PALESTINIAN PUBLIC’S WILLINGNESS TO COMPROMISE: TORN BETWEEN HOPE AND VIOLENCE

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Michael SCHULZ
327.5(569.4-076)

 

ABSTRACT

This study has examined Palestinians’ readiness to compromise over the
key issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast to existing opinion
poll results the claim that Palestinians support a territorial compromise over
historical Palestine, this study indicates a radicalization of Palestinian attitudes.
Four survey studies, conducted in 1997, 2001, 2006 and 2009, reveal
that Palestinian support for a two-state solution have decreased at the expense
of an increased preference for an Islamic state in the whole of historical
Palestine. Also, Palestinians do not believe that peace with Israel can be
achieved in the near future, and are ready to continue their struggle against
Israeli occupation in the West Bank. The study also reveals that Palestinians
are becoming increasingly isolated and hence less exposed to alternative
strategies in the conflict with Israel. These attitudinal changes follow the
negative developments in the peace process and the violence that erupted
between Israelis and Palestinians in September 2000. Consequently, the lack
of current public pressure on the Palestinian leadership to find a political
compromise with Israel risks continued deadlock in the conflict. These
changes also partly explain why Palestinians voted the Hamas movement into
power in the January 2006 election.

Key words: Israeli-Palestinian conflict, compromise, public opinion, peace process, violence

АПСТРАКТ

Студијата ја истражува подготвеноста на Палестинците да прифатат
компромис во однос на клучните прашања во израелско-палестинскиот
конфликт. Спротивно на постоечките резултати од истражувањата на јав-
ното мислење кои изложуваат дека Палестинците поддржуваат територија-
лен компромис над историска Палестина, оваа студија индицира радика-


 

лизација на палестинските ставови. Четирите истражувања, спроведени во
периодот 1997, 2001, 2006 и 2009 година откриваат опаѓање на палестин-
ската поддршка за солуцијата за две држави за сметка на зголемената
преференција за исламистичка држава на територијата на целата историс-
ка Палестина. Исто така, Палестинците не веруваат дека во блиска иднина
може да се постигне мир со Израел, а се подготвени да ја продолжат бор-
бата против израелската окупација на Западниот брег. Студијата, исто така,
открива дека Палестинците стануваат сѐ поизолирани, па оттука и изложе-
ни на алтернативни стратегии во конфликтот со Израел. Ваквите промени
во ставовите се резултат на негативните текови на мировниот процес и на
насилството кое кулминираше во септември 2000 година. Консеквентно,
непостоењето јавен приотисок врз палестинското раководство да најде по-
литичко компромисно решение со Израел носи ризик од продолжување на
ќорсокакот во кој се наоѓа конфликтот. Овие промени укажуваат делумно
и зошто Палестинците гласаа за Хамас на изборите во 2006 година.

Клучни зборови: израелско-палестински конфликт, компромис, јавно
мислење, мировен процес, насилство.

Introduction

To what extent are the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza ready for peace with
Israel? This article considers this question and shows how the attitudes of Palestinians
towards Israel as well as towards territorial compromise have become increasingly
intransigent with each setback for the Oslo process. The so-called Oslo process, the peace
process that was initiated in 1993 between Palestinians and Israelis, spurred hopes that
one of the last century’s longest lasting conflicts was on its way to being settled. Today, in
2010, hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians are situated in violence and stalemate.
At the same time, in contrast, the international community speaks of a two-state solution,
implying that Israel will have a Palestinian state as neighbor in the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip. The UN Security Council resolution 1397 of 2002 expresses a ‘vision of a
region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized
borders’1. The so-called quartet, constituted of the UN, the EU, the USA and Russia,
_______________________
1 From UN Security Council Resolution 1397, 2002.


 

are all working towards implementing this resolution. Furthermore, the Arab League, which
has boycotted Israel since the organization’s formation in 1945, also proposed a two-state
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during its 2002 meeting in Beirut. If a Palestinian
state is established in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, the
Arab League wills ‘[c]onsider the Arab-Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with
Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region.’2 This is the same position taken by
the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The then Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon,
and the current Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, accepted the principle of
the so-called roadmap that the UN, USA, EU and Russia launched, as well as the basic idea
of the Arab League visions during meetings between the two leaders in Aqaba in June
2003. Sharon said that ‘[i]t is up to the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own
state.’3 Abbas, said: ‘Our goal is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.’4 Even
the current considered hardline Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said in
2009 that he accepts: ‘a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.’5 Therefore,
despite differences over how much and which parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip
should be part of the future Palestinian State, a global consensus for a two-state solution
emerges.
Why, then, is the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians in a deadlock? The
public opinion in both Palestinian and Israeli societies provides a complex conflict picture.
Israeli society has historically, according to some studies (Arian 1995, Sofer 2001), been
reluctant to compromise on territory. According to these studies, Israelis are skeptical
about the willingness of the Palestinians to have peace, and to accept and recognize the
state of Israel. Following the outbreak of the so-called al-Aqsa intifada in 2000, Israelis
increasingly lost faith in the willingness of the Palestinians to have peace with Israel
(Meitel 2006:119ff). The victory of the Islamic movement Hamas in the January 2006 Palestinian
election (with its Reform and Change list) further spurred Israeli skepticism. The
Tami Steinmetz Centre at Tel Aviv University has, since 1994, conducted monthly opinion
polls on the willingness of Israelis to achieve peace with the Palestinians and the price they
are willing to pay in order to achieve peace. The so-called peace index (www.tau.ac.il/
peace/) shows that the level of belief that peace can be achieved is high. The two permanent
general questions asked are: ‘Do you consider yourself a supporter or opponent to the
peace process between Israel and the Arabs?’; and ‘Do you believe or not believe that in the
_____________________________
2 From the Arab League’s Beirut declaration in 2002 (www.al-bab.com/arab/docs/league/communique02.htm).
3 From www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,970282,00.html.
4 From www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,970282,00.html.
5 From http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31353238/ns/world_news-mideastn_africa/ (2010-04-22).


