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Do Palestinians Accept the Two-State Solution?

Working on an essay on Israeli and Palestinian public opinion on the two-state solution as a Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), I have been looking at many polls. Therefore, I was very interested in an article posted by Jennifer Rubin on her blog for the Washington Post last week. Entitled “Maybe Palestinians don’t want two states,” Rubin argues that most Palestinians simply do not accept a peaceful two-state solution to the conflict.

However, there is a big problem with Rubin’s argument: the primary poll she uses to support her claim, a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPCO) in late November and early December, never actually asks Palestinians for their views on a two-state solution. Rubin quotes the following, taken from a Jerusalem Post article reporting the results of the poll:

“A majority of Palestinians believe that the current peace talks with Israel have reached a dead end and see no point in their continuation, a public opinion poll published Monday showed. The poll also showed that a majority of Palestinians expect the talks to fail. Previous public opinion polls have also indicated that a majority of Palestinians are opposed to the negotiations with Israel and expect a third intifada. . . . The survey showed that 56 percent of the Palestinians expect a fresh confrontation with Israel. According to the poll, 51% of respondents expressed opposition to the talks with Israel, while only 33% supported their continuation. Another 56% of respondents said they did not expect the negotiations to lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The poll does not ask interviewees whether or not they would be willing to live in peace with Israel as part of a two-state solution. What the poll does cover can be explained fairly easily. The reason Palestinians are against the talks is because of Israel’s continued construction of settlements in the West Bank and murky position on the 1967 lines constituting the borders of  a future Palestinian state, which Palestinians see as a sign of bad faith. This perception of Israel’s inflexibility and intransigence – whether true or not – is also why a majority of Palestinians do not think the current peace talks will end successfully. In addition, the finding that 56% of Palestinians do not expect negotiations to lead to peace says nothing about whether or not they want the negotiations to lead to peace.

Furthermore, there is a difference between expecting a third intifada and supporting one. Rubin seems to conflate the two. While polls do indeed show that a large percentage of Palestinians support violence against Israel, including the killing of Israeli civilians (the poll Rubin cites found a plurality of Palestinians, 49.1%, in support of the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel), Rubin needs more evidence to back her claim. Many polls have also shown solid majorities of Palestinians in favor of negotiations and peaceful protests against Israel (as opposed to violent ones) and against a new intifada.

Moreover, the last time PCPO explicitly asked whether or not Palestinians prefer a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict was in 2010, in a poll that found a majority of 54.8% of Palestinians in favor of a two-state solution.

Yet Rubin also links to a Time magazine article from July 2011, which comments on a poll conducted by The Israel Project (TIP) and PCPO released that same month. The poll is utilized by Rubin as further evidence that Palestinians do not accept the two-state solution. And indeed, upon consulting the poll itself, one finds that a majority of Palestinians reject the two-state solution in favor of a one-state solution:

Figure 1: July 2011 TIP/PCPO chart on support for two states versus one state

Rubin’s argument rests on only this one poll, conducted over two years ago. By doing this, she ignores other polls conducted by multiple reputable polling firms since 2011 that have largely shown that Palestinians support the two-state solution more than any other solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

First, in the Time article that Rubin cites, she ignores the part that quotes Stanley Greenberg, the chief pollster, as saying that ”‘the difference [between Palestinian support for a one versus a two-state solution] is simply a matter of  asking what people want versus what they can live with.” I polled in Great Britain a lot during the negotiations on Northern Ireland,” he [Greenberg] says. “What people say they want and what people will ultimately agree to are two different things.’”

Another question in the poll actually proves Greenberg’s point. When Palestinians were asked whether or not they accept the idea of two states based on the 1967 lines for peace, a majority were found to be in favor:

Figure 2: July 2011 TIP/PCPO chart on Obama’s parameters for two-state solution

A wealth of other polls conducted since 2011 also show that Palestinians are willing to accept a two-state solution. For instance, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), a Ramallah-based research institute, has found in all of its polls conducted since 2011 that Palestinians prefer a two-state solution over a one-state solution, which has consistently garnered only about 28% to 36% support among Palestinians. On the other hand, a comprehensive two-state solution has tallied an average of 46.5% support. Furthermore, when asked about the Arab Peace Initiative, which lays out a framework for a two-state solution, PCPSR found majority support every time.

Three polls conducted since October 2012 by Al-Najah University, located in Nablus in the West Bank, also show that Palestinians prefer a two-state solution over a one-state solution. Its most recent poll, conducted in November, found that 51.8% of Palestinians support and 46.2% oppose a two-state solution in which a Palestinian state exists “side-by-side with Israel,” as seen below.

Figure 3: November 2013 Al-Najah University poll

Do you support or reject the two-state solution, provided that a Palestinian state is created to live side-by-side with Israel?

 ———————————– Total West Bank Gaza Strip
I strongly support 8.7 7.8 10.2
I support 43.1 50.8 29.8
I reject 27.7 31.6 21.0
I strongly reject 18.5 8.4 35.8
No opinion/I do not know 2.1 1.4 3.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0

However, the previous poll, conducted in March 2013, did find that a slight plurality of Palestinians oppose a two-state solution (46.2% to 49.9%). Nevertheless, the poll before that, conducted in October 2012, found that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians, 72.1%, reject a one-state solution; only 23.2% of Palestinians were found to be in support of it:

Figure 4: October 2012 Al-Najah University poll

Do you support or reject the creation of one state on historic Palestine for both Palestinians and Israelis?

 ———————————– Total West Bank Gaza Strip
I support 23.2 26.5 17.6
I reject 72.1 69.9 76.0
No opinion/I do not know 4.6 3.6 6.4
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0

One can therefore conclude that the two-state solution is likely much more popular among Palestinians than a one-state solution in all of Israel and the Palestinian territories that would effectively destroy Israel as the Jewish state, which Rubin seems to intimate is the non-negotiable goal of most Palestinians.

Furthermore, another research institute, the Ramallah-based Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD), found in its most recent poll, conducted in October, that 55.9% of Palestinians support and only 41.2% oppose the two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Figure 5: October 2013 AWRAD poll on the two-state solution

Do you support the principle of a two-state solution with a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel?

—————————————————- West Bank Gaza Total
Support 55.9% 49.8% 53.6%
Oppose 41.2% 47.3% 43.5%
Don’t know 2.9% 2.9% 2.9%

While majority support for a two-state solution among Palestinians is indeed fragile, an abundance of evidence weakens Rubin’s argument. Polls in fact show that even if there is not always an outright majority, Palestinian acceptance of the two-state solution trumps support for all other proposals to end the conflict.




Justin Scott Finkelstein
Justin Scott Finkelstein

Justin Finkelstein recently received a Master's degree from New York University in Near Eastern Studies. He has spent most of his academic career and thereafter studying the Arab-Israeli conflict. His Master's thesis explored and analyzed the competing histories of the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem (1947-1949) and the potential for its solution.

He is currently a Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia. He has traveled to both Israel and Morocco and has attended the Middlebury Arabic School program.

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