How do you explain the decline in Israeli support of the two-state solution in recent years?
Israeli support for a two-state solution drops a little more year by year. According to our most recent study in 2018, which was carried out jointly with the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, support among the total Israeli population has gone a little below 50%.
When looking at Israeli society in general, we would see that support is around 48-49% for the two-state solution. However, if we take out Israeli-Arabs (who support the solution by 80%) and are left with Israelis of Jewish faith, we would be left with a support rate not exceeding 38-39% for the detailed package outlining a two-state agreement, and about 43% support for the general concept of two states. These numbers depend on the political views of the surveyed. The Israeli Left strongly supports a two-state solution and would like to see it become a reality. The Israeli Right forms a majority against this solution. Finally, the Israeli Centre remains divided on this issue (support of around 60%).
How can we explain this trend? First of all, the Israeli public trusts Palestinians less and less. They witnessed the failure of Camp David II, which was the most promising agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. They lost hope in the possibility of finding a way out of the conflict. As an aftermath, the Second Intifada erupted and stormed the area. This Intifada was unlike the First one: while the First one was a grassroots effort, the Second Intifada was orchestrated by organizations and came as a strong shock to Israelis, who were never aware of the amount of anger that existed in Palestinian society. This anger was due to the Palestinian experiences of the Oslo years, which included growing restrictions, economic decline and broken promises regarding settlements.
Over the last few years, the Israeli – nationalist – right-wing government has portrayed Palestinians as unwilling to negotiate. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has created a narrative that resonates with parts of the Israeli public: “There is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, they are terrorists and only want to destroy Israel.”
Israelis, including those on the left, do not understand Palestinian demands. The only segment of Israeli society that truly adheres to them is the far-left voters who are usually depicted by Benyamin Netanyahu as a 5th-column and traitors to Israel.
In the last two decades, Israelis have shifted towards the right. Freedom of expression and public debates still exist, even though they were made more difficult for Israeli-Arabs. Several incidents have occurred where Israeli-Arabs were arrested for expressing their opinion on social media. Along with that Israeli shift to the right, some democratic principles diminished with the rise of populism in the Jewish state and claims that the left has too much freedom of expression, referred to as ‘anti-Israeli.’ The Israeli people still believe in a modified version of democracy: one where the majority gets to rule and decide solely.
However, support rate of the two-state solution is not only linked to the political affiliations of respondents, it also depends on perception of feasibility. According to a study conducted in 2018, less than half of Israelis believe that the two-state solution is actually feasible. Of course, if the solution is no longer considered feasible, it will receive less support.
Among Israelis who oppose the two-state solution, there is a large segment of religious Israelis. Does religion influence Israeli opinion on the two-state solution? Why?
The more Jewish people are religiously observant, the more they will be associated with right-wing attitudes and oppose the two-state solution. And in the last years, Israeli society has become more and more religious.
Religious Jews believe in the concept that was established at the time of the creation of the Gush Emunim settlement (1974), that the Bible promises them the entirety of the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem. After the Six-Day War, the Gush Emunim concept created a movement that gained momentum: it asked Israel to fulfill its national-religious destiny. It was a big change as compared to the first wave of Zionism, which was politically divided over the territorial dimension, but ultimately accepted the creation of an Israeli state on a part of the land, not necessarily all of it. I am personally not an expert on the issue, but it can be argued that Gush Emunim gave impetus to the idea that the political sovereignty of the Jews was a will of God.
However, the notion of a sovereign Israeli state over the entirety of these lands is not supported by all Jewish schools. Religious Jews who oppose this idea still actually exist. According to them, the fact that religious Zionism calls for bringing back the Messiah is wrong in first place, as it opposes Jewish texts and the will of God who solely decides to return the Messiah to create a state for them. In their view, the State of Israel is trying to challenge and defy God. However, this is a marginal trend in Israel as most of the ultra-Orthodox here accept the authority and sovereignty of the State of Israel.
They were not the original basis of the settler movement, however, there is a growing trend of ultra-orthodox Jews becoming settlers in the West Bank, because of population growth and lack of space in their neighborhoods in Israel. They usually live in the settlements of Modiin Illit or Beitar Illit. They are step by step overlapping with the ideology of religious Zionism by settling in the West Bank. The areas in which they live are close to the green line, making it less likely for them to become enclaves in a future Palestinian state if it is to happen.
Some Israelis are more likely to oppose the two-state solution, depending on their profile. I just spoke about religion, but age also affects opposition to the two-state solution. Israeli youth are more likely to oppose the two-state solution than their elders. They grew up feeling the repercussions of the Second Intifada including suicide-bombings. Today, this youth serves in the army and has grown up in a time when the construction of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territory (West Bank including East Jerusalem) has intensified. To them, this situation is normal. They see no way to justify giving up the land where the settlements are located. They view it as an integral part of Israel.
