Israel’s Religiously Divided Society
9. The peace process, settlements and U.S. support
Jews in Israel are divided on whether it is possible for an independent Palestinian state and Israel to coexist peacefully with each other. Roughly four-in-ten Israeli Jews say a way can be found for two states to coexist, while a similar share say this is not possible.
Jewish opinion on this topic has been relatively stable in recent years, but Arabs in Israel have been growing less optimistic about the viability of a two-state solution. While half of Israeli Arabs still say it is possible for an independent Palestinian state and Israel to coexist peacefully, that figure has declined considerably, from 74% in 2013 to 50% in 2015.
On both sides, there is deep skepticism about the sincerity of political leaders in reaching a peace agreement. Jews doubt the sincerity of the Palestinian leadership, and Arabs generally are not convinced the Israeli government is truly committed to the peace process. But the mistrust goes even further: Four-in-ten Jews say the Israeli government is not being sincere in pursuing an agreement, and a similar share of Arabs say the Palestinian leadership is not being sincere in this regard.
Haredim, Datiim, Masortim and Hilonim express different views on the peace process, but the survey finds these views are more strongly correlated with Jews’ self-described political ideology. Those who say they are on the ideological right are considerably less likely than those on the left or in the center to say a peaceful two-state solution is possible. Jews on the right also are considerably more likely than others to say the Israeli government is making a sincere effort toward a peace settlement.
One of the more controversial issues in the peace process has been the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A plurality of Israeli Jews say these settlements help the security of Israel, but there is a political divide on this issue as well. The relatively small proportion of Jews (8%) who put themselves on the left side of the political spectrum overwhelmingly say settlements hurt Israel’s security, while those on the political right (37% of Israeli Jews) are just as apt to say settlements help Israel’s security or do not make a difference either way. Jews in the ideological center are split; equal shares say settlements help, hurt or do not affect Israel’s security. Meanwhile, most Israeli Arabs say settlement-building hurts Israel’s security.
The divide between Jews and Arabs on the peace process extends to views about U.S. support for Israel. Israeli Jews tend to evaluate the level of U.S. support for Israel as insufficient; about half say the U.S. does not support Israel enough. Israeli Arabs have a much different perspective: A strong majority say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel.
Political ideology in Israel
The Israeli media and general public commonly use the terms “left” and “right” to describe political ideology in Israel. These labels mainly refer to stances on the peace process and foreign policy. The ruling Likud party is often referred to as a center-right party.
To measure political ideology in Israel, the survey asked respondents the following question:
Some people talk about politics in terms of left, center and right. On a left-right scale from 1 to 6, with 1 indicating extreme left and 6 indicating extreme right, where would you place yourself?
Overall, 96% of Israeli Jews were able to identify their political ideology by using the scale, while 4% of adults declined or were unable to provide an answer. For the purposes of analysis in this report, respondents who selected 1 or 2 make up the “left” category. Those who selected 3 or 4 make up the “center” category, and respondents who selected 5 or 6 make up the “right.”
Using this method, more than half of all Israeli Jews (55%) identify themselves as in the center of the ideological spectrum, roughly a third (37%) place themselves on the right end of the scale, and the remaining 8% identify with the left.
Jewish opinion divided on viability of two-state solution
Jews are divided over whether a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) say this is possible, while a similar proportion (45%) say peaceful coexistence is not possible. Roughly one-in-ten (13%) do not give a firm answer either way.
There is a large ideological divide among Jews when it comes to views on this issue. Jews who place themselves on the left side of the ideological spectrum are about three times as likely as those on the right to say Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist in peace (86% vs. 29%).
Those who say their political ideology is in the center – more than half of all Israeli Jews (55%) – fall in between. Within this group, 46% say a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist, while 38% disagree, and 17% do not take a clear position on the issue.