 

coming years there will be peace between Israel and the Arabs?’. Although with only a slim
margin, the Israeli majority has consistently been positive towards the peace process and
optimistic about the potential for peace – the surveys show that around 50 to 60 percent
of Israelis believe that there can and will be peace with the Arabs. The index peaked immediately
following the assassination of the Prime Minister Rabin on November 4th, 1995,
when the survey showed that 70 percent of Israelis believed in the possibility of achieving
peace.
Israeli support for the Oslo Accords, based on the principle of handing over territory in
the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians in exchange for peace, peaked in this November
1995 measure – nearly 60 percent of Israelis surveyed supported the accords. Since
then, support for the Oslo Accords has steadily decreased, and has languished well below
50 percent since the outbreak of the so-called al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000 (31.4
percent in December 2007 when this index was measured for the last time). In other words,
the price that Israel has been expected to pay, in exchange for peace with the Palestinians,
has lost Israeli public support. The Israeli public’s perception that there is no legitimate
Palestinian voice to talk with, and the absence of a genuine Palestinian peace implementer,
has turned the Israeli public more favorably towards the government’s unilateral strategies.
Israel withdrew from the remaining 40 percent of the Gaza Strip in August 2005. The
present Israeli government subscribes to a further unilateral strategy, concerning the West
Bank, which leaves much less than 40 percent of the West Bank territory to the Palestinians.
This proposal had broad public support, notwithstanding that not all details have yet
been presented; besides the previous plans presented by the then Prime Minister Olmert
at the Annapolis negotiations, in October 2008. After Israel’s Gaza War against Hamas in
December 2008-January 2009, claims that the Palestinians do not want peace, or that
they do not have a sincere desire to compromise, increasingly pervade Israeli public discourse.

Previous research on Palestinian public opinion

What, then, do we know about the perceptions of the Palestinians concerning the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict? The methodological problems associated with an analysis of the
Palestinian political culture are mainly related to finding data that reflects the Palestinian
population at large. During the Oslo Era, 1993-2000, it became fashionable to measure
Palestinian attitudes, a trend related to the fact that it became possible to survey the Palestinian
population in the West Bank and Gaza. Today, several opinion poll institutes conduct
studies on the shifts in and positions of Palestinian public opinion. The Palestinian
Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah is one such institute that has,


 

since 1993, regularly conducted polls and surveys. Some of these studies are producing
data that are important for the understanding of the readiness of Palestinians for peace,
but the polls have not generally explored the Palestinians’ perceptions, over time, of the
main conflict issues.
On one occasion, in September 1996, the PSR measured Palestinians’ views about the
continued peace process and their future expectations. 69.8 percent of those surveyed
supported continued future negotiations with Israel, 50.9 percent expected a Palestinian
state as an outcome of these negotiations and 53.0 percent were optimistic about the future.6
This positive result was returned during a period when Israeli soldiers and Palestinian
security forces came into combat for several days as a result of reaction to the opening
of the Hasmonean tunnel in Jerusalem.7 On another occasion, in 2003, when the so-called
Geneva Accords8 were publicly discussed in both Israel and the Palestinian self-rule areas
in the West Bank and Gaza, the PSR asked Palestinians about their positions on the major
issues of the Accords proposals. Support for the Accords was generally low and, as the PSR
report made clear, was subordinate to the establishment of a Palestinian state: ‘After
reaching a peace agreement and the establishment of a Palestinian state, 77% of the Palestinians
would support reconciliation between the two peoples, the Israelis and the Palestinians.’9 This indicates hardening of Palestinians’ positions since the 1996 study.
The Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (JMCC) is another organization that
has regularly surveyed Palestinian views on important conflict and other political issues.
One such poll, in June 2004, revealed that Palestinians considered the al-Aqsa intifada as a
struggle to ‘liberate all the Palestinian land’ (45.5 percent) or to end the occupation on the
basis of UN resolution 242 and establish a Palestinian state. Furthermore, Palestinians
were asked to choose, among several alternatives, their preferred solution to the ‘Arab-
Israeli conflict’. The two-state solution received the highest approval (44.5 percent), while
the bi-national state in all of historical Palestine received the support of 26.5 percent. One
Palestinian state in all of Palestine received 11.1 percent support, while the Islamic state
___________________________
6 PSR Opinion Poll Report No 24, September 1996, www.pcpsr.org.
7 The opening of the Hasmonean Tunnel was seen by the PA as a threat to Islamic places and as yet another
attempt by Israel to Judaize Jerusalem. Initially, rumours also suggested, incorrectly, that the tunnel was
situated under the al-Haram al-Sharif area, where the al-Aqsa mosque is situated. This created a Palestinian
public outburst, and friction between Israeli and Palestinian security forces followed.
8 The Geneva Accords were the outcome of meetings between Palestinians (closely linked to the PA) and Israeli
opposition politicians and intellectuals who came to a joint agreement concerning the key issues of the
conflicts, after several meetings in secret Track II seminars in 2003.
9 PSR Opinion Poll Report No 10, 4-9 December 2003, page 4, www.pcpsr.org.


