The creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel has been the object of prodigious diplomatic efforts but a recent poll suggests that many Palestinians, perhaps even most, would prefer living in the Jewish state.
The poll, published this week, asked 1000 Arab residents of East Jerusalem if they would prefer becoming citizens of a Palestinian state or of Israel. Thirty five per cent chose Israel. Thirty per cent chose Palestine.
Reasons cited by those who preferred living in Israel were better employment opportunities, government health insurance and the ability to move freely throughout the country. The minority who preferred living in a Palestinian state gave nationalist motives.
These results echo those of a poll carried out a decade ago in the Israeli Arab city of Umm Al-Fahm which then Knesset member, now Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman suggested be ceded to a future Palestinian state on the West Bank because of the city’s strong anti-Israel sentiment. The city, which has had frequent anti-government demonstrations, abuts the West Bank and a redrawing of boundaries would not be difficult. But no less than 83 per cent of its residents said they wanted to remain Israeli citizens.
Most cited the country’s high living standards compared to what were likely to experience in a Palestinian state. Many also said they preferred living under a democratic regime like Israel’s. Only 11 per cent preferred the city’s incorporation into a Palestinian state.
The 250,000 Arabs residing in East Jerusalem, the only part of the West Bank annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six Day War, are not Israeli citizens like the 1 million Israeli Arabs whose homes have been in Israel since the founding of the state in 1948. But the East Jerusalemites are distinguished from the 2.5 million West Bank residents by holding “blue cards” that give them access to Israeli jobs, welfare payments and freedom of travel within the country. These perks are not available to the Palestinians living on the West Bank under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.
The results of the East Jerusalem poll are not altogether surprising. When the security barrier built by Israel in the past decade on the West Bank began to cut through part of East Jerusalem, many Jerusalem Arab residents living on the West Bank side of the barrier moved back onto the Israeli side to ensure that they would continue to be entitled to the benefits afforded by the blue card.
Those polled in November were asked whether they would seek to relocate inside Israel if their current neighbourhood became part of the Palestinian capital. Forty per cent said they would seek to relocate and 37 per cent said they would not. In comparison, 54 per cent said that if their neighbourhood remained part of Israel they would not seek to move to the Palestinian side.
The results do not negate the authenticity of the Palestinians’ desire for a state of their own, something that history has denied them until now. The polls suggest, however, that in real life jobs and political stability trump the fanfare of history.
*35 per cent of Arab residents of East Jerusalem would prefer becoming citizens of Israel.
*30 per cent would prefer to be citizens of a Palestinian state.