Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Geneva Polls

The Geneva Initiative, a comprehensive peace plan for resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, just released a poll measuring Israeli and Palestinian support for the plan, both as a whole and broken down into its constituent parts. It makes for very interesting reading.

The plan itself has roughly six elements. First, Israel withdraws from virtually all of the West Bank (1:1 land swaps for the rest) and the Gaza Strip, creating territory for a Palestinian state. Second, East Jerusalem would be split between its Jewish and Arab quarters, the former going to Israel and the latter to Palestinian state (the Temple Mount would be under Palestinian jurisdiction, but the Western Wall would remain in Israeli hands). Third, Palestinian refugees (no word on their Jewish counterparts) would have the right to return to areas under the control of the new Palestinian state, or else, with the permission of the desired country, resettle in Israel, their current host country, or a third country. All refugees would enjoy compensation rights. Fourth, the Palestinian state would be demilitarized (no army, but a security force and a multinational force deployed in its borders). Fifth, while Palestine would maintain sovereignty over its own air, land, and water, Israel would be able to use its airspace for training purposes and would maintain two early warning stations in the West Bank for 15 years. A multinational force on the border of the two countries would help maintain security. Sixth, and most importantly, acceptance of a permanent status agreement on these lines would represent "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."

The levels of support for each individual provision vary wildly, as you might imagine, amongst Israelis versus Palestinians and from clause to clause. Yet, two things stand out. First, despite several provisions that are tremendously unpopular (Palestinians are strongly opposed to a demilitarized state and the security guarantees, Israelis are deeply opposed to the refugee provisions, and both sides don't like the Jerusalem compromise), the plan taken as a whole carries with it majority support amongst Israelis (52/38), with Palestinians in a dead heat (49/49). For both populations, this represents a significant uptick in support from last year -- a 14 point swing for Israelis and a 23 point shift for the Palestinians.

Second, the one area that both sides both expressed strong agreement on was, in my view, the most important clause: the one asserting that any such agreement would represent the final resolution to the conflict. This carried a 62/30 support split in Israel and a 63/35 split in Palestine -- both numbers far higher than any other provision or even the package as a whole, indicating that even many people who would not support the peace deal itself still would accept it as bringing closure to the conflict.

Overall, this poll presents excellent news, and I hope it gets more publicity.


N. Friedman said...

I think it is a confusing poll, for what it is worth. What does it mean, on each side, to oppose what the Geneva Institute plan? Does that mean, for the opponents, that it needs tweaking or does it mean that it is fundamentally flawed? That strikes me as a fundamental question. Even more fundamental is how willing people are to fight to prevent something they oppose. And, also, to what extent are people who support the plan overall willing to compromise on its details - as would likely be necessary to make a deal?

I cannot imagine how you find something encouraging in the polling results. There is no overwhelming support for resolving the dispute shown.

I might add: to what extent are polls in places like the PA and, even more difficult to gage, Gaza remotely reliable? I still recall the polling that did not show the rise of Hamas. Have the lessons of that mistake been learned?

David Schraub said...

I think it might be confusing to someone like NF, whose greatest fear, it seems, is that the war between Israel and Palestine might actually end (not that he'd say that, but I've noticed a seemingly reflexive recoiling against anything that might indicate Israelis and Palestinians aren't interested in hunkering down and preparing for an apocalyptic fight to the finish).

It's true that we don't know whether folks who oppose the GI plan want minor tweaks or major changes. But that's really not that important, because a majority of Israelis, and half of Palestinians, support the plan as currently presented. Even if they have exceptions to individual provisions (and many, as the poll indicates, do), they're still willing to sign onto it. If minor tweaks could swing even 10% of the "nay" votes (i.e., we assume that 90% of the nays are fundamentally opposed to the plan), that would give it a 20 point margin amongst Palestinians and a whopping 34 point margin amongst Israelis).

And even without any tweaking, an even greater number have signaled their willingness to recognize a final status agreement as final than those who would, personally, vote for this plan (a 32 point margin in Israel and a 28 point margin in Palestine -- numbers which generally qualify as "overwhelming"). Between the fact that the plan gets more support than any individual element of it, and the fact that simply resolving the conflict gets more support than everything else, that's powerful evidence that we're in an extremely good state and that tweaks this way and that are unlikely to meaningfully diminish support.

Finally, the polls I recall of the Hamas/Fatah election showed an extremely tight race. Fatah was projected to win, but its margin of victory was shrinking constantly in polls taken closer to the election (the first poll had them up 18% over Hamas, the last by only 8%). Polls showed Hamas had the momentum, and while the last poll projected Fatah winning by 8%, Hamas ended up winning by 3 percentage points, apparently gaining from the collapse in support of third parties once voters entered the polling group.

joe said...

It's encouraging news in the medium-to-long term, but polls can really say what the pollster wants them to say (see Research 2000), and the Geneva Initiative doubtless wants to cheerlead its own plan. Even if a poll is methodologically sound, it might not translate into the kind of political will to alter the status quo. DADT springs to mind; lurching around like a policy zombie for the past decade.

And the idea that "tweaking" can only drive the approval rate higher is one heck of an assumption. I mean, sure, GI can adjust the plan in the abstract for the best marginal rate of return in terms of each side's "yes" responses. But the real process of political negotiation turns a lot of people off. The drama of our health care bill in the US is instructive. The individual provisions polled well (at least, when explained to the respondents, but that's more information than a lot of voters operate on) -- but the whole package was not so popular.

On the other hand, health care still made it through, albeit absent popular provisions like single payer. And it took sixty years.

