Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What do Palestinians want?

So I just got email from One Voice:
The results [of their poll (.pdf)] indicate that 74% of Palestinians and 78% of Israelis are willing to accept a two state solution (an option rated on a range from ‘tolerable’ to ‘essential’), while 59% of Palestinians and 66% of Israelis find a single bi-national state ‘unacceptable.’ Additionally, according to the data, 77% of Israelis and 71% of Palestinians consider a negotiated peace ‘essential’ or ‘desirable.’ Ninety-four percent of Palestinians and 74% of Israelis think that the people must be continually informed on the negotiations process.
Odd, given that those numbers are completely out of line with most of what I've seen for the past decade or so. This Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre poll, from January, for example, shows 58% of Palestinians prefer a two-state solution. So that got me wondering. But also, just this morning, I read Jeffrey Goldberg ask if Palestinians really want a state. He quotes two people suggesting that Palestinians are more interested in their self-righteous indignation than in a state. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't want a state at all. In fact, it's a little annoying to frame it that way. But still, there's something compelling there.

So I took a closer look at the data, which is always a good idea! I should say that I'm totally in support of the OV movement. I think it's totally awesome, and support it with my full heart. But I also think it's important to be realistic and avoid cooked numbers that make the situation seem rosier than it is. And, though I'm going to talk about the data, I haven't gone through it with a fine-toothed comb.

One Voice writes inside their report (not the email):
The first choice for Palestinians is, as might be expected ‘Historic Palestine’ at 82% ‘essential or desirable’ followed by an Islamic Waqf at 71% ‘essential or desirable’. ‘One shared state’ is rejected by Palestinians at 66% ‘unacceptable’ followed by ‘Confederation’ at 65% ‘unacceptable’ and the ‘Political status quo with economic development’ at 40% ‘unacceptable’. The Palestinian results for the ‘Two state solution are very similar to the Israeli results at 53% ‘essential or desirable’ and only 24% ‘unacceptable’. So the ‘Two state solution’ continues to be the most widely accepted option for both Israelis and Palestinians and all other options presently being considered are less likely to gain as much support in both societies as a basis for a peace agreement.
But the results aren't "very similar" except in a very specific way. The numbers on each side who accept or refuse to accept a two-state solution are indeed roughly similar -out of context, they could even suggest greater support among Palestinians than Israelis- but it seems to have a different meaning for each group.

Fifty nine percent of Palestinians said that "Historic Palestine – From the Jordanian river to the sea as an Islamic Waqf" was essential. Seventy One percent said it was essential to have "Historic Palestine – From the Jordanian river to the sea." We should note that 18% thought a one-state solution in which Jews and Arabs were equals was essential, so those 71% and 58% statistics shouldn't be taken as the "nice" version often presented by Western one-staters. Only 38% said a two-state solution was essential. An additional 15% percent described a two-state solution as desirable. (That adds up to 53%, about in line with the JMCC poll. I think it's dubious to add in, as OV does, those who view the two-state solution as barely 'tolerable' or merely 'acceptable'.) One thing that's clear here is that these options aren't mutually exclusive. Some people have to be answering that both a two-state solution and 'Historic Palestine' are both 'essential.'

By contrast, only 17% of Israelis believe a "Greater Israel – A Jewish state from the Jordanian border to the sea" to be essential. Fourty seven percent found this unacceptable.

So there are some ways in which it's hard to really interpret this data. Or at least to compare. The meanings and shapes of responses seem to be different for each side. But also I think it points to a problem that needs to be recognized.

To create a Palestinian state or even just to settle the conflict requires more than a plurality of Palestinians opinions. It requires some sort of consensus. To talk about what Palestinians want in a way that reduces complexity and disagreement so that they are as an undifferentiated population, as Goldberg does, is essential. The conflict can't be solved individually. And, in that way, polling as OV uses it is rather awkward. It doesn't get at the consensus Palestinians have or would form. And that brings me back to the arguments before that peace is predicated on Palestinian democracy. Until then, what appears to be pluralistic support for a two-state solution doesn't have the force to guide negotiations. I think negotiations are still important, that a two-state solution is my ultimate aim, and that Israel should remove much of the settlements for no more reason than it's right to do -and I'm pretty optimistic about these things in the long term- but I don't think peace is around the corner.

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