A new poll of Israelis and Palestinians released on Monday found that a slim majority on both sides still favor a peace settlement establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, despite years of conflict and deadlock in negotiations.
The results of the joint poll may provide some small signs of encouragement when peace prospects appear bleak. The last round of negotiations broke down two years ago, and a resumption of talks, much less progress between the sides, at this point seems unlikely.
Tamar Hermann, an Israeli political scientist who conducted the survey with Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, said that under the current circumstances, the results were "not amazingly encouraging,"
but also "not discouraging.""It showed there is still some basis for optimism with the right leadership,"
she said. "Right now I don't see on the horizon a leader on either side willing or capable of using this as a springboard for intensifying the negotiations. But it's not impossible."
The poll found that 51 percent of Palestinians and 59 percent of Israelis still support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On the Israeli side, 53 percent of Jews support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Among Israel's Arab minority, the number is much higher, at 87 percent. Conversely, just 34 percent of Palestinians and 20 percent of Israelis support the idea of a single shared state where they are both citizens with equal rights.
After two decades of failed peace efforts, and nearly a year of low-level violence, distrust is strong. The poll found that 89 percent of Palestinians feel Israeli Jews are untrustworthy, while 68 percent of Israeli Jews held similar opinions toward the Palestinians.
It also found that 65 percent of Israelis fear Palestinians. In contrast, just 45 percent of Palestinians fear Israelis.
Hermann said she was surprised by the higher fear level on the Israeli side, and cited a number of factors. She said many Israelis have no contact with Palestinians, making it easier to "dehumanize the other side."
She also said a recent wave of violence had jolted Israeli society, which had been more insulated from the conflict than Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. In addition, she said Israeli leaders — by painting the Palestinians as "utterly hostile"
— and Israeli media reports had contributed to the atmosphere."The only images the average Israeli, and I suppose the average Palestinian, gets are the negative ones,"
The survey interviewed 1,270 Palestinians and 1,184 Israelis in June, and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. It was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, where Hermann is a senior fellow, and Shikaki's Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.