For the Right Man, Israelis Would Make Peace

The consensus is moving to the right, but that doesn't mean Israeli Jews won't support a deal with the PA if the right leader comes along, a new study shows.

When Labor Party chief Shelly Yacimovich reads the new survey by Tel Aviv University's Walter Lebach Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence, she'll be able to smile and tell her campaign advisers: "I told you there was no need to get worked up about the peace blather from that Abu Mazen" - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The survey, conducted in May, finds that 80 percent of Israelis don't believe it's possible to make peace with the Palestinians. Half of them don't believe it's ever possible to make peace, while half don't believe it's possible in the foreseeable future. About two-thirds support a diplomatic solution, but many more still eagerly buy the convenient argument that there's no partner. What a pity.

The survey is part of a long-term study under way since 2002 led by four specialists from Tel Aviv University: professors Michael Hopp, Yochanan Peres, Izhak Schnell and Dan Jacobson. They compare their findings with similar studies they conducted in 2002, 2003 and 2005.

In the first, they interviewed 3,800 Jewish Israelis in Israel proper and the West Bank, in the second 1,100, in the third 500 and in the fourth 1,200. Each survey was carried out during a relatively quiet period by two research institutes and was found to be free of errors.

The (relatively ) good news is that 87 percent of secular Jewish Israelis believe in the need for peace with the Palestinians, but only half the religiously observant and a smaller percentage of the ultra-Orthodox believe this. Traditional Jews have moved to the right and are now in the middle of the road.

The marginal occupation

The study shows that the occupation has become a marginal element in the national debate among both secular and traditional Jews. Moreover, only about 20 percent of secular Jews see the demographic threat as an existential problem and only one-third believe the occupation and the settlements are creating a security threat to Israel.

In the poll, nearly half the respondents consider Palestinian terror a major security problem; this reflects the strong influence of the second intifada and the terror from the Gaza Strip, making it hard for large segments of the population to support a compromise with the Palestinians. "These findings might well show that the policy of continuing the creeping occupation and the settlements is indeed bearing fruit and leading a change in positions among the public, even if gradual," the rearchers write.

Within the Green Line, the number who consider themselves rightists or right-leaning has increased from 41 percent to 48 percent. Two-thirds of this increase comes at the expense of those who say they hold centrist positions. But between 2002 and 2012 the left has strengthened; it has grown from 20 percent to 25 percent of the population.

The study shows that the right's determination to take action to advance its goals is stronger than the left's. This is seen mainly in the willingness to act against government decisions to evacuate settlements or territory, although this willingness is limited to nonviolent means.

While 60 percent of the public supports a democratic solution to the conflict, 22 percent of Jewish residents of the West Bank prefer the authority of the rabbis to the authority of the elected institutions.

Only six percent of the respondents (14 percent of the settlers ) see the use of violence to prevent withdrawal from the West Bank as legitimate, while 59 percent (70 percent of the settlers ) believe that the public only has the right to fight for its beliefs within the law (compared with 31 percent and 45 percent respectively at the beginning of the decade ). Around 37 percent of the secular respondents see the settlers as pioneers, compared with 32 percent in 2005, and 35 percent see them as "the bedrock of our existence," compared with 23 percent in 2005.

But this is only theoretical support. About 70 percent of the respondents show a preference to remain where they are living today. Twenty percent of the religious would prefer to move to live in the territories, whereas 14 percent would prefer to leave the country.

It turns out that the hard core of settlers as represented by Gush Emunim, which has pushed the Israeli government and public to settle in the territories, hasn't spread its messianic ideology among the public, or even among the settlers. It turns out that the main motivations for living in the territories, including among many of the religious, are comfort and quality of life.

Compensation up to 300 percent

The researchers found that it's possible to evacuate half the settlers with their consent if they are offered compensation equivalent to up to 300 percent of the value of their property. While the willingness of Israelis inside the Green Line to compensate the settlers for a loss of property during an evacuation decreased last decade, the willingness to be evacuated increased. And there was no significant change in the percentage of those who would refuse any compensation.

The researchers found that the occupation splits the public between people with a neo-Zionist outlook who emphasize a nationalist-religious agenda and a moderate Zionist majority that focuses on the land inside the Green Line and promotes a social agenda.

Therefore, the right is advancing its agenda unhindered, the researchers say. It's exploiting the confusion among centrists who have lost faith in the ability to achieve peace; the occupation remains on the margins of their political concerns.

Still, the researchers conclude, "a leadership that takes responsibility for finding a compromise solution with the Palestinians is expected to receive the support of most of the public, just as most of the public supported [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan, despite its disadvantages."Did you get that, Shelly?

Amos Biderman