January 16, 2011
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post:
One of the givens of the Middle East peace process is that Palestinians are eager to be free of rule by Israel and to live in a state of their own. That's why a new poll of the Arabs of East Jerusalem is striking: It shows that more of those people actually would prefer to be citizens of Israel than of a Palestinian state.
The poll, conducted in November, may be something of an embarrassment to Palestinian political leaders, who lately have been insisting that Israel should stop expanding settlements in the eastern half of Jerusalem -- in effect giving up any claim to it -- as a precondition for the resumption of peace negotiations. This week the demolition of a hotel in an Arab neighbourhood in preparation for the construction of Jewish housing prompted fresh criticism of Israel from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, while a leaked memo from European Union diplomats stationed in the city proposed that EU governments recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.
The awkward fact is that the 270,000 Arabs who live in East Jerusalem may not be very enthusiastic about joining Palestine. The survey, which was designed and supervised by former State Department Middle East researcher David Pollock, found that only 30 percent said they would prefer to be citizens of Palestine in a two-state solution, while 35 percent said they would choose Israeli citizenship. (The rest said they didn't know or refused to answer.) Forty percent said they would consider moving to another neighbourhood in order to become a citizen of Israel rather than Palestine, and 54 percent said that if their neighbourhood were assigned to Israel, they would not move to Palestine.
The reasons for these attitudes are pretty understandable, even healthy. Arabs say they prefer Israel's jobs, schools, health care and welfare benefits to those of a Palestinian state -- and their nationalism is not strong enough for them to set aside these advantages in order to live in an Arab country. The East Jerusalemites don't much love Israel -- they say they suffer from discrimination. But they seem to like what it has to offer. Remarkably, 56 percent said they traveled inside Israel at least once a week; 60 percent said access to its Mediterranean beaches was "very important" or "moderately important" to them.
"Quite clearly there is a discrepancy between people's attitudes and the assumption that Palestinian neighborhoods should be part of Palestine," said Pollock, whose work was sponsored by Pechter Middle East polls and the Council on Foreign Relations. "That's not actually what the people want."
It's important to note that East Jerusalem Palestinians are different from West Bank or Gaza Palestinians -- they live on Israel's side of its West Bank barrier and hold "blue cards" that allow them access to Israeli jobs, health care, and welfare payments. Many are middle class by Middle Eastern standards -- 44 percent of those surveyed had household incomes of more than $1,300 per month. Broadly, they resemble Israel's Arab citizens, who have also been shown in polls to prefer remaining in Israel to joining a Palestinian state.
The East Jerusalemites do have one thing in common with other Palestinians, as well as Israelis: They are pessimistic about the current peace process. More than 40 percent said that even if Israelis and Palestinians signed a peace deal and East Jerusalem became the capital of a new state, some Palestinian militants would certainly or probably continue an armed struggle against Israel. And fully 64 percent said it was very likely or somewhat likely that if the current negotiations collapse, there will be a new intifada, or uprising by Palestinians, including those in Jerusalem.
The bottom line messages seem to be that peace talks are essential to prevent violence, but that even success won't lead to total peace; and that a lot of Palestinians would prefer to live near, but not in, a Palestinian state.