A new poll of Israelis and Palestinians has found that a slim majority on both sides still favour a peace settlement establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, despite years of conflict and deadlock in negotiations.
The results of the joint poll may provide some small signs of encouragement when peace prospects appear bleak. The last round of negotiations broke down two years ago, and a resumption of talks, much less progress between the sides, at this point seems unlikely.
Tamar Hermann, an Israeli political scientist who conducted the survey with Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, said that under the current circumstances, the results were “not amazingly encouraging” but also “not discouraging”.
“It showed there is still some basis for optimism with the right leadership,” she said. “Right now I don’t see on the horizon a leader on either side willing or capable of using this as a springboard for intensifying the negotiations. But it’s not impossible.”
The poll found that 51 per cent of Palestinians and 59 per cent of Israelis still support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On the Israeli side, 53 per cent of Jews support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Among Israel’s Arab minority, the number is much higher, at 87 per cent.
Conversely, just 34 per cent of Palestinians and 20 per cent of Israelis support the idea of a single shared state where they are both citizens with equal rights.
After two decades of failed peace efforts, and nearly a year of low-level violence, distrust is strong. The poll found that 89 per cent of Palestinians feel Israeli Jews are untrustworthy, while 68 per cent of Israeli Jews held similar opinions toward the Palestinians.
It also found that 65 per cent of Israelis fear Palestinians. In contrast, just 45 per cent of Palestinians fear Israelis.
Hermann said she was surprised by the higher fear level on the Israeli side, and cited a number of factors. She said many Israelis have no contact with Palestinians, making it easier to “dehumanise the other side”.
She also said a recent wave of violence had jolted Israeli society, which had been more insulated from the conflict than Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. In addition, she said Israeli leaders – by painting the Palestinians as “utterly hostile” – and Israeli media reports had contributed to the atmosphere.