Interaction with Israel has moderated Jerusalem Arabs, expert says (The Times of Israel)

Arab residents of Jerusalem are significantly more conciliatory to Israel than their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza, a recent poll has found, leading its author to conclude that interaction with Israeli society has a dramatic moderating effect.

A Washington Institute poll conducted in June this year among 1,500 Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem was widely cited in the media for its findings on the question of citizenship: 52 percent of Jerusalem’s 300,000 Arabs would opt for Israeli citizenship “with equal rights” rather than Palestinian citizenship in a future two-state scenario. In the West Bank, a mere 4 percent said they’d prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian, and 12 percent in Gaza.

Israel extended its sovereignty to East Jerusalem following its capture from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. Jerusalem’s Arab residents automatically received residency status granting them Israeli health insurance, social security, and the right to vote in municipal elections, though less than ten percent have applied for full Israeli citizenship.

The poll’s findings continue a trend of positivity toward Israel among Jerusalem Palestinians observed in two previous polls conducted by the Washington Institute in 2010 and 2011, and cited by Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat as proof of the need to keep Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty.

But it is not only on practical issues, such as citizenship, where Jerusalem Arabs diverged from their West Bank and Gaza counterparts. Indeed, the poll found significant differences between the two groups on softer issues pertaining to recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, a long-time demand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinians eat hummus at a Palestinian-owned restaurant in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of French Hill, May 27, 2015 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Seventy percent of Jerusalem’s sample group of 500 respondents said they would accept the formula of “two states for two peoples — the Palestinian people and the Jewish people.” The latter part of that phrasing is crucial; many Palestinians, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, refuse to acknowledge Jews as “a people,” insisting they are nothing more than a religion and therefore not entitled to self-determination in a nation-state. In the West Bank and Gaza those figures were dramatically lower, with 56 and 44 percent respectively accepting that wording.

But an even more dramatic discrepancy between Jerusalem Palestinians and the others appeared when asked to agree or disagree with the sentence “Jews have some rights to the land along with the Palestinians.” Forty percent of Jerusalemites agreed with the sentence, as opposed to just 13% in the West Bank and 11% in Gaza.

David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (courtesy/Washington Institute)

David Pollock, a Kaufman Fellow at the Washington Institute who constructed the poll, said the findings were all the more dramatic given the uptick in violence between Jews and Arabs in the city last summer, and the construction of the security barrier, physically separating an estimated 80,000 Palestinians from the rest of Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem Palestinians have learned to understand the reality and even the legitimacy of Israel,” Pollock said during a presentation of his data at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies on Tuesday. “These people have day to day contact with Israel and Israelis and derive some benefit from that and not just trouble,” he said.

“Working together, over time, tends to produce more moderate attitudes,” Pollock added.

Moderation, in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, is a relative term. Fifty-five percent of Jerusalem respondents said they would still want to liberate “all of historic Palestine” in a two-state reality. Sixty-one percent supported “armed struggle and car attacks against the occupation,” a figure only slightly lower than that of the West Bank and Gaza.

As a matter of fact, the most extremely anti-Israel results emerged from the Jerusalem neighborhoods located beyond the security barrier. Five years ago, Pollock noted, those were the people who most wanted to become Israeli citizens. Today, having abandoned that hope, they have become more radical than the beleaguered residents of the Gaza Strip.

Apartment buildings in Ras Khamis peek over the security barrier in East Jerusalem (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

Despite a steady climb in applications for Israeli citizenship in recent years, the numbers are still minuscule: around 1,000 a year, half of which are accepted. Pollock speculated that the stigma of “joining the enemy,” coupled with the high cost of lawyer’s fees for the application, have dissuaded most from starting the process. The only advantages to Israeli citizenship over residency, he said, are the right to vote in national elections and the security of a legal status that cannot be revoked by authorities as easily as residency.

Some would see the poll results as a triumph for official Israel’s claim of succeeding to forge a united Jerusalem, nearly 50 years after the Six Day War. But Pollock suggested that Israeli leaders should not rest on their laurels.

“The trend is as much because things have gotten worse for Palestinians in the West Bank as it is because they’ve gotten a bit better in Israel,” he said.

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