Yesterday, J Street U Penn, the campus branch of J Street — a nationwide effort to promote a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict — hosted its annual Political Action Week panel, co-sponsored by the International Affairs Association and Dorm Room Diplomacy.
This year’s panel, entitled “Polls and Peace: Israeli and Palestinian Public Opinion and the Ongoing Peace Talks,” featured Ramallah-based pollster Khalil Shikaki and Dahlia Scheindlin — a leading analyst of Israeli public opinion — and was moderated by political science professor Guy Grossman.
The panel explored the ongoing U.S.-brokered negotiations between the two governments from a public opinion perspective, rather than focusing on specific political negotiation points. “We wanted students to receive a new perspective on what Israelis and Palestinians actually think about a solution — something often lost in the rhetoric,” College senior and J Street U Penn Co-Chair Ryan Daniels, who is also currently a Daily Pennsylvanian opinion columnist, said.
Scheindlin told a largely numerical story, discussing the variations and constants of Israeli public opinion over the 20-year history of peace negotiations. “The hard realities on the ground have changed dramatically since the second Camp David Accords,” she said. “But public opinion really hasn’t.”
She emphasized the importance of the increased number and permanence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the development of a divided Palestinian government. “These are game changers in terms of what can be done, what is possible,” she said. However, she also used polling data to show that public opinion doesn’t reflect these changes. “Israelis largely support the peace process, but beginning with the Second Intifada, have very little faith that this process will bear any fruit.”
Shikaki — whose firm, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, specializes in polling Palestinians — focused on how polling can be a tool to find common ground between the two governments. He discussed how his firm had found seven key compromises that a significant portion of both the Palestinian and Israeli public supports, including an independent, sovereign Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and a right of return for a limited number of Palestinians.
He also showed polling numbers that indicated steadily increasing Palestinian approval for a two-state solution, the dramatic divide in opinion between secular and religious Palestinians and deep misunderstanding of Israeli views among Palestinians, and vice versa. “There is a tremendous amount of collective ignorance and misperception of what the other side is all about and what their objectives are, and that’s a failure of leadership,” Shikaki said.
J Street U Penn leadership expressed a high level of satisfaction with the event. “It was a huge success. I don’t think it could have gone any better,” Daniels said. J Street will be holding a debrief for the panel at their next General Body Meeting on Nov. 25.