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Israeli Public's Support for Dismantling Most Settlements Has Risen to a Five-Year High

April 15, 2010

By Alvin Richman

Questionnaire (PDF hosted at Truman Institute website)

A survey of the Israeli general public and Israeli settlers taken in early March shows three-fifths of the Israeli public (60%) support "dismantling most of the settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians." This is eleven points higher than the previous reading (49%) taken in December, 2009, and is the highest level recorded since 2005, during the debate over evacuating the Gaza Strip. Just one-third of the Israeli public (33%) opposes dismantling most settlements, including 13 percent very strongly opposed. This is the lowest level of strong opposition to dismantling settlements recorded by the Truman Institute for the 26 surveys in which this question has been asked since 2001. The survey was conducted by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Ma'ale Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank (Photo: michaelramallah)

In contrast to the views of the Israeli public, among Israeli settlers a large majority (69%) oppose dismantling most West Bank settlements. Moreover, a majority of settlers believe most of the Israeli general public shares its opposition to dismantling settlements. This is but one of several major misperceptions regarding the settlements issue revealed by the latest Truman Institute survey.

The survey found numerous misperceptions among both the settlers and the general Israeli public. These include considerable underestimations of the Israeli public's predominant support for dismantling most West Bank settlements as part of a peace agreement, and the extent to which settlers' decisions to live in the West Bank are driven by personal quality of life issues, rather than by belief in a national or religious mission. Also, both the Israeli public and the settlers overestimate settlers' willingness to resist "by all means" a comprehensive evacuation of settlements in the West Bank.

These and other findings are examined more fully below.

The Truman Research Institute surveys of the Israeli public (sample of 501) and Israeli settlers (sample of 506) were completed by phone interviews between March 1-10 (general public) and March 4-14 (settlers). The margin of error for each sample is +/-4.9 percent. The settlers' survey dates overlap and may have been influenced by Vice President Biden's visit to Israel and his criticism, publicized on March 10, of the Israeli government's announcement of new housing units in East Jerusalem.

Views on Dismantling Most West Bank Settlements

A majority of Israeli settlers reject the idea of dismantling most settlements as part of a peace accord and believe, mistakenly, that most Israelis share their conviction. Israeli settlers and the full Israeli public were first asked about their own preferences about "dismantling most of the settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians," and then asked about their perceptions of how most Israelis view this issue.

The preferences of settlers and the Israeli public clash sharply: A 69 percent majority of settlers oppose dismantling most settlements as part of a peace agreement (23% in favor), while a 60 percent majority of the Israeli public support doing so, with 33% opposed. This is up sharply from plurality support of 49 to 43 percent last December.

However, the current near two-to-one Israeli public support for dismantling most settlements is misperceived by Israeli settlers, and even by the Israeli public to a lesser extent: Most settlers (57%) believe that a majority of the Israeli public oppose dismantling most settlements -- the reverse from what is actually the case. About one-third of the Israeli public (31%) believe a majority of Israelis supports dismantling most settlements, which is half the number who actually do so (60%).

One effect of the settlers' misperception that the Israeli public shares their view may be their readiness to support a general referendum as the way to legitimize their position on the settlements. Three-fifths of settlers say that the "authority to decide to evacuate or not evacuate settlements in Judea and Samaria" should rest with a referendum (60% compared to 36% who oppose it). No other institution came close to this level of confidence among settlers -- "the government" (43% of settlers favor giving it this authority), "the Knesset" (43%) or a Rabbinical authority (24%). In contrast, most of the Israeli general public prefer that such authority be vested in "the government" (72%) or "the Knesset" (67%), compared to half (51%) who favor a referendum.

Israeli Settlers' Motives and Values

Israeli settlers and the Israeli public as a whole overestimate the extent to which most settlement activity is driven by settlers' sense of religious or national mission. The settlers were first asked which of three factors was the most important reason for their own decision to live in their current settlement. "Personal wish for quality of life, housing and community" (46%) was found to outweigh a sense of "national or religious mission to inhabit the land" (31%), while belief that the territories enhance Israel's security (15%) was rated a distant third.

Israeli settlers and the full Israeli public were then asked which of these three motives they thought was most important for the majority of settlers living in the West Bank. Both Israeli settlers and the full Israeli public mistakenly believe that a sense of national or religious mission far outweigh personal quality of life issues as the primary motive for most Israeli settlers (see graph).

Israeli settlers were also asked their opinion about which of four different values affecting Israel's future development was the most important one. The value of "Israel with a Jewish majority" rates much higher among settlers (49% of settlers rate it as most important) than the value of "greater Israel" (16%), "democracy" (12%), or "peace" (20%). Despite this clear preference for a mainly Jewish state, a majority of settlers on a separate question expressed opposition to the proposed "two-state solution" (53% vs. 39% support) that would ensure a Jewish majority in the state of Israel.

Potential Resistance to Government's Order to Evacuate Settlements

The extent of likely settler resistance to a government decision for a comprehensive evacuation of West Bank settlements is overestimated threefold by the Israeli public -- and to a lesser extent by the settlers themselves. Israeli settlers and the full Israeli pubic were asked first about their own reaction "if the government decides on a comprehensive evacuation of settlements" in the West Bank, and then about how they thought most settlers in the West Bank would react to such a decision.

Most settlers said they would either obey a government decision for a comprehensive evacuation of settlements (20%) or only resist it by legal means (52%). One fifth of the settlers (21%) said they would "resist it by all means." However, when asked how they expected most settlers to react to such a government order, nearly three-fifths of the Israeli public (57%) -- and two-fifths (40%) of settlers -- believed most settlers would resist the decision by all means (see graphs).

Settlers were asked separately about their personal participation in earlier protests against the freezing or evacuation of settlements. About one-fourth (27%) said they had participated in "demonstrations, marches or assemblies" held in the West Bank; about one-tenth (9%) said they had participated in "active resistance to IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] evacuation of an outpost or settlement."

Conclusion

The Truman Institute's latest survey sheds light on Israeli views regarding West Bank settlements that are grounds for a less pessimistic outlook about Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects. The Israeli public's support for dismantling most settlements as part of a peace agreement has risen considerably in recent months and is at its highest level in five years (60%). Surprisingly, no more than a third of Israel's public and settlers know that the Israeli public mainly supports dismantling most settlements. Moreover, both the Israeli public and the settlers themselves greatly underestimate the extent to which settlers' decisions to live in the West Bank are driven by personal rather than ideological concerns and the extent to which settlers are willing to stay within the law in response to a government-ordered comprehensive settlement evacuation.


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