Palestinians and Israelis Favor Nonviolent Solutions

by Lydia Saad

Israelis split on moral justification of military attacks on civilians

This is the sixth installment in a series examining attitudes toward the peace process among Israelis and Palestinians.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks spawned by last year's peace conference in Annapolis, Md., are falling apart just as President George W. Bush prepares to arrive in Tel Aviv for a historic first visit of his presidency to the region. Many are already dismissing Bush's plan to help revive the talks as futile.

The alternative to Mideast peace is painfully evident in the renewal of violence already taking place. Israeli air strikes on Gaza City last week killed at least nine Palestinians, including four civilians. Israel says this was in response to recent Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli border towns.

The Gallup Poll suggests people on both sides reject such violence, finding a majority of Israelis and Palestinians saying they favor nonviolent forms of resistance and negotiation as the best approach to achieving self-determination and security. Only about a third in Israel, and slightly fewer in the Palestinian territories, favor "armed struggle" as the better solution.

This is consistent with Gallup's finding that most Israelis and Palestinians support the peace process. (See "Support for Peace Shifts Among Israelis, Palestinians" in Related Items.)

Still, according to this question, Israelis became more militant than they were prior to the election of Hamas in Palestine in January 2006 and the 2006 military conflict with the Hezbollah group in Lebanon. The percentage of Israelis favoring "armed struggle" doubled from 16% in January 2006 to 32% in July/August 2007. Over the same period, Palestinians became relatively more likely to favor nonviolence as the preferred means to self-determination and security.

In terms of the violence committed in the region, the major combatants are generally the Israeli military and various Palestinian militant groups -- such as the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees that claimed joint responsibility for the recent rocket attack on Israel. Both sides use attacks on civilians to achieve their goals, whether through Israeli military air raids on Palestinian towns and villages to sweep out suspected militants, or through Palestinian suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Israeli shops and residential neighborhoods.

The peoples of both countries are in broad agreement that it is "never justified" for an individual person or small group of persons to target and kill civilians. Nearly three-quarters in Israel and an even higher percentage in the Palestinian territories take this view. That leaves only 22% in Israel and 14% in the Palestinian territories saying this type of violence is "sometimes justified" or that it "depends."

There is far less agreement among Israelis and Palestinians about the morality of military attacks on civilians. While the vast majority of Palestinians (86%) say it is never justified for the military to target and kill civilians, Israelis lean the other way: 52% say it is sometimes justified or depends, while 44% say it is never justified.

Bottom Line

The seemingly inevitable collapse of the post-Annapolis peace talks can only be seen as tragic in light of popular Israeli and Palestinian support for nonviolent solutions to the conflict. Both sides, but particularly the Palestinians, appear to reject the kind of violence against civilians that is often responsible for escalating the conflict. How long that can last isn't known, particularly with the support for nonviolent solutions in Israel possibly eroding.

Survey Methods

Results from Israel are based on face-to-face interviews conducted July 15-Aug. 6, 2007, with a randomly selected sample of 1,001 Israeli residents, aged 15 and older. For results based on the Israeli sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points.

Results from the Palestinian territories are based on face-to-face interviews conducted July 9-23, 2007, with a randomly selected sample of 1,000 Palestinian residents, aged 15 and older. For results based on the Palestinian sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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