East Jerusalem neighborhood Issawiya (Alex Levac)
The East Jerusalem neighborhood Issawiya Photo by Alex Levac
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Arab residents of East Jerusalem are divided on whether they would want Israeli or Palestinian citizenship should a future Palestinian state be created, suggests a new poll released on Wednesday in Washington.

The survey, conducted by Pechter Middle East Polls in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations, asked a simple question that the leaders both in Israel and the Palestinian authority seem to ignore all too often: What do the people themselves want? And the people seem confused.

When asked if they preferred to become a citizen of Palestine, with all of the rights and privileges of other citizens of Palestine, or a citizen of Israel, only 30 percent chose Palestinian citizenship – as compared to 35 percent that chose Israeli citizenship. Another 35 percent either had no answer or declined to provide it.

A follow up question asked respondents if “most people in your neighborhood” would prefer to become citizens of Palestine or of Israel: 31percent thought that most people prefer Palestinian citizenship; 39 percent - Israeli citizenship; and 30 percent, once again, declined to answer or said they didn’t know.

When asked if they would move to a different location inside Israel, if their neighborhood became part of Palestine, 40 percent said they were likely to move to Israel, and 37percent said they will not move. In comparison, 27percent said they are likely to move to Palestine if their neighborhood became part of Israel, and 54percent said they will not move.

When asked to provide the top reasons they chose one citizenship over the other, those who chose Israeli citizenship stressed freedom of movement in Israel, higher income, better job opportunities and Israeli health insurance.

Those who chose Palestinian citizenship referred to nationalism and patriotism. Both groups, in each possible scenario, expressed concern over the possibility of losing access to the Al Aqsa Mosque because it’s unclear where  the permanent border will be.

Among other concerns about becoming Palestinian citizens that respondents cited were losing access to jobs and free movement in Israel, losing government provided health care, unemployment and disability benefits, and municipal services.

Those who chose to be Israeli citizens are concerned about discrimination, obstacles to receive building permits, problems with visiting relatives and friends in Palestine, and possible moral misconduct of the kids.

"I assume the Palestinian leadership wouldn’t be too happy about the results," Dr. David Pollock, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, who supervised the survey and analyzed it, told Haaretz.

"But I think the results are very credible and solid. I was there supervising the survey in Jerusalem in November and I am very confident in the results," Pollock said, adding that he felt "the main reason so little attention was paid to the opinion of people living there is because people were nervous to find answers to these questions."

"The Palestinian leadership might have been nervous because they understood these Palestinians have special benefits and interests not to lose these benefits," Pollock added, saying that "from an Israeli point of view – people are more interested in the political significance of the city than perceptions of the Palestinians who live there."
"Neither side had obvious short term interests in finding out what was under the surface," he added.

"A Palestinian expert and colleague of mine suggested to me that he accepts the results and takes it as a signal that the Palestinian Authority must convince more Palestinians that they can provide employment opportunities and services as well as Israel can – it’s a practical kind of challenge," Pollock said.

"From the Israeli point of view it’s kind of a mixed message – on the one hand for the Israelis who’d like to keep these neighborhoods forever it’s probably a pleasant surprise that a high percentage of Palestinians are willing to accept that," the senior researcher said, adding, however, that, "on the other hand around half of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem perceive that they are subject to significant amount of discrimination."

The Israeli government "should decide if they are indeed willing to integrate 270 thousand Palestinians," Pollack added.

"There is a real discrepancy between what policy-makers here, in Israel and in the territories assume about the Palestinians of East Jerusalem and what they actually want. I think that everyone – Israelis, Palestinians, other Arabs – should pay attention to these results," Pollock said.