Israelis: Peace With Arab World More Important Than Recognition as Jewish State

Polls conducted on behalf of a Washington-based peace institute also reveal support for relinquishing Arab East Jerusalem for demographic reasons, but opposing it as 'Palestinian capital.'

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While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has placed Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state at the forefront of his demands, the Israeli public appears to consider peace and normalization with the Arab world as a whole as vastly more important.

According to two polls carried out over the past two months on behalf of the Washington-based S Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, 69% of the Israeli public says it is more important “that the entire Arab world sign peace agreements and maintain normal relations with Israel,” compared to 21% who say that it is more important that “Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”

According to the polls, which have reached Haaretz, 59% of the Israeli public also believe that “achieving better security arrangements for Israel” is more important, compared to 28% who maintain that recognition of Jewish state is preferable. But 44% said that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewishness is more important than a defense pact with the United States, and 60% said that recognition as Jewish state is more important, compared to 22% who prefer “securing compensation for Jewish refugees who lived in Arab countries but were forced to leave in 1948.”

The polls reveal an interesting divergence of positions on East Jerusalem, depending on the exact wording of the question. 64% of the Israeli public is willing to relinquish Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem “such as Shoafat and Sheikh Jarrah” if it is for the purpose of “maintaining the Jewish majority in Israel.” This support is reduced to 54%, if the question is “do you agree or disagree that the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will be under Palestinian sovereignty” and goes down even further when the question is whether “part of East Jerusalem will be the Palestinian capital”: only 44% support this formulation, compared to 55% who oppose it.

The surveys reveal that a thin margin of support, 49%-42%, for Palestinian negotiations “based on the 1967 lines with equal territorial swaps.” 53% agree that in order to promote the talks, Israel will only be allowed to build within the major settlement blocs and will freeze construction outside them: 37% oppose this concession.

The polls also tried to gauge the possible political ramifications of a split in the Likud that may follow a Netanyahu decision to support a peace agreement with the Palestinians. 56% of the people who voted for the Likud Beiteinu party said they would vote for a faction headed by Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman that supported a peace agreement, compared to 19% who said they would vote for the anti-agreement group headed by Likud MK’s such as Danny Danon and Miri Regev. Among the general public, 47% said they supported Netanyahu’s positions on the peace process, compared to 21% who said they support the views of opponents such as Regev and Danon and 32% who said they have no opinion.

The surveys were carried out in February and March by Israeli pollster Rafi Smith among a group of 500 Israeli adults who form a representative sample of the adult population in the country. The maximal sampling error is plus-minus 4.5%.

Shoafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Most Israelis willing to relinquish it for peace.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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