David Schraub said...

Joe: But this is the opposite of healthcare. There, individual provisions are popular, but the bill itself bled support. Here, individual provisions are unpopular, but the package still carries considerable support -- mostly, it seems, because the one thing that is really popular is getting a final deal agreed to.

joe said...

Good point. Reading comprehension fail for me.

N. Friedman said...


Again: what about the 49% of Palestinian Arabs who oppose the proposal? Would they accept the result or would they make war to prevent any settlement with Israel? The poll says nothing about this - yet, it is the single most important question. Not to understand that point's centrality is to live in dreamland.

I might add: would Jewish groups on the fringe accept a resolution? I am not so sure they all would either. Most such groups probably would but, remembering back to the "man" who assassinated Rabin, I am not that sure that there would not be a stubborn group which would fight any compromise, most particularly over Jerusalem.

For the record: your comment entirely misinterprets my viewpoint. I certainly want the dispute to resolve and certainly believe in reaching some form of compromise that ends the dispute, if one would end the dispute. I just do not think we are anywhere near a real resolution and I do not think that the Geneva Initiative is a step towards that resolution.

Even if the cited poll were correct, it is arguable that 1/2 of those polled on the Arab side would not even consider a final deal to end the dispute. It is also more than arguable that what came out in the poll would not permit tweaking that would still result in the same mere 49% of Palestinian Arabs supporting it. I also note that some polls ask Palestinian Arabs whether ending the dispute means ending incitement against Jews and Israel and, historically, large percentages of Palestinian Arabs say "No" to that notion - which, to note, is also central to whether the dispute will end with a negotiated agreement.

This dispute has been going on for more than 80 years. People have worked hard to find a compromise. Aside from the hardline politics and religious objections raised to settlement, there are geographical problems that, by themselves, make optimism something that needs to be checked at the door. You want the dispute to settle. So do I.

However, there are substantial numbers of people who will settle only on their terms, with the other party vanquished. Jews have such people under somewhat better control than do Palestinian Arabs. But, it is the views, frankly, of those who object to settlement on principle which are the most important here. How much violence are such people, on either or both sides - either side is enough here -, willing to use to keep the dispute from ending?

Given the last 80 years, I am willing to predict that the percentage, most especially on the Arab side, is too substantial now to reach a settlement. That, to note, is not my wish. It is, however, my observation based on having seen this dispute over the course of a lifetime.

David Schraub said...

From the looks of it, it seems like 35% of Palestinians (and 30% of Israelis) would not accept this plan as a final status resolution. The point is that this is considerably fewer (for both Israelis and Palestinians) than the number of folks who oppose the plan, indicating that a not-insubstantial number of folks who would not support the plan would nonetheless accept it as final if put into effect.

Nobody is saying this is a panacea. But it is clearly good news that over 60% of both Palestinians and Israelis are willing to see such a plan represent a final resolution to the conflict, even if they dislike some of the plan's elements, even, it seems, if they could not support the plan themselves. The quest for unanimity will only result in the unanimity of the graveyard. These are numbers we can work with. To say there is nothing encouraging in this polling data is cynicism for the sake of it.

N. Friedman said...


You write: "The quest for unanimity will only result in the unanimity of the graveyard. These are numbers we can work with. To say there is nothing encouraging in this polling data is cynicism for the sake of it."

The issue is not unanimity and it is not majority rule either. The Middle East is not the United States. Given that it is not the US, the issue is whether those who oppose the resolution will put down their arms even though the Almighty says that they must fight.

In the US, we have our anti-abortionists. Those in the US who take up arms for that cause are few and far between. In the Middle East, those who think not only that the Almighty has important things to say but that the Almighty makes it a religious duty of the first order to use violence to achieve religious ends are not a mere few. Rather, they are a substantial portion of the population. Not to understand that fact - and it is a fact - is to live in dreamland.

Polling is interesting. However, a poll that says nothing about the nature of the opposition means exactly nothing here. It is simply nonsense.

David Schraub said...

It is not "nonsense" to be heartened that supermajorities (60%+) of both Israelis and Palestinians would consider the entire conflict settled if a plan such as the one outlined in the GI were accepted. To note that extremists would still exist and would need to be combated does not make these figures any less heartening, unless we're only allowed to be heartened by golden guns and silver bullets. To point out that such polls don't obviate every problem does not mean that such figures don't represent excellent news that makes our battles considerably easier than they would be otherwise. That's unabashed good news.

I submit that were an agreement such as this ratified, with 60% of both Israelis and Palestinians willing to say "as far as I'm concerned, the conflict is now over", there would be enough will to crush any holdouts who wanted to try and press the matter militarily. Indeed, the only way we might have hope of crushing the militant holdouts is the knowledge that substantial majorities on both sides of the border would oppose their campaign -- it is, more or less, a prerequisite. And these figures give ample source for optimism that this would be the case.

Your attempts to deny the hope these polls represent is desperate clutching at the straws of cynicism. It is devoid of responsive analysis, and it isn't worth the time of folks who are looking for ways to end the conflict, not excuses to sit on their asses.

N. Friedman said...


I do not deny hope. I deny that an agreement, just now, would end the conflict. I am, moreover, skeptical that there is a basic change of heart among Palestinian Arabs in favor of ending their long expressed preference for only an interim agreement.

Were there 35% of Americans who were under no circumstances willing to live with abortion and willing to take up arms against it, the super majority would not be in a position to hold the minority in check. So, I reiterate that what you write is nonsense.