After taking religious identity (i.e., whether Jews identify as Haredi, Dati, Masorti or Hiloni), religious observance and other demographic factors such as gender and age into account, statistical analysis shows that Israeli Jews’ opinions on this issue are most closely tied to their political ideology. (For more information on how political ideology was measured in this survey, see above sidebar.)
Religion, however, has an influence on views of a possible two-state future as well. Hilonim stand out from members of other Jewish subgroups in their views on this issue. A slim majority of Hilonim (56%) say peaceful coexistence between Israel and an independent Palestinian state is possible. By comparison, far fewer among Masortim (35%), Datiim (24%) and Haredim (22%) say such a situation could happen.
In addition to secular Jews, those who are better educated also are especially likely to say a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist. Roughly half of Israeli Jews with a college degree (51%) say a peaceful two-state future is possible. By comparison, among those who have a high school education or less, the prevailing view is that peaceful coexistence between Israel and a Palestinian state is not possible.
Israeli Arabs are somewhat more likely than Israeli Jews to say a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully (50% vs. 43%). Fully 51% of Muslims, 45% of Christians and 42% of Druze say a way can be found for a peaceful two-state future to occur.
Among Muslims, younger and older cohorts, adults with different levels of education and men and women are about equally likely to say a peaceful two-state solution is possible.
Trends over time in Israeli views on the two-state solution
As part of a broader series of international surveys, Pew Research Center has previously asked Israelis whether Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully. Over the last three years, there has been a sharp decline in the share of Israeli Arabs who say such a future is possible.
In 2013, roughly three-quarters of Arabs (74%) said a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist. After the breakdown of the peace process in early 2014, roughly six-in-ten (64%) saw the possibility for a two-state future. And following the Israel-Gaza conflict later in 2014, just half of Arabs in the new survey say Israel and a Palestinian state can peacefully coexist.
Among Jews, in 2013, 46% saw a two-state solution as possible. In the aftermath of the breakdown of the peace process in 2014, fewer Jews (37%) held this view. Despite the Gaza war, there was a slight uptick later in 2014 and early 2015 in the share of Jews who say Israel and an independent Palestinian state can peacefully coexist (43%). The impact of Israel’s subsequent elections and renewed violence is unknown.
Trends over time in views of a two-state solution: Results from other surveys
Since 2003, a nationally representative survey conducted annually by University of Haifa sociology professor Sammy Smooha has asked Jewish and Arab respondents whether they agree that “two states for two peoples” is a principle for settling the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
The surveys show that, between 2003 and 2015, Israeli Arabs have become increasingly skeptical about the idea of a two-state solution to the conflict. Among Jews, public opinion on the issue was largely stable until 2012. But since then, there has been a decline in the proportion of Jews who see the two-state solution as a viable framework to bring peace to the region.
Overall, the share of Arabs who say that “two states for two peoples” is a principle for settling the conflict has fallen from 89% in 2003 to 71% in 2015. Among Jews, the comparable figure has dropped from 71% to 60%.
Unlike the current survey, the University of Haifa survey did not ask respondents whether they think a peaceful two-state solution is possible. Still, in both surveys, the rising pessimism among Arabs is notable.
In June 2011 and April 2012, the Peace Index survey carried out by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute asked respondents the extent to which they believe that in the next 10 years there is a real chance to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the principle of two states for two peoples.
Data from this survey also show rising pessimism among Arabs. In 2011, 46% of Israeli Arabs and 43% of Israeli Jews said they strongly or moderately agree there is a real chance to end the conflict within the next 10 years with a two-state solution. A year later, the proportion of Arabs who said they strongly or moderately agree that such an outcome is possible decreased to 38%, but the comparable share among Jews remained largely unchanged (40%).
More recently, in December 2015, the Peace Index survey asked respondents the chances that a two-state solution will be implemented in the next 10 years. Among Jews, just 11% say the chances are very high or moderately high. Among Arabs, a similar share (15%) say the chance of implementing a two-state solution in the next 10 years is very or moderately high.
