Healthcare professionals together with families of hostages protest outside the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Israel headquarters on November 9, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Credit - Alexi J. Rosenfeld–Getty Images)
New opinion polls just released from Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University's Peace Index indicate that Israeli attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more hawkish than at any point in recent memory.
Both surveys were conducted in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacre and the resulting war with Hamas, and sampled approximately 600 people each. The polls are part of a series conducted several times per year and attempt to be representative of the various factions of Israeli society, including Israeli citizens of Palestinian descent.
Despite thousands of protesters gathering in Tel Aviv to demand the release of the hostages held by Hamas, only 10% of Israeli Jews in the Israel Democracy Institute poll said they would support a pause in fighting in order to exchange hostages. Meanwhile, 44.3%, the plurality of Israeli Jews, said they want the government to negotiate for the hostages immediately without pausing the fighting.
Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow at Chatham House who specializes in writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says that while many Israelis want the hostages returned home, they are also worried that releasing Palestinian prisoners will lead to more attacks like the one perpetrated on Oct. 7.
“There is a view that in the past… Israel released more than a 1,000 prisoners for one soldier, including the head of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and look what happened,” says Mekelberg.
Of Israelis who responded to the Israel Democracy Institute poll, 26.6% said that Israel should not negotiate with Hamas for the release of the Israeli hostages at all.
Nimrod Rosler, the academic head of Tel Aviv University’s International Program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation, which conducts the Peace Index survey, says that the impact of recent events has significantly shaped public opinion on the peace process. Support for peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority among Israeli Jews fell from 47.6% in favor in September to just 24.5% in favor in the survey conducted between Oct. 23 and Oct. 28.
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“Since 2001, this is the lowest percentage we've ever gotten. And that includes during the second Palestinian intifada, during which there were large terrorist attacks against Israel, and other wars that occurred with Gaza and with Lebanon," he says.
Mekelberg says that this is because many Israelis felt that the Palestinian Authority did not condemn the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks strongly enough, and attempts to explain the context came across as justification to many Israelis. “There was a feeling that even though they did offer a condemnation, there was too much ‘but’ and trying to explain.”
Poll results were also hawkish when it came to the use of force in Gaza: 57.5% of Israeli Jews said that they believed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were using too little firepower in Gaza, 36.6% said the IDF was using an appropriate amount of firepower, while just 1.8% said they believed the IDF was using too much fire power, while 4.2% said they weren’t sure whether it was using too much or too little firepower.
On the Israeli Voice Index conducted on Nov. 5 and Nov. 6, Israelis also expressed dissatisfaction with the Netanyau administration, with 61.4% of all Israelis giving Netanyahu’s performance during the war a negative rating. On the Peace Index poll, Netanyahu did even worse, with 75.8% of Israelis rating the prime minister’s performance as “not so good” or “poor” in regards to the war. Nevertheless, despite the distrust in Netanyahu, trust in the IDF remains high. In Israeli Voice Index Polls conducted between Oct. 24-26, 49.5% of respondents said that they trusted the IDF more than Prime Minister Netanyahu, while just 7.3% said they trusted Netanyahu more than the IDF.
“This is very critical, the fact that Netanyahu’s electoral base is being eroded since the beginning of the war,” says Tamar Hermann, a senior fellow at Israel Democracy Institute. “A significant number of people who think of themselves as on the right or say that they voted for the Likud [Netanyahu's party] are now very critical of Netanyahu and his government functioning.”
Support for a two-state solution also went down slightly among Jewish Israelis, dropping from 37.5% in favor of a two-state solution in September to 28.6% supporting the idea in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks, according to the Peace Index polls. Among Arab citizens of Israel, support for a two-state solution was roughly the same, going from 68.7% being in favor to 71.9% being in favor after the attacks.
Mekelberg says that Arab citizens of Israel are much more in favor of both two-state and one-state solutions, since they are directly affected by inequalities baked into the current system. The average Jewish Israeli household's income is nearly double than that of the average Arab-Israeli household. “While they are both citizens of the same country, they have a very different existence,” says Mekelberg. “Both a one-state and a two-state solution give the possibility for them to become equal.”
Perhaps the most surprising finding from the surveys is that Israelis as a whole are more hopeful about their future now than they were before Oct. 7. In response to the Israel Democracy Institute poll, 64% of Israelis said they were “optimistic” or “somewhat optimistic” about the future of the country. Hermann says that the attack created a sense of unity among the Israeli public that was absent during the democracy protests earlier this year. “In the first part of 2023, the national consensus was totally shattered. Now that the electoral consensus is strengthened, it feels better for people to be part of a collective that shares both a common destiny and the war effort.”
Nevertheless, she warns that the feeling of consensus may be temporary. “Contrary to the gut feeling of many Israelis now … the discrepancies between left and right were very visible [in our data],” says Hermann. “When we ask them about preferences during the war or for the future we still see a significant difference between the political orientations, which means when the war is over, we are very likely to see them coming up to the surface once again.”
Mekelberg also warns not to over rely on polls taken during wartime. “The risk of running these surveys during war is that emotions run very high,” he says. “When it’s all settled, the answers might be different.”
Read more: Facing Israel's Trauma
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