Bintel Blog

Golda Meir's Legacy, and Parsing the 'War and Peace Index'

By Nathan Jeffay

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Three in five Israeli Jews supports Benjamin Netanyahu on settlements. But when they are asked to factor in that implementing his policy could lead to a deterioration of relations with the U.S., support drops to two in five. The new figures come from Tel Aviv University’s latest monthly survey of Israeli public opinion, the War and Peace Index.

What they show is that on the one hand, Netanyahu seems to representing majority opinion among voters. In short, polls are helping to build up a picture of mainstream Israeli opinion today as unsympathetic towards and prepared to dismantle outlying settlements; expectant that settlement blocs will remain part of Israel, and hesitant about stopping all building in settlements without getting anything in return for doing so.

Netanyahu’s stance that Israel will not establish new settlements, but will expand existing ones according to natural growth seems to fit in with the views of mainstream Israel. On the other hand, what we have long known to be true still applies: Israelis still care deeply about not clashing with the U.S., and at least one in five will, on the basis of this concern, withdraw support for a course of action they otherwise favor.

This month the pollsters surveyed the public on their attitudes towards the Palestinians and came up with some intriguing findings. Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, famously said in 1969 that there was “no such thing as Palestinians,” and some 32% of people polled do not recognize the existence of a Palestinian people. They were not asked why, but it seems that Meir’s logic, shared by many past Israeli leaders, has survived.

If we recall, Meir’s explanation for her statement was that there has never been an independent Palestinian state. She said: “It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”

The statistic is fascinating not only because it indicates that a rejection of Palestinian peoplehood, which many presumed to have died out in recent years is alive and well. It also suggests that some Israelis are in favor of creating a state for a people that they claim doesn’t exist.

How so? Well in recent polling support among Israeli Jews for the “two states for two peoples” solution to the conflict, or the creation of a Palestinian state, has been as high as 70%. But in the new Tel Aviv University poll, only 62% believe a Palestinian people exists.

Of course, the tongue-in-cheek response is to ask who would live in and run the state proposed by Israelis who don’t believe in the Palestinians. But the apparently contradictory figures point to the way that backers of the two-state solution increasingly cite pragmatic reasons — and not deeply held convictions that the Palestinians deserve a state. While back in the 1990s, advocates of the two-state solution were often heard talking in terms of every nation’s right to autonomy, today you can believe that the Palestinians don’t exist but still want to give them a state in the hope of a quiet life.

This point is illustrated by considering what happens when pollsters, instead of asking whether respondents support the establishment of a Palestinian state, ask in terms of whether Palestinians have a right to and deserve a state. This is exactly what the Tel Aviv University pollsters did, and only 50% of respondents said they do.

The Tel Aviv University poll also found that some 56% of Israeli Jews oppose Israel taking even partial responsibility for the suffering caused to the Palestinians by the 1948 war, according to a new Tel Aviv University poll.

Respondents were asked for their feelings on the prospect of Israel taking some responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem, even if the Palestinians were to officially take part of the responsibility for the events of 1948. This indicates that while there is majority support today for a dovish position on many issues that could be on the table in peace talks — most importantly dismantling settlements deep in the West Bank — the public is not giving way on this issue.


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