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The Two-State Solution: Achieving Majority Support Among Israelis and Palestinians

The Two-State Solution: Achieving Majority Support Among Israelis and Palestinians


In July, I wrote a blog post that commented on a couple of polls that had recently been conducted which seemed to contradict themselves. One poll, commissioned by the Israel Peace Initiative and conducted by the Israeli company New Wave Research, had found that a majority of Israelis support the amended Arab Peace Initiative (API), which proposes that all Arab states grant Israel full recognition and normalization of relations after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines with swaps and a just and agreed upon solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is reached. The original API had called for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, which had never acquired majority support in Israel. The other poll, conducted jointly by the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) had found that a majority of Palestinians also support the amended API.

At first glance, the amended API seemed to be the common ground on which a majority of Israelis and Palestinians could stand. Yet there was one problem: the poll conducted jointly by the Hebrew University and PSR (the “joint poll”) also found that only 24 percent of Israelis support the amended API, almost a 10% decrease from the level of support before the API was amended. Further complicating matters was the fact that a peace plan nearly identical to the amended API presented to Israelis (the Clinton Parameters/Geneva Initiative) periodically over the past ten years by the joint poll had found consistent majority support. Therefore, it may have seemed to some observers that Israelis no longer accepted the terms of the Clinton Parameters/Geneva Initiative.

At the time, I speculated that the discrepancy could be explained by pointing to semantics. Israelis are suspicious of any plan put forth by the Arab world, while they are viscerally more open to peace plans that they know Israel or the United States had a hand in.

I do not want to “toot my horn,” but it seems I may have been right. The latest joint poll, conducted and published in December, found that 54 percent of Israelis support the Clinton Parameters/Geneva Initiative (only 37 percent were opposed), which is consistent with the joint poll’s previous findings. The December 2013 joint poll found that 46 percent of Palestinians support and 53 percent oppose the same peace plan, which is also consistent with previous joint polls.

While this does show the resilience of the Clinton Parameters/Geneva Initiative among the Israeli public and that a significant percentage of Palestinians are also willing to accept these plans, it still can be pointed out that only a minority of Palestinians have supported the Clinton Parameters/Geneva Initiative since polling began a decade ago. Making matters even more complicated, the December 2013 joint poll for the first time found that only a minority of Palestinians, 47 percent, support the API (50 percent of Palestinians were opposed to it, while Israeli opposition stood at 64 percent). Nevertheless, the joint poll also found that when asked about approval for a two-state solution to the conflict, with no details given, a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians expressed support for this general framework (63 percent of Israelis and 53 percent of Palestinians).

Yet the question remains: how to find a detailed two-state solution to the conflict that a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians accept? A poll conducted in November and overseen by Shibley Telhami, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, may provide an answer. The poll presented both Palestinians and Israelis with a peace plan comparable to the Clinton Parameters/Geneva Initiative. At first, it found that 54 percent of Israelis but only 41 percent of Palestinians accepted this plan.

The poll then took a very interesting methodological turn: it asked respondents whether or not they would change their minds if the other side (either the Israelis or the Palestinians) came out in support of the plan. It found that Israeli support rose to 63 percent; and even more remarkably, it found that Palestinian support jumped to 59 percent.

I do not think I have seen a poll — at least not one conducted recently – that uses this methodology. That both Israeli and Palestinian support grew to such solid majorities after the additional survey question is quite notable. Indeed, Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen of the United States Institute of Peace has already written an excellent article commenting on the significance of the poll.

Secretary of State John Kerry would be well to take this poll into consideration as he shuttles between talks with Israeli and Palestinians officials. If the two sides do get to the point of accepting some kind of agreement and presenting it to their respective peoples, it might be a good idea for both Netanyahu and Abbas to publicly emphasize that the other side has accepted the prospective plan. This may be a way to get the crucial boost of support needed to establish solid majorities of both Israelis and Palestinian who accept the proposal. If the plan goes to a referendum, as Netanyahu and Abbas have pledged to do, this tactic may prove crucial. 



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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