Is the Israeli Jewish public open to a two-state solution?
On Wednesday, I argued that if you take a close look at poll numbers detailing what the Israeli Jewish public thinks of a Palestinian state, you would find that the answer to that question is no. Others disagree, including Brent Sasley, the University of Texas professor who teaches Middle East politics and is a frequent contributor to Open Zion.
In a blog post on Mideast Matrix, Sasley argues that I make “several presumptions that I don’t think can be taken as indicative of Israelis’ or Israel’s final position on a peace agreement with the Palestinians.” But Sasley misreads some of my argument.
He writes that my argument is “based on the most recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute.” But my post is not primarily based around that poll. My piece instead relied on several polls that show that when Israelis say they accept a Palestinian state, they mean a truncated and unviable state.
Specifically, Israeli Jewish citizens have told pollsters that they would agree to a Palestinian state–but this is a state in which the settlement blocs would be annexed to Israel, which poses a real problem for the contiguity of a Palestinian state. Polls show that the Israeli Jewish public is in support of a two-state solution that leaves a sliced-up Palestinian state. This is especially the case if you keep Ariel under Israeli hands, though Ma’ale Adumim to the south also poses a similar problem.
Add the question of dividing Jerusalem–another prerequisite for a Palestinian state–and the picture is mixed. While one poll cited by Sasley in Foreign Policy shows that most Israeli Jews support dividing Jerusalem (with the caveat being that major settlement blocs around Jerusalem are annexed), other polls show the opposite. In 2011, a Truman Institute poll found that the majority of Israeli Jews reject dividing Jerusalem. In 2013, the right-leaning Jerusalem Post found that 74% of Israeli Jews reject a Palestinian capital in the holy city.
Sasley also argues that I assume “that public opinion polls determine outcomes.” But you would be hard-pressed to find that assumption in my piece. Indeed, my article is focused on public opinion polls, but not because I think they are determinative of a solution.
Rather, I focused on public opinion polls because they are routinely cited by those seeking to find hope in the hopeless peace process. Writers like Sasley try to bolster their case that a two-state solution is possible because of what the polls say. It’s fine to argue that a two-state solution is possible (I disagree for a variety of reasons, but that’s another point). What the polls simply show is that the Israeli Jewish public is not interested in a viable, contiguous state. And that’s what matters: what you mean by Palestinian state. If Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and other settlement blocs are to stay forever in Israeli hands, then a Palestinian state will be beset by the woes that those settlements bring. It would mean, first and foremost, blocked routes between Palestinian cities.
And it also matters greatly what Palestinians themselves want, since it is their rights that are at stake in these discussions and their rights being violated daily. The Palestinian population is simply not going to accept Israeli annexation of Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and other settlement blocs.
There is no straight line from public opinion to what a government will do, as Sasley writes. But in this case, that question is somewhat irrelevant. The type of state the Israeli Jewish public accepts is in line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision of a Palestinian state.
All of this leaves us with a depressing situation, where the most powerful party in the conflict is unwilling to dismantle illegal settlements and allow a viable Palestinian state. But the situation is not hopeless. If change won’t come from within Israel, international action combined with a strong Palestinian movement could change the game. That’s a far ways off for now, but it’s one path towards a better future.