 

option received the support of only 2.3 percent. 13.6 percent of those surveyed believed
that there is no solution.10 A more recent study, in June 2006 gives an even more optimistic
view. This study revealed 52.5 percent of Palestinians surveyed preferred a two-state
solution (‘an Israeli state and a Palestinian state’), while only 7.4 percent wanted a Palestinian
state in the whole of historical Palestine. 23.6 percent supported the bi-national option.
The studies give the impression that the two-state solution, which is the compromise
solution, has solid support from Palestinians. Besides, the lack of a trend analysis over time
there are also methodological concerns due to how the questions have been asked. Hence,
it is dangerous to draw firm conclusions from existing research data that Palestinians are
reluctant to compromise. Further, most of the analysis draws conclusions in relation to
synchronic contemporary political developments and is less focused on diachronic process
changes. The most important exception is Shikaki’s study (1996a, 1996b) that empirically
identifies a pattern where the increases and decreases in Palestinian support for Hamas
are linked to the successes and failures of the PA in their negotiations with Israel. When
the negotiations failed, the support for Hamas increased, and vice versa.
Methodological considerations
The thrust of this study is to inquire into the Palestinian public’s preferred solution to
the overall Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also examines the Palestinians’ preferred solutions
to the key conflict issues, namely the future of the Palestinian refugees, the Israeli settlements
and the city of Jerusalem. These analyses are designed to reveal the extent to which
the Palestinian public is ready to compromise in order to achieve peace with Israel. They
may also reveal the extent to which the PA’s top-decision makers have public support for
compromise in their negotiations with Israel. The underlying argument is that the space
available for the PA leadership to maneuver and compromise will increase with a strong
public backing for compromise solutions. The study also incorporates issues that relates to
Palestinians’ perceptions about Israel, about the possibilities of having peace and relations
with the state of Israel, and about their personal relations with Israelis.
The aim of this analysis of the prospects for peace is to investigate the political culture11
within a specific context. From an historical perspective, one could argue that the
___________________
10 JMCC Opinion Poll No 51, June 2004, Poll results on Palestinian attitudes towards the Palestinian Political
issues and the intifada, jmcc.org
11 Political culture refers here to ‘a people’s predominant beliefs, attitudes, values, ideals, sentiments, and
evaluations about the political system of its country, and the role of the self in that system’ (Diamond 1993,p. 3). It should also be noted that the very notion of ‘political culture’ is debated. Attitudes and behaviour are usually the foci of such an analysis.


 

notion of political culture is enjoying a ‘renaissance’ after decades of being academically
discredited from both the so-called right and the left12. The underlying argument behind
this article’s analysis is that political culture determines the prospects for and the timing
of peace. Emphasis on mass political culture has also become an important factor in understanding
mechanisms contributing to change (see Przeworski 1988). This method is typically
used in analyzing the prospects for transition to democracy. Often, the nature and
commitment of public and subgroup attitudes towards democracy becomes the focus of
such an analysis. However, this study is interested in peace readiness. A particular political
culture may, in theory, exert public political pressure upon the existing political system.
This pressure, in turn, creates the space for maneuver in which the political decision makers
may act.
Caution must be observed; the above reasoning is problematic since it avoids some
fundamental questions. Culture, an elusive notion to define, is perhaps easier to work with
when a non-essentialist approach is used. Instead of emphasizing what the typicalities or
codes of conduct of a specific context are, one must ask: How are social attitudes and behaviors
changed or reproduced, and how are they perpetuated? A generalist, or nomotetic,
approach also necessitates the deconstruction of larger contexts and the identification of
particularities present in a specific context (i.e. the importance of subcultures), in order to
discover how attitudes are generated and changed. Furthermore, it is necessary to understand
how these attitudes form and influence top-level political decision-making about
peace and security issues.


Public opinion and leadership relations

A research has shown that leaders may change their position when the time for peace is
‘ripe’ (Zartman 2005), and that occasionally in a conflict situation – for instance, as a result
of public pressure, and/or political and security changes (for instance “the hurting stalemate”)
– new opportunities for top-leaders to negotiate for a peaceful settlement are created.
Studies also reveal that even extreme agencies, such as those that use suicide-killing
tactics, are dependent on public opinion. Hamas, for example, has used such violent strategies,
and its use of these tactics is influenced very much by the reaction of Palestinian

_________________________________

12The schools of thought from ‘rational choice’, ‘public choice’ and ‘positive political theory’ explained that voters,
leaders, diplomats et al. were rational, short-run-interest maximizers. The leftists and radicals maintained
that political culture was only a reflection of the capitalist ideology and, hence, served as ideas related to specific
classes. (cf. Almond, G.A. 1993, p. ix-xii)


 

public opinion: ‘[T]he social and public meaning of their activity is no less important than
its religious legitimacy’ (Bloom 2005, p 32). Further, other studies have revealed that the
existence of a democratic popular political culture in many Arab states among the (mostly)
religious Arab masses also forms the setting in which, for instance, Islamists have to act
(Goddard 2002; Tessler 2002; Inglehart 2004). Hence, the Islamist are also influenced by
the democratic culture and discourse, and also creating a more democratic discourse
among themselves. There is a need to understand the interplay between the leadership
level and the public in peace building efforts (see Lederach 1997). This underlines the need
to study public opinion about peace and security issues in the Palestinian context.
The surprising conclusion from various studies is that when conflict parties are engaged
in talks, ‘contrary to common expectations, combatants do not have the greatest difficulty
resolving underlying conflicts of interest and reaching bargains’ (Walter 2002:5). However,
up to two-thirds of all agreements ultimately fail to become implemented. Taking the Oslo
process as an example, the negotiators could have reached a political agreement relatively
easily (Oslo Accords from September 1993). From the beginning of negotiations, the Israeli
and Palestinian negotiators were largely in agreement about the basic principles for dealing
with the conflict issues upon which the ultimate agreement was built. However, difficulties
emerged over the timing of implementation.13 The Gaza-Jericho Agreement was signed
in May 1994, six months later than originally scheduled. The implementation of some parts
of the Oslo II Agreement that was signed in September 1994 was also delayed. Further
delays in the implementation of the schedules followed the defeat of the Labor government
in the May 1996 Israeli elections. Also, continued violent resistance from the anti-Oslo
proponents (Israeli settlers, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others), and public pressure, gradually
worsened and influenced the political will and ability to implement the agreements.
Hence, when the Camp David II negotiations came to a close in July 2000, public disappointment
with the failure of the summit negatively impacted on the peace process. This
occurred notwithstanding that Camp David II was the first time that the key conflict issues
were negotiated at a top-level summit. Hence, public expectations that the summit would
come up with a final agreement was high, but due to the complexity of the issues, in combination
with poor preparations of the negotiation teams, rather unrealistic expectations.
At the follow-up summit in Taba, during 2001, the parties came even closer to an historical
compromise; however, all parties realized that they lacked the necessary public support or
mandate to push for agreement (Meitel 2006). Israeli Prime Minister Barak had recently
lost his parliamentary majority and was facing a struggle against the Likud right wing chal-
____________________________
13 Much has been written about the negotiations that lead to the Oslo Accords. One of the best analyses is
written by Jones, 1999.


