Trends in Israeli and Palestinian Public Opinion
Daniel Bar-Tal: With the Gaza disengagement plan, we are approaching an important crossroads in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Can you describe the trends in Israeli and Palestinian public opinion regarding support for the disengagement plan, readiness to engage in a new peace process, and maybe other trends you have detected?
Mina Zemach: In Israel, the public almost always precedes the leaders concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yaacov Shamir: Definitely.
Mina Zemach: Already about 15 years ago, we found that 55 or 56 percent of the public was willing to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) if the PLO would have denounced terror and recognized the State of Israel. But, at that time, even the leadership of the Labor Party objected to negotiations with the PLO. The same readiness of the public was detected before the Oslo agreement. And again today in the case of the unilateral disengagement, we found about 50 percent, a majority of the Israelis, supported disengagement from Gaza even before Ariel Sharon announced his plan. That's quite a significant percentage. Since then, 57 to 60 percent of the public have supported unilateral disengagement.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Yaacov, can you describe any other important trends on a very general level in the recent period?
Yaacov Shamir: With Yasser Arafat leaving the scene, everything has become much more optimistic. More Israelis are willing to agree to a call for a cease-fire - about 90 percent. Many more Israelis agree to an immediate renewal of negotiations - about 70 percent.
Also, in many other indications, we see much more optimism, and I am sure you'll hear the same from Khalil. We have what we call a reconciliation scale, and for the last five years we have been seeing an increase in the willingness of Israelis to get reconciled with the Palestinians.
But at the same time, I think we have to caution everyone. We have been at similar points in the past and experienced similar peaks - not at the same level, but close - for example, during Abu Mazen's (Mahmoud Abbas) nomination as prime minister. But then everything turned around again.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Khalil, please, what can you tell us about the Palestinians?
Khalil Shikaki: When the disengagement plan was first presented, a majority of 73 percent of the Palestinians welcomed it. In fact, 58 percent were willing to support a total cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, with no attacks on Israelis at all, after Israel's pull-out from the Gaza Strip, if the pull-out was total. But a majority of 66 percent of Palestinians had reservations about the plan once it was approved by the Israeli government, because the government plan was not the kind of disengagement the public had envisioned when it was first presented to them. The Israeli government began to talk about an increase in settlements in the West Bank, and we saw a greater fear with regard to what would happen to Gaza, whether it would become a suffocating ghetto, whether the link between the West Bank and Gaza would be maintained. Now, hardly one-third of the public supports the disengagement plan.
It is also important to note that the public perceived the plan as a victory of armed struggle, as a victory of violence. This was particularly true in the Gaza Strip. Even today, after Arafat's death and despite the prevailing optimism, three-quarters of the Palestinians still view the plan as such. Yet, surprisingly, despite the perception that the unilateral nature of the plan is a victory for the Palestinians, most Palestinians reject it. Fifty-eight percent of Palestinians want a negotiated not a unilateral disengagement.
So overall, an overwhelming majority of 73 percent of the Palestinian public welcome the unilateral dismantling of settlements and an Israeli army pull-out. A majority of 59 percent support a total cessation of violence from the Gaza Strip if the disengagement is completed. But the public is very concerned about two things: (a) What will Israel do to the West Bank and to the border areas around the Gaza Strip -the external envelop as it's called; and (b) What will happen after the Israeli pull-out if it is unilateral? The public is concerned that, if the disengagement is not negotiated, there would be greater anarchy, greater in-fighting among Palestinians, and that the Palestinian security services would not be able to control the situation.
With regard to the overall trend among Palestinians in the aftermath of Arafat, we are undoubtedly looking at a completely new reality. There are changes with regard to the overall optimism of the Palestinian public. We are now seeing what would have been unthinkable six months ago in terms of how the public perceives issues of negotiations with Israel, the Israeli leadership and its willingness to accept or be partners to the Palestinians. We are also seeing a more positive attitude toward issues related to the peace process, such as a willingness to accept reconciliation. We have been following these issues over the past 11 years; it is only recently that a change in attitude has started, and particularly after the death of Arafat.
