In Light of the Jerusalem Declaration: A Quantitative Look into Public Opinion

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no exception to Donald Trump’s mission to disrupt the status quo in conflict-ridden regions. On December 6th 2017, Trump yanked the chord on Palestinian aspirations for Jerusalem, sparking sentiments of despair, hopelessness, and grief throughout the Arab world. The proceeding Palestinian strikes, global protests, and international rejections offer qualitative insight into the magnitude of Trump’s impact; but how does this impact translate into numbers, especially with regards to public opinion on a desired solution?

A series of joint polls conducted by Prof. Khalil Shikaki and Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin since 2016, of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, Tel Aviv University, have captured changes in public opinion towards a solution to the conflict. On the surface, the polls suggest a decline in support for the two state solution from both Israeli Jews and Palestinians, but a critical analysis of the findings reveals much more, especially in light of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Prospects of the Two State Solution

In 2010, 71% of surveyed Israelis (including Arab citizens of Israel) supported the general notion of a two state solution. However, this number over the last seven years has eroded to about 52% in December 2017. Similarly, at 56% in 2010, Palestinian support for the two state solution dipped to 46% in December 2017. Dividing the populations further, one finds the strongest and most stable support for the two state solution amongst Israeli Arabs at 83% and Israel’s left at 82%. Since June 2016, Israeli support for the two state solution went from 58% to 52%. The pressing question then is, where does the recent notable deterioration of support for the two state solution stem from? The potential answer… Israel’s left wing constituencies.

photo credit: Flash90

Support for a theoretical two state solution, broken down by constituencies. Source: http://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/717

In the period between December 2016 and December 2017, Israeli left’s support for the two state solution dropped sizably from 97% to 82%. Despite Trump’s denial, saying he was not predetermining boundaries, his Jerusalem declaration took a toll on the viability of the two state solution. Some even argue that his decision rendered the two state prospect impossible. Israel’s left wing has noted this and is coming to terms with the harsh difficulties of implementing a two state solution in today’s reality. The unbounded expansion of settlements, Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, and the persistent bitter stagnation of peace negotiations continues to dampen the viability of the implementation of a Palestinian state. After all, for both Israelis and Palestinians, support for the two state solution is strongly correlated with whether one believes its prospect is still viable. So what do the Palestinians and Israelis envision next for the conflict? The surveys offer this insight as well; Israeli and Palestinian support for militancy increased… drastically.

Up 6% from June 2017, 18% of Israelis believe decisive war against the Palestinians is the next step. More significantly, up 17%, 38% of Palestinians believe an armed struggle against Israel is the next step. Collectively 26% fewer surveyed Palestinians and Israelis believe a peace agreement should follow. While the spikes in desire for militancy is worrisome, prior trends shows that spikes that follows major conflict-related events (such as Trump’s declaration) decline with time. Regardless, with today’s militant attitude, leaders on both sides must tread lightly as further tangible and intangible provocation can trigger further escalations in violence.

How the Math Suggests Hope for a Two State Solution

Did Trump deliver the final nail into the two state solution’s coffin? The polls demonstrate that Trump’s declaration did not… at least for now. The survey simulated scenarios in which tangible and intangible incentives and modifications are made to the present day 9-point permanent status peace plan for the two state solution. The 9-points are as follows: mutual recognition of the other population (Palestinians recognize Israelis and vice versa), a demilitarized Palestinian state, Palestinian sovereignty, presence of multinational peacekeeping forces, territorial exchanges, the border at the existing Green Line, the status of Jerusalem as two capitals, the status of the Old City, and the question of Palestinian refugees. The findings found that compromises on a few of these points can produce overwhelming support for the two state solution.

For instance, surveying Israelis who initially opposed the 9-point package, the survey found that 47% would shift their position if Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount if East Jerusalem belonged to a Palestinian state. Adding that 47% to the existing number of those who support the package would produce an overwhelming majority support for the two state solution on the Israeli side. Similar reactions occurred when the incentives in the following graphic were offered.

photo credit: Flash90

Of Israeli Jews who initially opposed to the nine-point peace package, the percent that would change their mind with the offered incentive. Source: http://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/717

Modifications/ incentives for the existing peace package revealed that a significant majority could be attained from Palestinian population as well. For example, of those Palestinians who initially opposed the two state solution, 39% shifted this view with the fictitious scenario in which Israel agrees to recognize “the nakba” (Palestinian term for the tragic displacement resulting from the war of 1948) and consequently offer compensation. Likewise, the scenarios in the following graphic illustrate similar results.

photo credit: Flash90

Of Palestinians who initially opposed to the nine-point peace package, the percent that would change their mind with the offered incentive. Source: http://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/717

Do These Numbers Matter?

In reality, the numbers may not entirely matter. Whether 40%, 49%, 51% or 60% of Israelis and Palestinians support the two state solution will not exactly further its implementation significantly if present day obstacles persist. After all, majority support did not drive the Olmert-Abbas negotiations to success; in similar ways, majority support didn’t lead to success in other past negotiations. However, these numbers reveal flexibility, reactions to incentives and changes. People do not want to lose the things that are important to them (i.e the Temple Mount for Jews or Refugee compensation for Palestinians), thus amends must be made to accommodate these desires. Moreover, individuals often ask themselves, “what’s in it for me?” when presented with a potential package. Hence, tangible and intangible incentives should be used as devices to garner support. Palestinian and Israeli publics are not yet blockages for each other’s peacemaking, but the persistent distrust and fear prevents the two from acting as facilitators for peace.

Complete details and figures of the findings between the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, Tel Aviv University are located at the following link:http://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/680