 

lenger Ariel Sharon for the Prime Ministership. Palestinian President Arafat was preoccupied
with public pressure and the Oslo opponents in the midst of the al-Aqsa intifada. US
President Clinton had almost no political mandate remaining, with his tenure in the White
House drawing to a close. In conclusion, a political agreement was feasible, but the political
realities in Israeli and Palestinian societies clearly had a negative impact on the decision
makers’ willingness to compromise. They preferred to maintain uncompromising positions
on the outstanding issues due to fears of a lack of political backing (in the governments,
parliaments, and on the streets) in their home arenas.
The surveys of 1997, 2001, 2006, and 2009
The survey data derives from a joint research project between Birzeit University and the
Department of Peace and Development Research/School of Global Studies that was initiated
in 1996. Four surveys were conducted: November 1997, July 2001, April/May 2006,
and the most recent in September 2009. A random sample14 of 1308 Palestinians was selected
for the 1997 survey, 1492 for the 2001 survey, 1500 for the 2006 survey, and 1504
for the 2009 survey. The surveys contained approximately 150 to 200 questions. The target
population is all individuals who are 18 years old or above and are residents of the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip, or of the city of Jerusalem (under Israeli control). The samples
were made with the help of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). Although
between the four surveys some questions were changed, removed, or added, several key
aspects under study have been measured on all four occasions.
Positions on solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Overall conflict

We asked the subjects: ‘What is according to you the preferred final solution to the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict?’ As shown in Table 1 below, the most frequent answer was ‘Islamic
state in the whole of Palestine’. In 1997 it was the most frequent answer, with 34.9
percent support. This percentage increased to 43.6 in 2001, to 52.4 percent in 2006, and
slightly decreased to 35.9 in 2009. The compromise, two-state, solution has therefore significantly
lost support over the study period.
_____________________________
14 A three-stage organized clustered stratified random sampling design was used to select the 2006 and 2009
samples. In the first stage, a random stratified sample was selected (125 numeration areas). In the second
stage, an organized random sample of 12 households was selected from the sample selected in the first
stage. In the third stage, one person was selected from each household. The population was divided into
the following stratifications: 1) Governorates, and 2) Type of Locality (Urban, Rural, Camps).


 Table 1. The preferred solution to the overall Israeli-Palestinian conflict

What is according to you
the preferred final solution
to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

1997 2001 2006 2009

Islamic state
in the whole of Palestine

34.9 43.6 52.5 35,9

Arab state
in the whole of Palestine

13.9 12.2 12.9 27,8

Secular and democratic state
in the whole of Palestine

6.4 1.8 3.6 3.5

Bi-national state
in the whole of Palestine

2.1 3.8 3.0 5,8

Palestinian independent state
according to UN 1947 partition plan

7.9 6.2 11.6 9,1

Independent state
in the West Bank and Gaza

28.4 22.9 14.6 15,6

Palestinian entity in West Bank
and Gaza in confed. with Jordan

1.5 0.5 1.0 1.1
Other 4.9 8.9 0.8 1,3
Total 100.0 (1278) 100.0 (1487) 100.0 (1481) 100.0 (1504)


Also, even if a re-coding of the categories in Table 1 is made, between those who support
the whole of Palestine option (Islamic, Arabic, secular and democratic, or bi-national)
and those who support a two-state solution (according to the UN 1947 proposal, West
Bank and Gaza, or confederation with Jordan), the result indicates an even more marked
reduction in the willingness to compromise over territory. In 1997, 57.3 percent of Palestinians
supported the whole of Palestine option, compared to 37.8 percent who supported a
two-state solution. Those supporting the whole of Palestine option had increased to 61.4
percent in 2001, and even peaked to 72 percent in 2006, and slightly decreased to 61.3 in
2009. Support for a two-state solution had decreased to 29.6 percent in 2001, to 27.2 percent
in 2006, and to 24.5 in 2009. Hence, the Palestinian public’s attitudes towards the
two-state solution and Israel have become increasingly intransigent. During the Oslo Accords,
the time was riper for compromises, when the Palestinian public’s willingness for a
two-state solution was at its peak. Palestinians’ increasingly intransigent positions must be
correlated with the setbacks in the overall Israeli-Palestinian peace process (that ended in
September 2000) and the negative impact of the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada. The in