Slim majority of Jews say Israeli government’s peace efforts are sincere
Overall, a slim majority of Israeli Jews (56%) say the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians, but a substantial minority (40%) say their government is not sincere in this effort. Israeli Jews are more united in their views of the Palestinian leadership: A large majority (88%) say Palestinian leaders are not sincerely pursuing a peace settlement.
Jewish views on the sincerity of the Israeli government in pursuing a peace agreement are strongly tied to political ideology. A large majority of Jews who identify with the political right (70%) believe their government is genuinely seeking a peace settlement with the Palestinians, compared with just 23% of those on the left. A large majority of left-leaning Jews (75%) say the Israeli government’s efforts to achieve a peace settlement are not sincere.
Those in the center of the ideological spectrum are divided; 52% say the Israeli government is sincere in its efforts, while 44% disagree.
Jews on the political left are far more likely than others to say Palestinian leaders are sincerely seeking peace (37% vs. 9% among centrists and 7% among right-leaning Jews). While a majority of left-leaning Jews say Palestinian leaders are not sincere in this effort (58%), it is striking that Israeli Jews on the left are more likely to see the Palestinian leadership as genuine in its pursuit of peace than say the same about the Israeli government (37% vs. 23%).
Compared with political ideology, Israeli Jews’ religious identity is a far less prominent factor when it comes to views on the sincerity of both parties in achieving a peace settlement. Datiim (61%) and Masortim (62%) are somewhat more likely than Hilonim (50%) to say their government’s efforts to make peace with the Palestinians are sincere. The opinions of Haredim fall in between, with a slim majority (56%) saying the Israeli government is sincere.
Hilonim are somewhat more likely than others to say the Palestinian leadership is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with Israel, but still, only about one-in-ten (13%) express this view.
Israeli Arabs are considerably less likely than Jews to say the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians (20% vs. 56%). Most Arabs (72%) say this is not the case.
Majorities of Muslims (72%) and Christians (80%) in Israel say the Israeli government is not sincerely pursuing a peace deal. Druze are less likely to take this stance (49%); nevertheless, only 27% of Druze say Israel’s government is sincere. Druze are considerably more likely than other religious groups to take no position on this issue (24%).
Overall, Arabs are far more convinced than Jews that the Palestinian leadership is genuine in its efforts to bring about a peace settlement with Israel (50% vs. 10%). But even among Arabs, 40% say the Palestinian leadership is not making a sincere effort to bring peace to the region.
About half of Israeli Muslims (51%) and Christians (50%) say the Palestinian leadership’s efforts to make peace with the State of Israel are sincere. Druze are, again, less likely to offer an opinion.
Generally, Muslim men and women, as well as those across different education levels and age groups, agree that the Israeli government’s efforts toward achieving peace are not sincere. Similarly, Muslims belonging to different demographic groups are about equally likely to see the Palestinian leadership’s efforts as sincere.
On balance, Jews see settlements as helpful to Israel’s security
The building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has been a highly controversial issue amid efforts to reach a peace settlement. Many foreign governments and a United Nations panel consider these settlements illegal under international law codified in the Fourth Geneva Convention; Israel’s government disputes this interpretation.
A plurality of Israeli Jews (42%) say the settlements help the security of Israel, compared with 30% who say the settlements actually hurt Israel’s security and 25% who say building settlements does not make a difference either way.
Israeli Jews’ opinions about settlements are strongly tied to their political ideology. Only 13% of those on the left side of the ideological spectrum say the building of settlements helps the security of Israel. Among those on the right, 62% say the continued building of settlements helps the security of the country.
Israeli Jews who place themselves in the center of the ideological spectrum are evenly divided. Roughly three-in-ten political centrists take each of the three possible stances: that settlements help the security of Israel, hurt the country’s security or make no difference one way or another.
