The latest joint survey of Palestinian and Israeli public opinion by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (Ramallah) and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), conducted in mid-December, has now been released. As usual, it contains questions on attitudes towards a range of permanent status issues, modelled loosely on the provisions of the December 2000 Clinton Parameters, the 2001 Taba negotiations, and especially the 2003 Geneva Initiative.
On the refugee issue, support for a compromise deal has increased slightly in the last year:
Among Palestinians 45% support and 53% oppose a refugee settlement in which both sides agree that the solution will be based on UN resolutions 194 and 242. The refugees would be given five choices for permanent residency. These are: the Palestinian state and the Israeli areas transferred to the Palestinian state in the territorial exchange mentioned above; no restrictions would be imposed on refugee return to these two areas. Residency in the other three areas (in host countries, third countries, and Israel) would be subject to the decision of these states. As a base for its decision Israel will consider the average number of refugees admitted to third countries like Australia, Canada, Europe, and others. All refugees would be entitled to compensation for their “refugeehood” and loss of property. In December 2010, 41% agreed with an identical compromise while 57% opposed it.
Among Israelis 42% support such an arrangement and 51% oppose it. In December 2010, 36% supported it and 52% opposed.
This is one of the higher levels of support for compromise arrangements on the refugee issue since polling on this question started in 2003, as can be seen in the graph I have created below:
On the question of “end of claims,” support has also increased somewhat.
In the Palestinian public 63% support and 35% oppose a compromise on ending the conflict that would state that when the permanent status agreement is fully implemented, it will mean the end of the conflict and no further claims will be made by either side. The parties will recognize Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples. In December 2010 58% supported and 41% opposed this item.
In the Israeli public 70% support and 27% oppose this component in the final status framework. In December 2010, similarly, 68% of the Israelis supported it while 25% opposed it.
Again, I’ve shown this as a graph:
Overall, the poll shows a substantial uptick in both Israeli and Palestinian support for a Geneva-type deal over the past year, which is now at its highest point since 2004 (see below). Thus, while the Netanyahu government might find it politically useful to highlight the recent events of the “Arab Spring” as a reason not to negotiate a peace agreement on the basis of prior negotiations in 2001 (Taba) and 2007-08 (the Annapolis round), it isn’t at all clear that the Israeli public necessarily agrees. Similarly, while some Hamas leaders might argue that changing circumstances in the Arab world would justify a harder line in future negotiations, half the Palestinian population seems to support a compromise based on a Geneva-type approach.
While it is easy to be pessimistic about the prospects for resuming a meaningful Israeli-Palestinian peace process any time soon—and I am certainly very pessimistic—it is always worth keeping in mind how much overlap there is between the Israeli and Palestinian publics on the very broad contours of a possible future peace agreement.
At the same time, a bit of a caveat should also be applied when interpreting this data, namely that it isn’t entirely clear that respondents understand the questions in exactly the same way as the pollsters. The refugee question is rather vague as to how many Palestinian refugees might return to Israel, for example, or with regard to how much compensation might be made available (and who would finance it). Delving into the sometimes contentious technical aspects of a refugee agreement would find plenty of areas where the parties have very different views—as in many negotiations a host of possible devils lurk in the details.