crease in various forms of violence – Israeli so-called extra-juridical assassinations of
Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al-Aqsa brigade leaders, the decrease in trust of the Arafat-led
PA, the Palestinian economic decline, the restrictions of movement and closures imposed
by Israel in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank (often in relation to suicide attacks committed
by Palestinians against Israeli civilian and military targets), and not least the devastating
war in the Gaza Strip (December 2008-January 2009) – has hardened Palestinian
attitudes towards conciliation. There is a dynamic interplay between the hardening of attitudes
towards compromise and the increased repression that Palestinians experience.
However, it is dangerous to assume that the Palestinians’ preferred solution is that represented
in the survey results. The solution ideally preferred may differ from what Palestinians
would be ready to accept, or compromise over. The 1997 survey asked Palestinians
whether they were optimistic about achieving the preferred solution. In 1997 45.0 percent
of the Palestinians were optimistic, and 6.5 percent were very optimistic about the prospects
of achieving the preferred solution. In 2001 they were asked whether they believed
that the preferred solution could be achieved within the next 10 years. 22.8 percent of respondents
said it was possible to some extent, 45.4 percent said that it was possible, and
6.8 percent said it was very possible. In general, Palestinians are optimistic about the implementation
of their preferred solution despite the fact that the most preferred solution –
an Islamic state in the whole of Palestine – is unacceptable to Israel. The 2006 survey
asked Palestinians what other final solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict they could
accept if the preferred solution could not be achieved. 48.5 percent of respondents said
that they could not accept any other solution than the one that they most preferred. 23.8
percent of respondents preferred a solution that implied that Israel would no longer exist.
However, 27.4 percent of Palestinians could live with a two-state solution, although this
was not their preferred solution. Hence, there is a generally intransigent position among
Palestinians towards accepting Israel’s territorial control of the territory in the pre-1967
war borders, but approximately one-third of the Palestinian public appear ready to compromise,
despite the overall conflict situation. Also, on a direct question of the support for
a two-state solution, added in the 2009 survey, as many as 71.6 percent said that they
would support this proposal.
At the same time, Palestinians are very pessimistic about the future. Only 15.9 percent
of those surveyed in 2006 believed that relations with Israel would improve, while 66.6
percent believed that the chances of peace with Israel would diminish. Hence, one could
say that Palestinians prefer an Islamic state in the whole of historic Palestine; they are
hopeful that this can be achieved, and would not like to have any other alternative accepted.
However, although not wholehearted, they would support a two-state solution if
implemented.


Table 2. The acceptance of a two state solution

If the agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was to establish
an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip and East Jerusalem as its capital, would you support this solution? 

2009
 Do not support 18.8 
 Support to some extent  9.5
 Support  52.1
 Strongly support  19.5
 Total  100.0 (1504)

Jerusalem


Probably the most disputed sub-issue in the conflict – and prominent in the negotiations
at Camp David II in 2000 and at Taba in 2001 (Klein 2003) – is the future status of
Jerusalem. The al-Aqsa intifada is directly linked to the Jerusalem issue. We can see that
Palestinian willingness for compromise was highest in the 1997 survey, but decreased to its
lowest point in 2001, when 89.9 percent preferred that East Jerusalem be under Palestinian
control. In 2006, 86.0 percent of respondents still preferred this position.

Table 3. The preferred solution to the problem of Jerusalem15

What is the preferred solution
according to your opinion
for Arab Jerusalem (East Jerusalem)?

 199716 2001   2006
 To remain under Israeli control  0.6  0.7  1.0
To be under Palestinian control  66.4  89.9   86.0

To be under common Israeli
& Palestinian control 

 21.6 2.6   6.7
International control   6.6 4.1   7.1
 Other  4.8 2.8  0.2 
 Total  100.0 (1286) 100.0 (1482)  100.0 (1483) 

_________________________________

15 Not asked in the 2009 survey.
16 In the 1997 survey the categories looked slightly different, but are re-coded in order to compare the results.


When asked, in 2006, what other solution they could live with, 62.1 percent of Palestinians
surveyed asserted that they would not accept any solution other than their preferred
one. However, almost one quarter of respondents could accept the proposal that
East Jerusalem be under international control, which is consistent with the 1947 proposal
of the United Nations, General Assembly resolution 181.

Table 4. The acceptance of other then preferred solution to Jerusalem

If this preferred solution cannot be achieved,
what other final solution to Arab Jerusalem
(East Jerusalem) could you accept?

 2006
To remain under Israeli control   0.4
To be under Palestinian control   4.4
To be under common Israeli & Palestinian control  10.8 
International control  22.2 
Other  0.2 
Do not accept any other solution  62.1 
 Total  100.0 (1483)

The uncompromising attitudes of Palestinian respondents in relation to their preferred
solution is most likely related to the fact that the 2006 survey asked about East Jerusalem
rather than the entirety of Jerusalem. Palestinian claims to West Jerusalem were not expressly
measured, although the 1997 survey asked about the whole of Jerusalem rather
than East Jerusalem. It is a logical extension of the survey results that Palestinians also
prefer that West Jerusalem be under Palestinian control, as respondents across the three
surveys indicated a strong preference for a state in the whole of Palestine. In fact, the
slightly re-coded 1997 question included the partition alternative but only 12.8 percent of
respondents preferred a partition of Jerusalem into Israeli control over West Jerusalem and
Palestinian control of East Jerusalem.
When asked in the 2006 and 2009 surveys whether there would be a mechanism
through which Israelis could visit religious/holy places in Palestine (such as in Jerusalem
and Hebron), Palestinians demonstrated hard positions. 76.2 percent of the Palestinians
either ‘do not support’ (57.2 percent) or ‘support to some extent’ (19.3 percent) this idea in
2006, and continue to have this position in 2009 (69.5 percent in total) , while only 23.5


percent believe that they could either ‘support’ or ‘strongly support’ a more tolerant position
in 2006, compared to a slight increase to 30.3 percent in 2009.

The Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank

Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been a key issue, as most
Palestinians consider them illegal. The surveys reveal that most Palestinians prefer to see
the settlements removed. In 1997, 76.9 percent of Palestinian respondents considered the
best solution to be the removal of the settlements. This figure increased to 90.6 percent in
2001, and slightly decreased to 82.1 percent in 2006.

Table 5. The preferred solution to the problem of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza 17


What is the preferred solution according
to your opinion of the Israeli settlements
in all West Bank (and Gaza18)?

