Majority of Israelis Object to Term 'Occupation,' Survey Finds

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An Israeli soldier keeping watch as the children of Israeli settlers play in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, May 29, 2017.
An Israeli soldier keeping watch as the children of Israeli settlers play in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, May 29, 2017. Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

Fifty years after Israel’s conquest of the West Bank, a survey published Sunday shows the majority of Israelis do not believe the country’s continued control of the territories constitutes an “occupation.”

A majority of Israelis are also sure the construction of settlements in the West Bank is not an impediment to peace with the Palestinians.

The monthly Peace Index survey, published by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, found that close to 54 percent of Israelis are either “sure” or “think” that Israel’s control of the West Bank should not be described as “occupation.”

Stark differences were evident in the responses of Jewish and Arab Israelis: Whereas nearly 63 percent of Israeli Jews were averse to using the term “occupation,” only about 6 percent of Israeli Arabs were.

Although most of the Western world considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank an obstacle to peace, a majority of Israelis – albeit a small one, 51 percent – challenged this claim, describing it as “not right at all” or “moderately not right.” Among Israeli Jews, nearly 56 percent said they did not consider the settlements an impediment, whereas 30 percent of Israeli Arabs did not.

Considering that Israeli Arabs tend to identify with the plight of West Bank Palestinians, it would seem surprising that such a sizable minority – almost one in three – do not consider the settlements an impediment to peace.

Prof. Tamar Hermann, a co-editor of the monthly Peace Index, said there was no clear explanation for the finding. “Perhaps Arab Israelis see other impediments to peace, in light of the fact that they live in such proximity to Jewish towns,” she said.

Israelis were split on whether building in the settlements served the national interest, though Jewish-Israelis were far more likely than Arab-Israelis to view this policy as “very wise” or “moderately wise.”

A Palestinian protester arguing with an Israeli Border Policeman near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, in the West Bank, April 23, 2017.Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS

Most Israelis questioned thought the occupation strengthens the country militarily but weakens it diplomatically and economically.

The survey was based on a representative sample of 600 Israelis (500 Jews, 100 Arabs) and the margin of error was 4.1 percent.

June’s Peace Index survey devoted a number of questions to reflections on the Six-Day War, to coincide with its 50th anniversary this week.

Asked whether Israel should have immediately opened negotiations with Arab states after the war and offered them a comprehensive peace deal in exchange for relinquishing all the territories it had conquered (which also included Sinai, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem), 61 percent of Israelis said it should not have (65 percent of Israeli Jews; 41 percent of Israeli Arabs).

Asked to explain why such a large minority of Israeli Arabs would have objected to such a move, Hermann said: “Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are very averse to an agreement between Israel and Arab countries because they suspect – with justification – that their interests will be ‘sold’ in exchange.”

In a related question, respondents were asked whether Israel should have immediately annexed all the territories it captured in 1967. Close to half, 48 percent, said it should have (55 percent of Israeli Jews; 13 percent of Israeli Arabs).

The majority of Israelis questioned – 63 percent – were in favor of relaunching peace negotiations with the Palestinians, though an even larger number, 68 percent, did not think such negotiations would lead to peace in the coming years.

Even though most Israelis, 60 percent, described U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the region as successful, the overwhelming majority, 81 percent, didn’t rate his chances of clinching a deal between Israel and the Palestinians within the next few years.

Still, a majority (52 percent) of Israelis said they believed the involvement of Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, could help in reaching a permanent agreement with the Palestinians.

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