What hasn't changed in any significant way is the Palestinian perception of the role of violence. The majority of Palestinians still believe in the merit of violence. They still believe the Israeli government is not going to pull out, is not going to end the occupation, without violence. At the same time, the public is willing to give diplomacy a chance: more than 80 percent want a mutual cessation of violence and a return to negotiations. Conviction in the utility of violence does not prevent people from exploring negotiations. Palestinians believe the intifada has been positive in terms of helping them achieve national rights in ways that negotiations did not. But in the aftermath of Arafat's death, there is no doubt that a new climate has emerged, with a lot of people believing that Arafat's death will make the achievement of a peace agreement more likely - hence the increased willingness to go back to negotiations even while perceptions of the role of violence have not changed.
We have also seen a major change in the way the domestic balance of power within the Palestinian political system has shifted. Popular support for Hamas has dropped significantly. Although this had started before Arafat's death, the change after he died is very significant. We have also seen a large increase in the level of support for Fateh, from 29 percent to 40 percent in the last three months, between September and December 2004. The decrease in support for Hamas is particularly significant in the Gaza Strip, which had witnessed previously witnessed a big surge in the level of support for that faction, especially during the past two years. In the Gaza Strip, support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad reached about 38 percent in September 2004. In December, it dropped to 24 percent. The picture in the West Bank is not as dramatic as it is in the Gaza Strip.
Mina Zemach: That's not the impression that Israelis have. Israelis think Hamas is gaining support. It's very important to hear this and tell it to the Israelis; as such, perceptions play a very significant role among them.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Yaacov, I'd like to ask you a question that will be specific and general. You pointed out some changes, so can you explain them? Can you also say something general about the kinds of factors that affect Israeli public opinion?
Yaacov Shamir: I'll start with the general overview. I believe that by and large people understand the situation. It's not that easy to manipulate the public. Obviously, what leaders say and how things appear in the media is very important. But in the long run, people receive and use a diverse number of cues to assess what's going on. We have seen all along that, not only the Israeli public, but also the Palestinians are very sensitive to events, quite often irrespective of how these events are interpreted in the media. People understand, by and large, the meaning of Arafat leaving the scene. People understand, by and large, the meaning of Sharon, the father of the settlements, declaring the disengagement plan.
With regard to specific trends, we keep asking the same question: Would you support the dismantling of most settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians? Since 2002, the majority - close to 60 percent, and often more than 60 percent of the Israeli public have supported the dismantling of most of the settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
But we also ask people what they think is the percentage of the Israeli public that supports that, and we look at how many people respond with a number over 50 percent. We trace both the actual attitudes and the perceived or the normative opinion, and there is a very interesting gap. Most people believe that only a minority support it - a large minority, but only a minority.
We have been tracing this up to and beyond Sharon's declaration of the disengagement plan. In the survey immediately after Sharon's declaration, the perceived or normative public opinion - the climate of opinion I call it - converged with the majority opinion. People actually knew that this is the majority opinion because Sharon legitimized it by his declaration, and that made an impact.
There was a much smaller increase in the actual percentage supporting it, but a much bigger jump in the perceived majority, so sometimes leaders do affect the norm.
Mina Zemach: I definitely agree, except for one thing. I think the main thing is the event itself and the information the public gets from the media about the event. It's not the interpretation that the media supplies. The media serves only to supply information. I definitely agree that the public - or each individual - forms its own judgment. It doesn't need the interpretation of the media, not even the interpretation of the leaders.
It's not that I disagree with you, but I want to supply another very simplistic explanation for the convergence. I don't think that Sharon legitimized the disengagement. When Sharon announced his plan he started a very serious controversy, and we have heard much more from the opponents. Also we started publishing, every week - almost twice a week - data results from public opinion polls. We supplied the public with information and I think that this supplied information had more impact than Sharon's legitimization. Publishing findings of public opinion surveys gives salience to the issues. It puts them on the public agenda. The impact is the fact that people are talking about it.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Khalil, can you analyze the factors that influence Palestinian public opinion?
