and Palestinians want a negotiated peace (79% and 71% ‘essential or desirable’) it should come as no surprise that nearly all the suggestions for strengthening the negotiations are welcomed by both Palestinians and Israelis. There is however one notable exception. Seventy three per cent of Palestinians and 52% of Israelis are opposed to the idea that ‘The PLO/ Fatah and Israel should negotiate in secret’ as ‘unacceptable’. This is how the failed negotiations of the past many years have been conducted and both Palestinians and Israelis want change.
At the top of the Israeli list (3rd on the Palestinian list) is ‘The people should be kept informed of progress in the negotiations’ at 74% ‘essential or desirable’ and 2nd on the Israeli list (4th on the Palestinian list) is ‘Targets, timetables and milestones should be set for negotiations’ at 68% ‘essential or desirable’ and so on and so on. Unlike all the questions previously reviewed in this research there is now much more agreement between Palestinians and Israelis than there is disagreement.
I do not know how many of these suggestions from the people of Israel and Palestine will be taken up by their respective leaderships but they should now be very much aware that if progress is not made in negotiations then calls for reform of their negotiating practices will be well received. Fortunately for the negotiators in Israel and Palestine one of the top negotiators in the world is now their Special Envoy from the United States of America. After 30 years of ‘The Troubles’ and failed negotiations in Northern Ireland the governments of Britain, Ireland the US and EU moved to internationalise that process and make the people and civil society active partners/stakeholders. Israel and Palestine have much to learn from that, their own people want a stronger and more inclusive process and George Mitchell is probably the most experienced facilitator to help them in that task
When the fieldwork for this questionnaire was being undertaken at the end of last year there was much talk about what was termed ‘Economic Peace’ so many questions were suggested to deal with this topic. Inevitably Israeli and Palestinian priorities are different with Palestinians putting ‘Remove all check points’ at the top of their list at 100% ‘essential or desirable’. Unfortunately this is opposed by Israelis at 61% ‘unacceptable’ as is ‘Provide Palestinians with access to the ports of Haifa and Ashdod’ at 64% and ‘Allow all Palestinians free access between Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank’ at 54% ‘unacceptable’.
But the slightly less radical proposals (from an Israeli perspective) to ‘Ease security measures in the Occupied Territories/West Bank and Gaza so that the economy can develop’ and ‘Develop the economy for all Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza’ is only opposed by 22% and 23% of Israelis respectively while ‘Achieve a peace agreement so that the Palestinian economy can develop’ is only opposed by 17% of Israelis. Economic development and peace do not seem to be an ‘either/or thing’ as the Israelis 3rd choice on their list is ‘Work on the peace process and economy together’ at 53% ‘essential or desirable’ ahead of ‘Develop the Palestinian economy to help achieve peace’ and ‘Achieve a peace agreement so that the Palestinian economy can develop’ 5th and 6th at 46% and 45% ‘essential or desirable’ (no significant difference).
When it comes to reconciliation, as with negotiation, there is more agreement between Israelis and Palestinians then there is disagreement. The top priorities for Palestinians ‘Reach an understanding on all core issues and start implementation under international supervision without delay’ at 92% ‘essential or desirable’; ‘Both sides should use all possible means to build confidence and trust between the two communities’ at 80% and ‘A peace agreement must lead to living side by side as good neighbours’ at 78% ‘essential or desirable’ were only opposed at 17%, 3% and 6% of Israelis respectively as ‘unacceptable’ while the counter proposal to ‘Establish two completely separate states without any interaction’ was ‘unacceptable’ to 35% of Palestinians and 37% of Israelis as ‘unacceptable’. A majority of Palestinians want Hebrew taught in Palestinian schools (78% ‘essential or desirable’) and Arabic taught in Israeli schools (58% ‘essential or desirable’). A minority of Israelis oppose this at 6% and 18% respectively as ‘unacceptable’ as do a minority of Palestinians at 10% and 17% so perhaps for them such a policy should be a matter of choice.
About the poll. This poll was commissioned by OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine in collaboration with Dr. Colin Irwin of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool. The fieldwork to develop the questionnaires was undertaken by the research team in Israel and Palestine in November and December 2008. The fieldwork for the public opinion polls was undertaken by AWRAD of Ramallah and Dahaf of Tel Aviv following the elections in Israel in February 2009. Five hundred interviews were completed in Israel and six hundred in the West Bank and Gaza to produce representative samples of both populations in terms of age, gender, social background and geographical distribution. Publication of the results of the polls has been timed to provide the new administration in the US and new government in Israel with information to assist them in developing their policies for peace in the Middle East.