1997  2001  2006 
Remove all settlements   76.9  90.6 82.1 
 Removal of most settlements  2.0  1.0 1.8 
 Stay under Palestinian control  4.2  2.1  4.9

Palestinian refugees move
to these settlements

12.9   4.1  11.0
 Stay under Israeli control  1.7  4.5 0.1 
 Other 2.3   1.5  0.0
Total  100.0 (1284)  100.0 (1480)  100.0 (1484) 

Very few Palestinians contemplate alternative solutions to the issue of Israeli settlements
in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The second most popular option was to move
Palestinian refugees to these Israeli settlements. In 1997, 12.9 percent of respondents considered
this the preferred solution. This decreased to 4.1 percent in 2001, but jumped to
11.0 percent in 2006. It appears that the low preference for this option can be explained by
the symbolic meaning of the settlements – Palestinians have no desire to take over the
houses of those they view as occupiers. Instead, Palestinians’ preferred solution involves
destruction of these homes. Many settlements are also geographically located on hilltops
_________________________
17 Not asked in the 2009 survey.
18 Gaza was included in the 1997 and 2001 surveys but not in the 2006 survey due to the Israeli unilateral
withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, when the remaining Israeli settlements were removed and
the Palestinian Authority took control over these areas.


in the West Bank, suggesting for Palestinians its symbolic status as the ruler controlling
the surrounding ‘Palestinian’ territory below.
The Palestinian refugees
The Palestinian refugee issue was, alongside the Jerusalem problem, the issue that presented
the greatest difficulty in reaching agreement, during the US-mediated Camp David
II negotiations between Israel and the PA in 2000. This study differentiates between Palestinians
classified as refugees but who are living inside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,
and those who live outside these areas (in the Arab world and elsewhere).
There has been a marked shift in Palestinian attitudes during the study period about
the preferred solution to the West Bank and Gaza refugees. In 1997 30.1 percent of those
surveyed thought that the ideal solution was to improve living conditions in the existing
camps. This figure declined to 18.6 percent in 2001 and to 15.2 percent in 2006. At the
same time, in 1997, 40.8 percent of those surveyed preferred the solution involving refugees
returning to the homes they occupied before 1948. This increased to 71.1 percent in
2001, and was 70.3 percent in 2006. Hence, the willingness of Palestinians to accept Israel’s
position of admitting very few Palestinian refugees to return to Israel within the pre-
1967 war borders has decreased markedly during the last nine years (see Table 6).

Table 6. The preferred solution to the Palestinian refugees issue inside (the West Bank and Gaza)19

What is the preferred solution according
to your opinion of the Palestinian
refugees inside the West Bank and Gaza?

1997  2001  2006 

Improve their living conditions
in existing camps 

 30.1 18.6  15.2 

Settle them in the camps
where they currently live 

 15.1  4.0  4.4
Settle them in the West Bank and Gaza   8.0 2.8   6.3
Return them to their homes before 1948   40.8  71.1 73.9 
Other   6.0 3.6  0.3 
 Total  100.0 (1282) 100.0 (1482)   100.0 (1485)

A similar pattern can be identified in relation to Palestinians’ preferred solutions for
refugees living in the Diaspora. In 1997 a majority of 54.9 percent preferred that the Pales-
________________
19 Not asked in the 2009 survey.


tinian refugees should be moved to their original homes of 1948. This majority increased to
80.7 percent in 2001, and was still high at 76.3 percent in 2006. This option is unthinkable
for most Israelis.

Table 7. The preferred solution to the Palestinian refugees issue (outside West Bank and Gaza) 20

What is the preferred solution according
to your opinion of the Palestinian
refugees inside the West Bank and Gaza?

1997  2001   2006
Settle them in country of residence   8.1  4.6 10.2 
 Resettle them in the West Bank and Gaza  33.2 12.0  13.2 
 Return them to their homes before 1948  54.9 80.7   76.3
Other   3.8 2.7  0.2 
 Total  100.0 (1283)  100.0 (1479)  100.0 (1485)


Relations with Israel
The proposal to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel enjoys very low support among
Palestinians. 72.2 percent of Palestinians surveyed in 2006 ‘do not support’, or support
only ‘to a certain extent’, diplomatic relations between the PA and Israel. In 2009 it had
decreased somewhat but still a clear majority of 61.8 were skeptical of having diplomatic
relations with Israel. Only 27.7 percent of respondents ‘support’ or ‘strongly support’ this
position in 2006, and 38.2 in 2009. To what extent, then, are Palestinians prepared to accept
Israel and to what extent are they ready to have political negotiations with Israel?
When asked, in the 2006 survey, if they supported the proposal to have political negotiations
with Israel, 37.4 percent of Palestinians supported and 21.6 strongly supported this
proposal. This increased to 50.5 percent who supported, and 18.7 percent who strongly
supported negotiations with Israel in 2009. Hence, there is preparedness amongst Palestinians
to negotiate with Israel. However, when asked in the same survey if they supported
Hamas recognizing Israel and, in return, Israel recognizing Hamas as a national liberation
movement, 67.3 percent in 2006, and 56.8 percent in 2009, of Palestinians rejected this
position. Furthermore, 77.2 percent in 2006, and 65.1 percent in 2009, of Palestinians surveyed
did not support the proposal that Hamas abandon violence (or armed struggle) in its
resistance to Israeli occupation. The support for ‘Fedyah operations’ (suicide bombing)
against civil targets inside Israel has, however, decreased. In 2006, 20.7 percent of respon-
_____________________________
20 Not asked in the 2009 survey.


dents indicated support and 24.0 indicated strong support for these kinds of operations. In
2009, the figures decreased to 20.6 percent who supported, and 14.9 percent who strongly
supported these kinds of operations in 2009, At the same time, 40.4 percent strongly supported,
and 43.4 supported peaceful demonstrations against Israel in the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip in 2006. In 2009 it increased to 22.2 percent strongly supported and 53.7
supported peaceful demonstrations.

Table 8. The position on armed (suicide bombs etc.) attacks on Israeli civilians

Are armed attacks against civilians in Israel beneficial? 1997
Disagree   76.9
 Agree somewhat 2.0 
 Agree 4.2 
Agree strongly  12.9 
 Total  100.0 (1304)


Do you support Fedyah
operations against civil targets in Israel?