Khalil Shikaki: First, Arafat's departure, his passing, has been an influential factor. He was a person who played a role in Palestinian political life for the past 35 years. Many people came to view events in Palestinian society and in Palestinian-Israeli relations as being determined by this man. The perception of the public is that Arafat had control and influence beyond the normal control and influence of any leader. So his absence - and I think, to a large extent, his replacement by Abu Mazen - has played a very important role in terms of raising expectations, creating optimism. Abu Mazen is perceived as a pro-peace individual, a critic of Arafat, a person who opposes the militarization of the intifada.
The second thing that has impacted on public opinion has been the way the succession process played out. There were very gloomy expectations that Fateh would disintegrate and collapse because of in-fighting between the young guard and the old guard, between the different socioeconomic groups, the different security services, also between specific individuals who would be vying for power.
None of that happened. I think Fateh benefited tremendously because of the way it dealt with the succession process. It was done in a civilized manner. People voted and elected new leaders at all levels. There was almost no violence whatsoever, except for one incident in Gaza. I think that this process gradually affected the way the public perceived the future, and it helped Fateh. It certainly increased the level of support for it.
The third factor that I think affected this mood is the elections. We immediately jumped into elections. This created a desire on the part of the public to participate and to play a part. Since Hamas boycotted the presidential elections, the public punished them. Hamas was seen as abandoning the battlefield, leaving it to Fateh. There was a bandwagon effect, as a lot of people wanted to join the winner.
I would add one more change, although with some hesitation, the fact that there has been, for the last six months, a reduction in the level of violence. This has had an impact on perceptions among Palestinians and has made them more willing to seize opportunities were they to present themselves. In the past, with the high level of threat perception, the public was reluctant to take risks. Now the level of threat perception has been reduced, and the public is more willing to jump on new opportunities.
The public is making itself vulnerable. There are tremendous expectations. But this means that if the expectations are not fulfilled, and we see a setback such as the one during Abu Mazen's term as prime minister, the consequences could be devastating for the peace process.
Yaacov Shamir: Khalil, what you said supports my view of public opinion as being informed by many things. When you ask Palestinians about corruption in the Palestinian Authority (PA), do they have to read newspapers to tell them that there is corruption in the PA? No. They know it. When there is a reduction in the level of violence and in the level of threat, they feel it immediately. They don't have to read it in the newspapers. The same is true of the assessment that the armed intifada paid off. Why would they think that it paid off?
Khalil Shikaki: That's a very good question. When we ask people indirectly to spell out the benefits of the intifada, what we get is an absolutely clear zero-sum game in which the public perceives the intifada as undoubtedly devastating to the Palestinians. Yet when we ask directly if there have been benefits, the response is absolutely Yes, almost two-thirds. This has been a consistent position. This means the public has a different definition of victory than what you would normally define as a rational definition of victory. Under conditions in which people feel tremendous levels of pain and suffering, the definition of victory is no longer what benefits the nation but rather how much pain and suffering is inflicted on the other side. This is probably also the way Israelis view it.
When I am feeling so much pain and suffering, I feel a desire for revenge, to inflict pain and suffering on the other side. If I am successful in inflicting pain and suffering on them as they are doing to me, then I am successful in what I am doing.
Mina Zemach: Perhaps it's more difficult to admit failure than to say it's a victory. People are reluctant to admit that they think the intifada was a failure.
Yaacov Shamir: You're right.
Mina Zemach: That's a psychological explanation.
Khalil Shikaki: There is another way for the public to do that, simply to deny that it had a different interpretation to begin with. In many cases when we ask people how they reacted to something - including how they voted - they give a certain response. Later on, when that response becomes unpopular, people simply change their minds and adopt a different view. They simply deny that they ever held that view. The public can always deny that in the past they believed that violence pays.
Mina Zemach: You said before that they think the intifada was a Palestinian victory.
Khalil Shikaki: Of course. Now they have disengagement as an answer to that question.
Mina Zemach: Disengagement is the result. They see disengagement as one result of the intifada.
Khalil Shikaki: But we are talking about the situation not changing before or after disengagement. Even after the Israelis reoccupied the West Bank in mid-2002, two-thirds of the public continued to believe that the armed intifada was positive in terms of achieving Palestinian national rights. This has not changed; even when it was very clear that the army had occupied the West Bank and the economy was devastated.
Mina Zemach: There is a significant minority in the Israeli public that also sees the result as a victory for the Palestinians.
Yaacov Shamir: It's a more complex situation. The question Khalil asked the Palestinians is whether it has helped to achieve Palestinian rights that could not be achieved with negotiations. We really have to understand what rights mean to the Palestinians. It's not necessarily destroying houses and losing in the battlefield. It's achieving rights. Rights are recognition. Rights are the Quartet dealing with their problems and paying attention to them. Rights is being aware of the right of return and bringing it up on the agenda.
The issue of who won is extremely important right now. I've decided that it's very important that we ask about it in our new survey. Since the beginning of the intifada, when we ask who won - not whether the disengagement plan is a Palestinian victory or not - and we give a broader range of options like both sides won, neither side won, the Palestinians won or the Israelis won, a majority of Israelis and a plurality of Palestinians, the biggest category chosen by both publics - is that neither side won. There are more Israelis who think the balance tilts a little bit towards the Palestinians.
Khalil Shikaki: That is affected by the disengagement.
Yaacov Shamir: It is. This issue is extremely important in terms of policy because Sharon is very sensitive to it. With his ethos as the invincible general, Sharon cannot allow a situation that will be defined as if he was defeated in the battlefield. We see it right now. He retaliates very forcefully when Palestinian violence continues.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Could you tell us the power that Israeli public opinion has on Israeli leaders?
Mina Zemach: As I said before, the public always precedes the leaders. I don't say that the leaders follow the public, but Israeli public opinion has a very strong impact on the leaders.
In my opinion, Sharon doesn't only worry about losing on the battlefield. I think Sharon will carry out the disengagement. But I think when he says I won't do it under fire, and when he retaliates today, this is done to comply with public opinion much more than because he wants to do it.
If I gave the impression that the leaders consult with public opinion, that's not what I meant. They are interested in public opinion mainly to know what people think. And if they promote something that is different from public opinion, they either reconsider it or try to manipulate or change public opinion.
Yaacov Shamir: It's correct to say that the Israeli public leads the leaders. If Yitzhak Rabin had been more attentive - or perhaps more willing politically - he could have done what he did two years earlier. If we look at public opinion trends, the public already supported negotiations with the Palestinians. Right now we have 47 percent of Israelis supporting negotiating with Hamas, if the disengagement plan necessitates it. So the public sets the baseline to some extent. Leaders follow it
Daniel Bar-Tal: Khalil, can you tell us a bit about the Palestinian leaders?
Khalil Shikaki: In Arafat's case, we can rule out the question of survival. He did not worry about the public rejecting him in an election. He was always confident that, regardless of what policy he pursued, the public had no alternative but to vote for him.
The decision to go to elections was also, to a large extent, dependent upon him. He was very reluctant to go to elections at any time. He always had the opportunity to allow elections within Fateh, and never did. He always had the opportunity to allow local elections to take place - in fact, the law required holding local elections a long time ago - and he refused to do so.
In general, the question of his survival as a leader did not depend on following public opinion. But he did. He actually inquired about public opinion; he cared a lot about public opinion. When we provided information about public opinion that he didn't like, he got very angry with us. I remember one occasion when he sent back the material I had written for him and faxed to his office. Two hours later he faxed it back to me with handwritten comments, and it was clear that he was very angry. He underlined everything he disagreed with, and wrote things like "You have to be very careful with numbers. You are playing with fire."
Why did he do that? I think Arafat did it because he wanted legitimacy. Though he wasn't worried about his place as a leader, he wanted to feel that he was doing what the public would approve of. In that sense, I believe Arafat was always a follower rather than a leader. At Camp David, he was not willing to go beyond what he believed was within the public consensus. And I believe he would have never signed a peace agreement with Israel if he didn't believe he would be able to garner public support and approval.
Daniel Bar-Tal: What about Abu Mazen?