What alternatives do opponents of the two-state solution offer?
No other proposition enjoys as much support as the two-state solution, which is viewed by its supporters as the only credible proposal. However, other alternatives are gaining popularity. One such alternative is the idea of a bi-national state, which is supported by less than 20% of Israelis, a proportion that has not varied much in the past decades.
Other Israelis, on the right, support a one-state solution, with the vision of an unequal single state in which Israel would be dominant. In some of my surveys, over 40% of Israelis support or at least tolerate an outcome that is akin to apartheid - such as continued or permanent military control over Palestinians even if Israel formally annexes land, and governs them through martial law , and a segregated infrastructure, with less than full citizenship.
In an article published in Foreign Policy, you wrote about growing interest in the confederation solution. What do Israelis think about it?
A confederation proposal as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be embodied by two separate states under one confederation. In recent years we noticed a large increase in popularity for this solution among the Israeli public. A majority of Israelis (56%) support the general approach (among them, 51% of Israeli Jews) . This rise shows that the supporters of the confederation have done some substantial fieldwork. It could also show that support is shifting away from the two-state solution to the confederation as a reaction to the perceived failure of the two-state solution.
Interesting fact: a confederation of two states is attractive to some Israeli settlers, since it increases their odds of not being evicted from their settlements in the West Bank and allows for freedom of movement between the two confederate states (Israel and Palestine). However, while some settlers support the idea in terms of general equality between the two sides, other settlers (and right-wingers in general) would accept such a proposal only if Palestinians were not to be considered equal to Israelis under that confederacy.
Almost half of the Israeli people agree with a two-state solution. But at the same time, a vast majority of Israelis are satisfied with the current status quo (military occupation and no Palestinian state). How do you explain this dissonance?
I don’t believe that there is a dissonance. Throughout my work, I was quite surprised to discover that Israelis are largely aware of how the Israeli military controls the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, whether they actually support this control or not is another story.
The question is: do Israelis make a connection between the reality of the settlements in addition to the military control over the Palestinian Territory, and the feasibility of the two-state solution? The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a priority for Israelis, as it generally ranks as the 4th national priority. They see their situation as an unfortunate one, however, people don’t always feel there is any hope of resolving it, and therefore they place greater emphasis on other priorities.
Candidates in the past Israeli elections (March 2020) did not seem to offer any innovative solutions and the campaign seemed to be more about Benjamin Netanyahu than the conflict resolution. Why is that?
I believe that the issue of the conflict is the taboo that everyone is afraid to touch during their campaign. If a candidate declares a position on this, he/she could be categorized and risk being rejected by Israelis. For instance, Benjamin Netanyahu embraced the Trump plan, which can also be seen as a Likud plan, and as a result lost some popularity in surveys (although ultimately his Likud party won first place in the elections).
This plan led to a rejection from the Israeli right, as it proposes the actual establishment of a Palestinian state and Israeli abandonment of certain lands in the West Bank, which is seen as radical by right-wingers who believe that these are integral parts of the State of Israel. Therefore, many of these right-wingers were expected not to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu but rather for other right-wing parties like Jewish Home or the New Right.
Likud took a risk in embracing Trump’s plan but Benjamin Netanyahu understood that he could gain the voters he was targeting through his foreign policy. He viewed being next to Donald Trump and having the United States propose a plan favouring Israel as essential to his credibility.
Various studies have shown that Israeli public opinion is fluid, and that it can change position on a peace negotiated within the framework of a two-state solution depending on concessions made by Palestinians. How do you explain that?
Israeli public opinion can dramatically and quickly shift; it is more likely to make concessions to achieve peace when the opportunity appears immediate and concrete. For instance, before the Camp David accords that led to the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, Israeli public opinion was not ready at all to give up Sinai. However, when Anwar Al-Sadat visited Israel in 1977, Israelis welcomed him and then, after the accords were signed, they expressed high support for the peace agreement which included giving up the Sinai peninsula.
If the right leadership exists, there is an opportunity to influence and change public opinion, especially if the population believes in its leader. Therefore, if Benjamin Netanyahu was concerned with re-launching the peace process, he could do it, thanks to his considerable credibility among Israelis based on his position as Prime Minister for over 10 years and numerous reelections. Such a move could grant him the support of the left as well as part of the right.
On the other hand, the Palestinian scene is quite different. Mahmoud Abbas, who has been in power for the past 15 years, has lost a lot of his credibility among Palestinians. Consequently, Palestinians do not see him as a leader whom they can trust to make concessions.
To summarize, on the Palestinian side there is a lack of leadership, and on the Israeli side there is a lack of political will.
Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll (2016-2018) Final Report, Khalil Shikaki and Dahlia Scheindlin : https://pcpsr.org/en/node/742
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