Survey Reveals Common Ground Between Israelis and Palestinians on Peace Deal, But Obscured by Pessimism

December 6, 2013

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An innovative survey of Israelis and Palestinians, released today at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution, found that pessimism about current negotiations and the readiness of the other side to compromise has obscured the fact that there is substantial common ground between a majority of Israelis and Palestinians on a comprehensive peace agreement.

Only 4% of Israelis and 11% of Palestinians believe that current negotiations will bring an agreement in the next year, and half of both Israelis and Palestinians believe a peace agreement will never be reached.

However, when Israelis and Palestinians were presented the same eight- point package deal covering what many experts regard as a possible framework for an agreement, six in ten on both sides approved of their government supporting the deal if the other side would support it as well.

Respondents went through a process, called a ‘policymaking simulation,’ in which they were presented the proposed package as a possible framework and then presented a series of strongly stated arguments for and against it. This revealed strong ambivalence on both sides. Arguments against the deal were found more convincing than arguments in favor of it, but many of the arguments in favor were found convincing by majorities.

Respondents were then asked whether they would recommend that their government accept the package deal as a framework for further negotiations. Initially, 54% of Israelis (50% of Israeli Jews) and 41% of Palestinians recommended accepting it.

But among those who recommended against the deal, approximately half said they were not intrinsically opposed, but were so pessimistic about the other side accepting it “there is no point in saying we would accept it.”

If the other side would support it, many said they would then favor their side supporting it as well—bringing the total in support of the package deal to 63% of Israelis (59% of Israeli Jews) and 59% of Palestinians.

Steven Kull, director of PPC, commented, “Deeply entrenched pessimism has made it difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to discern that they actually share a lot of common ground on what would be a feasible peace agreement.”

The main points of the package deal were as follows: A Palestinian state would be established, with boundaries based on 1967 borders and a link between the West Bank and Gaza. Israel would keep major settlement blocks in 3-4% of the West Bank, with land swaps to compensate. In Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestinian state would have sovereignty over Jewish and Arab neighborhoods respectively, with the Walled City under international control. The Palestinian state would have a security force, but not a military. International forces, but not Israeli forces, would be stationed along the Jordan River. Palestinian refugees could return to the Palestinian state, with a limited number allowed to return to Israel and compensation for loss of property. The Palestinians would recognize Israel as a “state of the Jewish people and all its citizens” and Israel would have trade and diplomatic relations with Arab and Muslim states. The agreement would constitute the end of the conflict, with all claims pertaining to it relinquished.

The survey was conducted by the Anwar Sadat Chair and the Program for Public Consultation (PPC), both affiliated with the University of Maryland, and was co-sponsored by the US Institute of Peace. The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion conducted the poll of 1,003 adult Palestinians through face-to face interviews from November 17-28 throughout the West Bank and Gaza. An Israeli polling organization, the Midgam Project, led by Mina Zemach, conducted the poll of 1,053 adult Israelis from November 21-25, including 902 Israeli Jews interviewed over the Internet and 151 Israeli Arabs interviewed face to face.

The survey also probed into feelings about the specific final status issues. When asked about the possible terms separately, in some cases both Israelis and Palestinians showed more resistance to specific terms than they did to the package as a whole.

Most Israelis were resistant to accepting Palestinian sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, to allowing any Palestinian refugees to return to Israel or compensating the refugees for lost property.

Most Palestinians were resistant to accepting Israeli sovereignty over any part of East Jerusalem, to Israel to annexing West Bank territory, to foreign forces along the Jordan River and to recognition of Israel as being a state of the Jewish people.

But in all cases the percentages saying that these terms were “completely unacceptable” was a minority never exceeding 1 in 3, indicating that the majority would be amenable to a negotiated deal.

Shibley Telhami, who holds the Anwar Sadat Chair, commented, “This study shows how there are strong centrifugal forces making it difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to agree on specific issues. But in the context of a comprehensive package, majorities on both sides show a readiness to deal.”

The survey also explored the potential for alternatives to the two-state solution. Asked to consider the likelihood of eight different scenarios if the two-state solution is deemed no longer possible, for both Israelis and Palestinians, the scenarios seen as the most likely were that there would be more intense conflict and instability for years to come, or that the status quo would continue indefinitely with little change. None of the scenarios were seen as both likely and attractive.

Telhami added, “Support for the deal for a two-state solution, despite the discomfort with many of the elements, may be driven by the lack of an attractive and realistic alternative to the two-state solution.”

The survey asked Israelis about several issues beyond the final status issues:

1. A modest majority of Israelis (54%), including half of Israeli Jews (49%), support exploring a diplomatic deal with Iran as long as the deal would have clear verification requirements.

2. A substantial majority of Israelis believe that Iran will eventually develop nuclear weapons.

3. More Israelis say that the overthrow of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi was good for Israel (35%) than say it was bad for Israel (14%), but the largest number (51%) say that it has produced no real change.

4. In regard to the Israeli–Egyptian Peace Treaty over the next four years, only 13% think the treaty will be terminated. However, a majority (54%) expect the treaty will be modified, with only one in three saying it will persist in its present form.



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