Although political ideology is most strongly correlated with views on Jewish settlements, religious identity also is tied to opinions on this issue. Dati Jews stand out from members of other subgroups for their strong support of settlements; 68% say the settlements help Israel’s security. Haredim (50%), Masortim (45%) and especially Hilonim (31%) are less likely to say this. In fact, more Hilonim say settlements hurt (42%) rather than help (31%) Israel’s security.
Most Israeli Arabs (63%) – including majorities of Muslims, Christians and Druze – say the continued building of Jewish settlements hurts the security of Israel. But roughly a quarter of Israeli Arabs (26%) hold the opposite opinion. Israeli Muslims (29%) are more likely than Christians (15%) or Druze (8%) to say settlements help the security of Israel.
There are no statistically significant differences on views of settlements among Muslims belonging to different age cohorts, those with different levels of educational achievement and men and women.
Settlers less optimistic about two-state solution
Overall, Jews who reside in the West Bank are less optimistic than Jews who reside elsewhere that a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist (33% vs. 43%).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jewish residents of the West Bank have a positive evaluation of the impact of settlements on Israel’s security. Nearly two-thirds of settlers (65%) say the settlements help Israel’s security. By comparison, 41% of Jews who live outside the West Bank say settlements help the security of Israel.
Among settlers, Jews who identify as Datiim are considerably less optimistic about the prospects of a two-state solution than are Datiim who reside elsewhere. Just 14% of Dati settlers say a two-state solution is possible, compared with 25% of Datiim residing elsewhere.
In addition, Datiim who reside in the West Bank are considerably more likely than Datiim who live elsewhere to say the Israeli government’s efforts toward peace are sincere (79% vs. 59%). And an overwhelming majority of Dati settlers (90%) say Jewish settlements help the security of Israel, compared with roughly two-thirds of Datiim residing elsewhere who agree (65%).
Trends over time in Israeli Jews’ views on settlements
Israeli Jews’ opinions on settlements have changed somewhat in recent years. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center in Israel in 2013 found that Israeli Jews were generally divided on the issue. Roughly three-in-ten respondents (31%) said settlements help the security of Israel, while 35% said settlements hurt the security of their country, and 27% felt settlements make no difference.
Two years later, the new survey shows more Israeli Jews see settlements as beneficial. Roughly four-in-ten (42%, up from 31%) now say the building of settlements helps the security of their country.
Half of Israeli Jews say U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel
The survey asked Israelis whether the amount of support given to Israel by the United States is too much, not enough or about the right amount. The prevailing view among Israeli Jews is that U.S. policy is not supportive enough of Israel, with about half (52%) expressing this view. Roughly a third of Jews (34%) say U.S. support of Israel is about right, and relatively few (11%) say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel.
As on views of the peace process and settlements, Israeli Jews’ opinions on U.S. support for Israel are strongly tied to their self-described political ideology. Those on the right (62%) are considerably more likely than those on the left (33%) or in the center (49%) to say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel.
Jews who identify themselves politically as left-leaning (8% of Israeli Jews) are divided in their views on U.S. support for Israel. Roughly even numbers say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel (32%), not supportive enough (33%) and about right in its level of support for Israel (34%).
Israeli Jews’ views on American support for Israel are not as strongly correlated with religious identity. The survey shows majorities across three of the four main Jewish subgroups in Israel (Haredim, Datiim and Masortim) say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel. Members of the more secular Hilonim are modestly less likely than other groups to say the U.S. does not support Israel enough (46%).
A majority of Israeli Jews who live in the West Bank (63%) say the U.S. is not supportive enough of their country, compared with 52% who live outside the West Bank.
Israeli Arabs are considerably less likely than Jews to say U.S. support for Israel is insufficient (12% vs. 52%). In fact, a big majority of Israeli Arabs say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel (77%).
Overall, just 13% of Israeli Muslims, 6% of Christians and 3% of Druze believe the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel. The vast majority of people in each of these groups say the U.S. supports Israel too much. About three-quarters of Muslims (75%) and Druze (76%) and 86% of Christians say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel.