World

‘Satisfaction Gap’ Divides Israelis, Palestinians

by Steve Crabtree

Reducing quality of life differences may be one key to curbing extremism

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Differences between Israelis' and Palestinians' living standards are similar to the differences in living standards between first world and a third world populations. According to World Bank estimates for 2006, per-capita GDP among Israelis was $18,580, similar to that of Western European countries such as Portugal and Greece. Among residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the comparable figure was $1,230, similar to developing nations such as Sri Lanka and Honduras.

It doesn't bode well for the peace process that, at least in the short term, the disparities between Israelis and Palestinians are likely to get worse. The conflict between Hamas and Fatah has added to the woes of a Palestinian population already strained by hostilities with Israel. In November 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a release that called for political action to address worsening conditions -- including decaying infrastructure and heavy restrictions on movement throughout the region -- in much of the Palestinian territories.

Quality of Life

Gallup's most recent poll data from the region reflect the differences in quality of life that the two populations experience. Asked to rate their own lives on a scale numbered from zero at the bottom to ten at the top, Israelis' average rating in 2007 was 6.84, which is far higher the 4.15 average among Palestinians. (Among both populations, the average ratings were somewhat down from 2006.)

When comparing the likelihood of Israelis and Palestinians to say they are satisfied with their standard of living, 72% of Israelis say they are satisfied with their current standard of living and just 47% of Palestinians say so. What's more, about half of Israelis (52%) say their standard of living is "getting better," compared to about one in four Palestinians (24%). Palestinians are far more likely to say their standard of living is "getting worse."

Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, who have been cut off from food, medical care, and other essentials from the West Bank since Hamas took over the region in June 2007, are most likely to say their standard of living is getting worse. Sixty-two percent of Palestinians living in Gaza say so, vs. 49% of Palestinians living in the West Bank, and 39% of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. The outlook for Gaza residents may become bleaker yet: the head of Gaza's energy authority announced Sunday that residents will now have to go without electricity for eight hours per day thanks to a sharp reduction in fuel supplies from Israel.

Unemployment has also become a severe problem in Gaza since local industries have been cut off from raw materials outside the region. Just 9% of Gaza residents currently say now is a good time to find jobs in their area. However, this perception is prevalent among all Palestinians; 14% of those living outside Gaza say they same. In Israel, the proportion of those surveyed who have a positive view of the local job market is considerably higher, at 41%.

Bottom Line

Pessimism and resentment among Palestinians is understandable given that so many of them live in poverty alongside the relative affluence of Israelis. Visibly working to reduce this imbalance by creating jobs could give more Palestinians the sense that they have some ability to improve their lives, and may be one key to limiting the appeal of extremists in the region.

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 Palestine 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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