2001  2006  2009 
Do not support  17.8  43.4  58.9 
Support to some extent  6.6   11.9  5.7
 Support 29.7   20.7 20.6 
Support strongly   45.9  24.0  14.9
Total   100.0 (1478)  100.0 (1453) 100.0 (1504) 

The findings appear contradictory and require further discussion. The mainstream position
of the Palestinians is that they are living under occupation and therefore are entitled
to use some means in order to liberate Palestinian territory. The support among Palestinians
for using some means in this ‘liberation struggle’, whether these means Fedyah operations
against civil or military targets, political negotiations, or peaceful demonstrations, is
high. It is not generally important for Palestinians to distinguish between violent or nonviolent
means, in what is perceived as a justified struggle against Israeli occupation. These
findings are consistent with results from other studies of Palestinian identity (see Lindholm
Schulz 2003a, 2003b).
Hamas, the organization presently in control of the PA, has support for its nonconciliatory
position towards Israel. The Hamas strategy of using violent means in the
struggle against Israel enjoys current popular support. However, compared with 2001, less
then one year after the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada, support for the suicide tactic has


declined dramatically. This may be explained by Palestinian fatigue of the Israeli retaliation
that has followed each Palestinian suicide killing of Israeli civilian (or military) targets. The
overall objective of ending the Israeli occupation has strong popular legitimacy amongst
Palestinians; however, there has been a decline in support for the use of military means to
achieve this objective. Hamas, although seeming overtly impervious to the public mood,
also announced a truce at the beginning of 2005, which held until June 2006, as well as
refrained from using the suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. During spring 2006,
Hamas made several statements indicating a possible shift towards a more conciliatory
position towards Israel. The PA Prime Minister, Ismail Hanyah, announced, after the PA’s
election victory in January 2006, that ‘[i]f Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian
people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognize them.21
Also, the spokesman, Ismail Abu Shanab, stated that if Israel agreed to the Saudi plan,
which calls for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders in return for ‘normal relations’ with
Arab nations, Hamas would ‘cease all military activities’.22 However, since violence escalated
in the summer of 2006, and further peaked with the Gaza War at the shift at 2008/09, it
is uncertain to what extent Hamas will continue its pragmatic shift.


Friendship ties with ‘others’

Relations with the enemy in conflict situations are naturally limited, and Palestinians, in
general, do not engage in relations with Israelis. If they do so, they risk being seen as traitors
in their own society, and thereby risking their lives. Other studies have shown how
identity groups in conflict tend to describe themselves as ‘victims’, and readily construct
stereotypes of the ‘other’ (Stephan & Stephan 1996). In conflict transformation theory,
relationship building on all levels in society between the conflict parties is essential (see
Lederach 1997). The 1997 survey measured two aspects of the extent of relationships Palestinians
had with ‘others’, during a period when the peace process was ongoing. One aspect
relates to actual existing friendship relations, and the other relates to the extent to
which Palestinians are willing to have relations with others.
As can be seen in Table 9 below, Palestinians have few friendship relations with Israelis.
Only 2.9 percent had ‘many’, and 0.2 percent had ‘very many’ Jewish Israeli friends. Categories
such as age, years of education, party preference, religion or religiosity, and Gaza or
West Bank resident did not explain this pattern. However, a small gender difference could
be identified, where there was a slight tendency for males to have friends among Israeli
_____________________________________
21 From www.english.aljazeera.net, Sunday 26, February 2006.
22 San Francisco Chronicle: www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/04/28/MN222422.DTL


Jews.23 This appears to be explained by the greater opportunities males have to meet with
Israelis, since more Palestinian males than females work inside Israel. This is verified in the
correlation between place of work and the extent of friendship relations with Jews.24 On the
question of the willingness of Palestinians to have relations with Israeli Jews, 9.6 percent
of the 1997 respondents were ‘somewhat willing’, 2.3 percent were ‘much’ willing and 0.7
percent were ‘very much’ willing (see Table 10). The small minority group of those who are
willing to have relations with Israeli Jews is in fact larger than those who have existing
friendship relations, perhaps indicating a potential for more actual relationships.

Table 10. Palestinians’ friends among different identities in 1997

Has friends and
acquaintances

 among refugees/
non refugees

among returnee /
residents 

Among
Palest. in Israel 

 among Christians/
Muslims
No  31.0  47.1   61.2 66.2 
 Few  27.9  38.1 29.2  24.4 
Many   32.7 13.4  8.4  8.6 
 Very many  8.4 1.4  1.2   0.8
 Total 100 (1293)  100 (1297)   100 (1299)  100.0 (1296)


 

 

Has friends and
acquaintances

in the West Bank/Gaza  among Jordanians   among Egyptians

Among
Israeli Jews

No  69.5  69.9   82.9 85.7 
Few   23.2  21.7  13.3 11.2 
Many  6.0  7.6  3.2   2.9
 Very many  1.4 0.8  0.6  0.2 
Total   100.0 (1302) 100 (1294)  100 (1236)  100 (1296) 


Successive setbacks in the peace process have limited Palestinians’ movement within as
well as outside the West Bank and Gaza, in turn decreasing Palestinians’ opportunities to
meet and establish new friendship relations with Israelis. It is not surprising that few Palestinians
reported having significant numbers of relationships with Israeli Jews. Whilst we
find that Israeli Jews are the category of ‘other’ that Palestinians have least relations with
and are least willing to have relations with, relative to other identities, it is evident that
Palestinians in general have few relations with all ‘outsider’ groups referred to in the sur-
_____________________
23 The correlation score is 0.304 on the Pearson scale and is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
24 The correlation score is 0.306 on the Pearson scale and is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).


vey, whether Israeli Jews, Jordanians or Egyptians. Also Palestinians surveyed exhibited
limited friendship with the categories: Christian/Muslim, West Bank/Gaza, Palestinians in
Israel, resident/returnee and refugee/non refugee. However, Palestinians’ willingness to
establish relations with these identities is slightly higher than with other nationals than
actual friendships formed. Hence, it appears that the high degree of isolation of Palestinians
and their relatively low mobility has a negative impact on both actual friendship relations
and the willingness to have relationships with others. Palestinians become more dependent
on those in their immediate environment (close family affiliations and the Hamulah).
The lack of opportunities for Palestinians to meet ‘others’, combined with the hardship
of the violent day-to-day situation, make ‘others’ and their lifestyles more remote from,
and therefore of less interest to, Palestinians.