Khalil Shikaki: It's too early to tell. But based on what we have seen from Abu Mazen so far, when he was still under the shadow of Arafat, I think Abu Mazen is reluctant to take bold steps without the legitimacy of public opinion. He is a creative person who is willing to take risks, but the risks he has taken were under the shadow of Arafat. Even when he led the negotiations, there was always Arafat to go back to as the anchor person. It was Arafat's decision to go to Oslo, so Abu Mazen was willing to take steps in the past when Arafat was willing to endorse what he did. Whether he will now be able to do these things when there is nobody else to endorse them, and to face the public with his positions is a questionable proposition. But it's really too early to tell.
Mina Zemach: We all know that for a leader to gain the position of leadership, he must first comply with the norms of the public. Later he can change.
Yaacov Shamir: We know historically that when a leader of the great caliber of Arafat, a leader who has become a symbol, leaves the scene, there is always a battle over the one who follows adhering to his way.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Yaacov, how do Israelis view Palestinian public opinion? In the early 20th century history books, the Palestinians are usually presented as not having an opinion. They are described as being agitated by their leaders.
Yaacov Shamir: When we started our joint survey project, we thought it would be extremely interesting to ask each public about the other public's point of view. We do that quite regularly on important issues, and have really fascinating findings.
We ask what they think the majority of the Palestinian public think of an issue and what they think the majority of the Israeli public think of the same issue. Quite often, both publics have very accurate perceptions of what the other public thinks. At other times, there are gaps. For example, we decided the time had come to ask a question about the issue of Israel as a Jewish state. It's a very sensitive issue, together with the right of return, for both publics.
The only initiative that speaks about this issue openly and without hesitation is the Ayalon-Nusseibeh initiative. They speak about Israel being the state of the Jewish people and Palestine being the state of the Palestinian people. The Geneva document evades the issue. They have other statements that try to soften the matter and not take a very strong stand.
We asked both publics similar, but not identical, questions about this: If, after a solution is found, and everything is solved - including the refugees issue - would you be willing to support a statement saying that Israel is the state of the Jewish people and Palestine is the state of the Palestinian people? What do you think is the majority opinion on your side - to tap the normative opinion - and what do you think is the majority opinion on the other side?
We have a fascinating matrix of findings. A small majority among Palestinians - about 52 percent - and 65 percent among Israelis would support such a declaration. But Israelis don't believe there is a majority among Palestinians, and Palestinians don't believe there is a majority among Israelis. Israelis know that there is a majority among Israelis, so I think that is normative. But Palestinians do not believe there is a majority among Palestinians. In our most recent poll, the figures increased to 70 percent among the Israelis and 63 percent among the Palestinians.
Daniel Bar-Tal: It's very important. Khalil, what do you say?
Khalil Shikaki: Yaacov has already alluded to the way Palestinians view the Israelis in general. Many Palestinians do not demonize the Israelis. To the contrary, I sometimes find Palestinians admiring Israelis in ways that are unwarranted.
Israelis, for example, would not evaluate Israel's democracy as positively as Palestinians do. When we asked Israelis and Palestinians to evaluate Israeli democracy, Palestinians gave it higher marks than Israelis did. From this you can infer that the Palestinians in general do not demonize or show lack of appreciation for what is good on the Israeli side. But when it comes to the peace process, the Palestinians tend to view the Israeli public in general as anti-peace. Of course this doesn't mean that the majority of Israelis are anti-peace. But that's the perception.
When we asked about leaders such as Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Sharon, there were certain variations. Rabin and Peres received close to 30 percent positive evaluations in terms of their interest, seriousness and intentions regarding peace. Netanyahu got less than 20 percent, and Sharon got less than 10 percent - although now there are indications that the Palestinian public is changing its view of Sharon. But even in the heyday of the peace process (1995-1996), with Rabin and Peres, the majority of the public - more than 70 percent - still didn't believe in the good intentions of the Israeli leaders.
Similarly, when we asked about the Israeli public, there was a little more confidence that the Israeli public is sincere about the peace process. But the majority of the Palestinian public still didn't believe that Israelis would support it. Even when we came to positive compromises for Israel - a Palestinian willingness to recognize the Jewish nature of Israel - when we asked the public if they thought Israelis would support such a peace, only about one-third or so of the Palestinian public said yes.
So there is a lot of suspicion.
Yaacov Shamir: I must put the record straight in this respect. It's not that the Israeli public is bad and doesn't want peace and the Palestinian public wants peace all the time. It's more complicated. For example, getting back to the issue of reconciliation, we have seven questions that increase in commitment in terms of more daring and stronger steps toward reconciliation. We begin with open borders and joint economic ventures, then joint political institutions, then measures against incitement against the other side, changing the school curricula to teach children against irredentist aspirations, then to teach in the schools the responsibility of one's own side in hurting the other side and in perpetuating the violence.
We see a very interesting picture here. There is always a gap between Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis are often much more willing to accept each of these steps. I can understand why. It's more advantageous for the stronger side to initiate reconciliation steps than it is for the weaker side. But when we get to the lower questions on the ladder - changing the irredentist aspirations and school curricula - there are no more than 10 percent of the Palestinians who would agree to such steps.
I know what Khalil thinks, and I appreciate what he would say. Let's first have all these things; then we will begin reconciliation. And I agree. We have to have these things first. I still think that it indicates something unhealthy that should be taken care of by the new Palestinian leadership. Otherwise, the perception of each public of the other will not improve. Leaders are affected by their public and their public's perception of the other public, so this can also be harmful in terms of the peace process.
Israelis are not angels. Neither are the Palestinians.
Daniel Bar-Tal: The core issues for the settlement of the conflict have been on the table for a long time. Can you tell us, in December 2004, where the two publics stand on borders, settlements, Jerusalem and the right of return?
Mina Zemach: On borders, I would say about 70 percent agree to withdrawal to 1967.
Daniel Bar-Tal: To 1967?
Yaacov Shamir: Eventually. Right now the 1967 borders won't get 70 percent.
Mina Zemach: We don't say 1967 but to return most of the territories.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Seventy percent?
Yaacov Shamir: By and large. For the Geneva framework, in terms of borders, I think eventually. Today we get about 55 percent, depending on how you ask it, and you can get to what Mina is saying, too.
Daniel Bar-Tal: What about support for withdrawal from the settlements?
Mina Zemach: As Ya'acov said, about 60 percent.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Including Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel?
Mina Zemach: No one thinks about Ma'aleh Adumim or Gush Etzion. Many of those who live in Ma'aleh Adumim don't even think they live in the territories. It's very interesting. The same is true of Modi'in Elite. With regard to Jerusalem, about 40 percent support its division. But no more than 10 percent support the right of return.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Not even recognition of the right of return?
Mina Zemach: We don't ask about that. Israelis, even on the left, consider an agreement to the right of return as committing suicide. But I want to go back to Jerusalem. When you present the Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan as a package that includes a division of Jerusalem, you get about 60 percent agreeing to that plan. I want to emphasize that the numbers include the Israeli Arab population.
Khalil Shikaki: First of all, as in the Israeli case, people may support or oppose specific compromises with regard to these issues. But when you present them with a package, they might have a different view. They might be willing to compromise and accept something that they are not willing to accept as a separate issue, a separate compromise.
Yaacov Shamir: Right.
Khalil Shikaki: If we take the Geneva compromise, the question of borders is the one that gets the majority of support among Palestinians. Issues of borders and settlements are one and the same, because essentially what we're talking about is a return to the 1967 borders with territorial swaps equal in size. If this is a package, then it includes a solution to the settlements as well and you get the support of about 60 percent of the Palestinians.
When it comes to the other two issues, you'll find a lot of polarization. With regard to Jerusalem, the public is divided almost in half, with a little more on the opposition side to a settlement with regard to Jerusalem along the lines of the Geneva document. The Geneva compromise gives the Palestinians sovereignty over Haram el-Sharif (Temple Mount) and the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, while allowing the Israelis to annex the Jewish Quarter, the part of the Western Wall known as the "Wailing Wall" and the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. A small majority of Palestinians still oppose this compromise.
With regard to the right of return, there are essentially two components. On the principle of the right of return, the overwhelming majority - about 90 to 95 percent - say it must be recognized. But when it comes to practical modalities of how the return is to be addressed, the majority of Palestinians will support a solution by which they return to the Palestinian state, stay in their host countries, return to the areas that would be swapped as part of the permanent settlement or emigrate to a third country, and only a small number want to go back to Israel.
In the survey we did on the Geneva document, there was opposition to the passage about the refugee issue, although there was a very similar question asked eight months earlier that indicated that the majority would support it. I believe this has to do with something to which we have referred to earlier - the role of framing. How the issues are framed in the public mind is certainly a factor in the way the public perceives these issues. In the Geneva document, the perception was very much influenced by the framing that took place prior to the survey. The Geneva document was presented as a sell-out of the refugees by many of the Palestinian leaders. Arafat was not a part of that, but many senior figures in the Palestinian leadership were. The way the Palestinian media dealt with it indicated to the public a tilt favoring the sell-out interpretation.
The public mind framed the issue of the right of return as such, and only a quarter or less of the public was willing to support the right of return solution in the Geneva document, though it did say that the solution to the refugee problem would be based on UN Resolution 194. It didn't say the right of return, but it said UN Resolution 194. Taking all this as a package, even though only 20 or so percent supported the refugee deal, almost 40 percent supported the Geneva document.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Which means Palestinian society is ready for a final settlement?
Khalil Shikaki: I think you have to take into consideration the trend, and the trend is clear. Over the last 10 years the Palestinian public has been showing more and more willingness to accept the described compromises. And this trend has been continuing despite four years of intifada. What we are finding now is that the Palestinian public is more willing to accept the same deals that were evident in the Abu Mazen-Beilin agreement, in Camp David, and later in Geneva. We are now trying to find out how the public is going to perceive this after the Arafat era.
The answer depends on leadership. A legitimate leadership can take the 40 percent or so and move it forward to a majority. But it has to be perceived as a leadership that has legitimacy to make compromises. It has to carry the PLO banner. It has to be something that represents all Palestinians. It cannot be just the leader of the PA. That's important. Even though the PA might have legitimacy, it must be perceived as being also acceptable to the wider Palestinian community, which means the PLO must endorse it, as well.
Daniel Bar-Tal: What about the Israeli side? Do you have information about the difference between acceptance of responsibility and a practical solution of the right of return? Do you separate these particular issues?
Khalil Shikaki: We did a survey with Tel Aviv University about this. We told the Israelis the results of the Palestinian survey. Then they were asked, "If there is little actual return, would you agree that Israel should recognize the right of return?" Close to 30 percent of the Israelis said yes. But the answer was very much correlated to the belief that this indeed would be the case. But those who believed this is nonsense, all Palestinians would return if given the right, said no.
Yaacov Shamir: My feeling - and it's not based on hard data - is that we have a wide range here to maneuver in terms of how things are presented to both publics. The issue of a package is part of the frame, not from a departure point of misleading the public, but constructing a new reality by doing these things. So I think the Palestinian public would accept some kind of a symbolic acknowledgment of the right of return. With enough creativity, such a symbolic acknowledgment can be obtained that will not intimidate the Israeli public. If this can be interpreted as functional arrangementsthat leave the issue open to a mass return of Palestinians into Israel, it won't work. But a symbolic gesture, if it's done cleverly, can work.
Mina Zemach: Let me give you hard data. In the same questionnaire, we had two different questions: one presented Ayalon-Nusseibeh and the other presented Geneva. The only difference between the two is the right of return, and the difference was 60 percent supported Ayalon-Nusseibeh and only 30 percent supported Geneva as a package.
Daniel Bar-Tal: What, in your opinion, can Israelis do to strengthen support of the Palestinian society for peace?
Mina Zemach: Present the Palestinians with the findings that most Israelis support the peace process and that most Israelis are willing to make concessions. I think that's the only thing. As was said, the Palestinians don't believe the Israelis are willing to compromise.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Would they believe it if you presented the data?
Mina Zemach: I don't know how to present the data, but I think they would believe. As Khalil said, there is a big change in both Palestinian and Israeli public opinion. In the early 1980s, only 25 percent of the Israeli public, including the Arab population, supported a Palestinian state. Now we have close to 70 percent. So there is really a very significant change in Israeli public opinion, and we have to present that to the Palestinians. The other thing is that we have to emphasize that this is not a zero-sum game; to the contrary, both sides will gain from peace. Israelis shouldn't mind presenting it as a Palestinian achievement.
Yaacov Shamir: I agree. Looking at public opinion trends and just thinking about the time when speaking with Palestinians was illegal, not to mention meeting Palestinians and talking to the PLO, and now more than 40 percent are willing to talk even to Hamas if the disengagement necessitates it. Obviously, things have changed dramatically. But I think the right of return is still very threatening, and Israelis have to be convinced of two things. First, if there are to be concessions with regard to the right of return, they have to be largely symbolic. Otherwise, it won't work. Second - and this is a big problem - Israelis want to know that we finish the conflict with the final agreement.
Mina Zemach: That is a very, very important.
Yaacov Shamir: Because the Israeli public has the experience that each time we make progress, the Palestinians raise a new issue that the public - and probably the leaders too - had not thought about. So there are suspicions that the Palestinians always want to leave something open to return to.
Daniel Bar-Tal: Okay. Fascinating. Thank you very much.
One Effect of Occupation
The Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ) expresses its sorrow and condemnation because Dr. Riad Malki, who was invited to participate in our round-table on public opinion, did not receive the permit from the Israeli security officials until it was too late to make the trip from Ramallah to Jerusalem.
Dr. Riad Malki heads the Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development (see www.panoramacenter.org), which was established in 1991, and now has offices in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza City and Jenin, and operates with more than 23 staff members. It focuses on the promotion of democracy and community development in all aspects, on capacity building for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and for NGOs, on crisis management training, youth leadership, good governance, reforms, and public opinion polls. This center works with Israeli counterparts to promote second track activities related to final-status issues, peace-building, conflict prevention and management, among many other issues. At the same time, Panorama is the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region representative in the World Democracy Movement and MENA region representative in the Communities for Democracy. It is a recipient of the 2004 Democracy Courage Award in South Africa, and of Peace Award 2004 in Milan, Italy.
On December 20, the Palestine-Israel Journal invited Dr. Malki to participate in the round-table that was planned for December 29 at 3:30p.m. at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. He applied for a permit to reach Jerusalem, as usual, three days earlier, sending the request via fax addressed to Colonel Colin at Beit El. When such permits are issued, the recipient is required to return to the Occupied Territories by 7p.m.
Dr. Malki called the colonel a couple of times, and the officer acknowledged receiving the request. On December 29, when the permit was not issued, PIJ Managing Editor Hillel Schenker called a few hours before the meeting to inquire about the reason. The response was that the security officer was still working on the request. These calls were repeated a few times and the same answer was received. Finally, at 3:40p.m. when all the participants were waiting, Schenker was told that the permit had been issued. Obviously, by then it was useless because Dr. Malki needed at least an hour to travel from Ramallah to East Jerusalem, via a series of checkpoints.
In order to be able to evaluate this case, it is necessary to know that the last time Dr. Malki received a permit was on the December 21, 2004, to go to a meeting at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, where he met board members of Three Cultures (a foundation based in Seville, Spain, headed, by the kings of Spain and Morocco, among others). On December 1, 2004, Dr. Malki received a permit to meet Minister Nathan Sharansky's adviser in Jerusalem. On November 22, 2004, Dr. Malki received a permit to meet faculty members at Tel Aviv University, to deliver a presentation at Haifa University, to meet with people at the office of the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem, and then to deliver a presentation at the old Laromme Hotel in Jerusalem for the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations, attended by former ambassadors and state employees. In the last few years he has been issued more than 100 permits by the Israeli military for different purposes, including traveling through Ben Gurion airport dozens of times. But also, from time to time, he has been refused a permit, even when he was granted one the day before.
So how is it possible to explain this behavior? In our view, this is a clear case of a violation of human rights, an exercise of control and harassment, which are pure reflections of occupation. This case allows us to peek into theliving conditions of the Palestinians, who have been suffering for a very long time from the evil of the Israeli occupation. We deplore it and struggle to end this situation.