Monday, March 30, 2015

J Street’s ‘peace’ problem

J Street calls itself “The political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” (J Street, Homepage). It advocates for a ‘two-state solution’.

Jeremy Ben-Ari is the founder and president of J Street. He wants the Arab-Israel conflict to end (Video: The J Street Challenge @ 1:07 minutes). He declares that, ”The majority of the people on all sides actually share a common view of how to end this conflict. They share a belief in two states for two peoples. They share a desire for a peace for their kids and their grandchildren. They want to figure out how to compromise in order to live together in peace and security” (Video, ibid 1:52-2:04 minutes).

Is he correct? Do Arabs and Israelis share so much they’re ready to accept one another in peace?

In Israel, polls forever ask who wants peace. These polls consistently show Israelis and Arabs want peace.

But what kind of question is that? Asking citizens if they want peace is like asking married couples, do you want a happy marriage?

How many are going to answer, ‘no’?

It’s a meaningless question. But it may be the main question J Street uses to legitimize its ‘peace’ proposition.

Look at a Zogby poll from February 2014. This poll purports to show that 74 per cent of Israelis and 47 per cent of ‘Palestinians’ supported a two-state solution (Mitchell Plitnick, “Poll Shows Diminishing Support for Two-State Solution”, Inter Press News Agency (IPS), February 1, 2014).

On the surface, this suggests that Arabs and Israelis really do “share a belief in two states for two peoples” (Ben-Ari speech, above). True, that 47-per cent support number from the Arab side doesn’t represent a ‘majority’. But it’s close enough.

But Plitnick (above) points out a problem. That 74 per cent Israeli support number is misleading (ibid). He suggests that if poll questions had actually added that a two-state solution meant “1967 borders…and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem”, Israelis wouldn’t have given a 74 per cent-support result (ibid).

Without those added details, the poll gives a false ‘positive’.

In two other polls through The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (The Harry S. Truman Research Institute For the Advancement of Peace, Joint Israeli Palestinian Poll, June 2014, June 30, 2014), summaries declared that app 62 per cent of Israelis and 53 per cent of Palestinians supported two states living side-by-side in peace (ibid, p.4).

But a closer look at the actual poll questions suggests that 62 per cent of ‘Israelis’ don’t really support ‘two states living side-by-side’.

Question 43 of this poll asks: “Do you support or oppose the solution based on the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, known as the two-state solution?”

In answer, 48.0 per cent of ‘Israelis’ chose ‘definitely agree’ or ‘agree’.  That’s clear. But then, another 14.2 per cent chose, ‘somewhat agree’.

The press release for this poll added these two numbers (48 plus 14.2) and told us, 62 per cent of Israelis support the two-state solution. But what does ‘somewhat agree’ actually mean?

A ‘somewhat agree’ response doesn’t sound like an endorsement. It sounds more like, maybe yes, maybe no. What would the poll result have been if ‘somewhat agree’ wasn’t an option?

Without answering that question, the poll gives a false ‘positive’.

The poll reveals yet another problem. Question 51 asks:

“There is a proposal that after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute, including the refugees and Jerusalem issues, there will be a mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people. Do you agree or disagree to this proposal?”

Here, 52.3 per cent of ‘all Israelis’ either ‘certainly agreed’, ‘agreed’ or ‘somewhat agreed’ to this proposal. But only 39.5 per cent of ‘Palestinians’ chose one of those three choices.

This poll had a 4.5 per cent margin-of-error for Israeli respondents. With such a margin-of-error, a support of 52.3 per cent (plus-minus 4.5 per cent) doesn’t suggest a ringing endorsement. When you also consider the ‘Palestinian’s’ 39.5 per cent response, you certainly do not see the kind of mutual acceptance necessary for two warring peoples to create a successful and lasting peace.

J Street declares that a two-state solution is possible because a majority of both people’s desire it. But poll numbers for ‘two-states’ aren’t compelling. Too often, ‘pro-peace’ results raise more questions than they answer. Too often, there lie beneath the surface dark enough suggestions to undercut the J Street ‘peace’ premise.

Besides, relying on polls that could well be the political equivalent of, ‘do you want to be happily married’, isn’t going to get you a realistic result.

If J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ari wants to sell ‘peace through two states’, he’s going to have to do better than that.


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