Table 11. Willingness of the Palestinians to have friends among different identities in 1997

Willing to
establish relations…

with refugees/
non-refugees 

with West Bankers
& Gaza people 

with returnees
/residents

with Jordanians 
 No  7.3  11.6  13.2 23.0 
 Somewhat  22.7  27.5 34.0  35.5 
 Much  52.1 46.6  44.3   35.4
Very much   17.8 14.4  8.6  6.1 
Total  100 (1267)  100.0 (1265)   100 (1258)  100 (1273)


 Willing to 
establish relations…
 with Egyptians  with Palestinians in 
Israel

w. Christians/
Muslims 

with Israeli Jews 
 No 27.3  27.5   39.8  87.4
 Somewhat 36.5   36.6  33.4 9.6 
 Much 29.7  30.8   22.9  2.3
 Very much  6.5 5.2  3.9  0.7 
 Total 100 (1193)   100 (1260)  100.0 (1284)  100 (1257)

Also, the 1997 survey evinces no correlation between background variables such as age,
income, gender or place of residence, and the existence of and willingness to have relations
with Jordanians and Egyptians. Hence, it is not the case, for instance, that wealthier older
males in the West Bank have more friendship relations with Jordanians due to geographical
closeness and better mobility opportunities. Rather, isolation and the absence of contact
with others also structure the social milieu around which Palestinians identify, and
influence with whom they establish, or are willing to contemplate, relations. Palestinians’
existing relations are dependent upon the nature of the opportunities available to meet


others. When Palestinians’ opportunities to meet Israelis expand, so, too do their opportunities
for developing relations and friendships. As these opportunities do not presently exist,
Palestinians’ willingness to contemplate relations with Israelis is very low. From a longterm
peace building perspective this situation is a critical impediment to peace.

Conclusion

The findings of this study have several implications for how we interpret existing theories,
and for how we methodologically judge data. As was shown in this study, the erosion
of Palestinian support for entertaining compromise towards Israelis confirms the perceptions
that both realities on the ground and the successful implementation of peace agreements
are critical in moving towards peace. Previous studies have shown the willingness of
Israelis to compromise has decreased with the backlashes of the negotiations and the
overall peace process, the increased incidence of Palestinian suicide attacks, and with the
outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada. This study identified a clear decrease in the willingness of
the Palestinians to compromise, over the study period 1997 to 2009. The trend over the
period indicates that the PA’s hesitation to participate in political negotiations with Israel,
and the continuous violence since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada, and aftermaths of
the Gaza War, have hardened the Palestinian popular position. Despite the support of the
international community for a two-state solution, the peoples involved, Israelis and Palestinians,
are now intransigently positioned, perhaps more so than ever before. The road to a
political solution seems a long way off, despite the fact that many of the key issues are
amenable to technical solutions, and have very nearly been the subject of successful compromise,
particularly in the negotiations of Camp David II in 2000 and Taba in 2001.
From a conflict resolution perspective, we can conclude that increased isolation – in the
Palestinian case meaning a literal physical surrounding by walls and fences – negatively
impacts upon possibilities to build peace-building capacities. In all conflicts, peace builders
need to support the development of relations across social boundaries of the peoples in
conflict, and to strengthen those who have such relations. Options, ideas and alternatives
to the perceived non-conciliatory zero-sum positions need to be explored.
Hence, if the isolation characterizing this conflict continues, there is a growing risk that
the Palestinian public plays into the hands of ‘spoilers’, who will leverage on fear and misunderstanding
(see Darby & Mac Ginty 2000, Aggestam 2006). Israel can of course, due to
its military predominance, dictate how much of the West Bank remains under Palestinian
control. Then, there will be few opportunities to explore the underlying needs of both the
Palestinians and the Israelis, and there will certainly be no opportunities to explore joint
interests and relationship building.


From a methodological point of view, we also realize that the way the questions about
conflict and peace were framed and structured will have influenced the responses of the
Palestinian participants in certain ways. Further studies are required to explore particular
details around the key issues. For instance, in the Jerusalem study conducted by Segal et
al (Segal et al 2000), Palestinians and Israelis were asked to rank the importance of various
quarters inside Jerusalem. That detailed study was sensitive to differentiating between
the levels of willingness to compromise over various parts of the city. For our case, in an
apparently zero-sum situation we need to understand more about the Palestinian public’s
perceptions about detailed key issue solutions. This could contribute to a melting of the
image of Palestinians and Israelis as intransigent foes, with no the ability to compromise
with each other. However, this is an empirical question to be answered.
Furthermore, as shown in many other studies, violence has a direct negative impact on
the ability of individuals to become creative problem solvers in relation to the ‘other’ (see
Waller 2002, Glasl 1999). The violent cycle takes over, and the will and emotions to take
revenge use violent means, and to physically destroy the ‘other’ dominates, thereby also
risking psychological isolation. Victimization of the self, an inability to see the other’s suffering
creates a mirror image of the parties in an endless struggle. It is only when this isolation
can be broken that new relationships can be built, and opportunities can be created
to begin an urgently-needed conflict transformation process. Both Israelis and Palestinians
have been involved in various people-to-people projects during the peace process, however
most of these broke down as a result of renewed violence. Critics derided these people-topeople
projects for failing to create much-needed momentum. However, this study indicates
that we need to find new ways to empower Palestinians and Israelis in building new
relationships. Rather than being critical of people-to-people projects we should learn from
our mistakes and continue to try. If pessimism prevails, we risk ongoing bloodshed between
Israelis and Palestinians.

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