A large majority of Jewish Israelis opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, a new poll by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has found— the latest sign that support for the conventional "two-state" solution to the decades-long conflict is eroding, just as Palestinian leaders make another push for recognition of statehood.
Some 75 percent of respondents to the survey said that they oppose Palestinian statehood if it means putting an end to the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, ongoing since 1967. Respondents overwhelmingly opposed retreating to pre-1967 borders and said they wouldn't support a Palestinian state if it meant dividing Jerusalem.
Observers and Palestinians alike contend that a Palestinian state without East Jerusalem, the removal of settlements from the West Bank, and the withdrawal of the Israeli military from the territory would hardly amount to a state — leading some to suggest that the window of opportunity for the two-state solution has slammed shut as those issues have become non-negotiable.
The poll, commissioned by a think tank run by a close ally of conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, only polled Israeli Jews, who on the whole account for about 75 percent of Israel's population. The sample size was small — 505 people, a full 304 of whom identified as right wing. But while the results differ widely from previous polls and the generally held belief that about 60 percent of Israelis support a two-state solution, some critics observed that the latest poll might provide a "more honest assessment" of prevailing public opinion.
"It may seem surprising to many who generally don't look at the nuance of public opinion on this issue because we frequently hear people quote the statements that publics on both sides support the two-state solution," Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and its Palestine Center educational program, told VICE News. "We hear that over and over and over again, but it's really a mischaracterization of where the public stands — and I think it always has been."
"When you look at the details, what the public supports isn't necessarily the two-state solution as it is conventionally understood by people who talk about it, but rather, the notion of being done with the other side, or separated from the other side," he added. "What people support is a solution: being done with the issue. From the Palestinian side, obviously, being done with the occupation; from the Israeli side, being done with having to deal with the Palestinians. But when you ask them about the details that are necessary for a two-state solution to happen — the question of the settlements, the question of ending the occupation, the question of dividing Jerusalem, anything to do with refugees — a majority of Israelis have been opposed for a very long time."
Among the survey's respondents, opposition to a Palestinian state was widely held by those who declared themselves right wing or centrist. But even among those identifying as leftists, 28 percent were against or unsure about returning to pre-1967 borders, and more than 48 percent were against or unsure about dividing Jerusalem.
"From this we can conclude that most Jewish Israelis oppose a two-state solution, and even those on the left are not quite sure about it," Mairav Zonszein, an Israeli-American writer, noted on the progressive blog+972 Magazine. "It also illustrates that the notion of what is considered 'left wing' in Israel has shifted to the right along with the rest of the public."
That shift, Zonszein suggested, is a direct result of official policies that have made the prospect of a sustainable Palestinian state an increasingly remote possibility.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu has said time and time again that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and will never be divided," she wrote. "Members of the Likud party have openly come out against the establishment of a Palestinian state and leaders of both Yisrael Beiteinu and the Jewish Home party could not be more explicit in how much they oppose the notion of a Palestinian state."
Unpopular as the idea may be in Israeli public opinion, Palestinian leaders have recently made the recognition of Palestinian statehood a political priority. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is pushing for a UN Security Council resolution stipulating an end to the occupation by 2016. Sweden's government recently declared that it would recognize Palestine as a state, and parliamentarians in the United Kingdom passed a nonbinding resolution to diplomatically recognize a Palestinian state.
Some Israeli officials have cautioned that Palestinian leaders will achieve nothing outside of negotiations, while others have responded to their effort with scorn.
"I am not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict and maintain relations in a way that works for our interests," Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alonremarkedlast week. "We need to free ourselves of the notion that everything boils down to only one option called a [Palestinian] state. As far as I am concerned let them call it the Palestinian Empire. I don't care."
Many Palestinians have also come to believe that a sustainable Palestinian state has become impossible.
"If you ask Palestinians today, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza prefer a two-state solution, but they also overwhelmingly do not believe that it's possible," Munayyer said. "Many do not believe that it's ever going to be possible again, given the extent of Israeli settlement expansion into the West Bank."
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs survey did not ask respondents what they thought of political alternatives to Palestinian statehood — but barring the two-state solution, the remaining options are either a single state that can equally accommodate Israelis and Palestinians, or a continuation of the current conflict.
"If you look at the poll itself, one of the things that you see is that people don't really want to see anything change, and that's because right now the reality is that there is an occupation. For Israelis, it doesn't affect their lives very much, and they would rather continue with the situation as is than change it," Munayyer said. "The alternative is not a one-state solution, it is a one-state apartheid reality which is what we have today essentially.… The status quo for the Israeli public is the solution."
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