Do Israelis and Their Politicians Disagree on the 'Bi-National' Issue?
So, it’s a year since the general election that resulted in the current Israeli government. Are Israelis happy with the outcome? How would they vote today?
If you cast your mind back a year, the now-ruling Likud didn’t actually “win” the election — a fact the whole world seems to have forgotten. The largest party was Kadima, which received 28 of the Knesset’s 120 mandates. Likud received 27, but given that, it was able to pull together a working coalition led the government. If new elections were held now, Likud could be confident of a clear win. According to a new Haaretz-Dialog poll, partly published here, Likud would now return to the Knesset with 35 mandates, while Kadima’s head-count would drop to 26.
Perhaps the most interesting result of the poll is one that isn’t featured in the article hyperlinked above. It concerns Israel’s future in the West Bank. The key word in discussions about the West Bank at the moment is “bi-national.” The belief across the center of Knesset is that Israel needs a peace deal that will take it out of the West Bank, otherwise the only option left will be a single bi-national state in which, as demography runs its course, Jews will be outnumbered (it was this consideration that drove the disengagement from Gaza). Defense Minister Ehud Barak forcefully made this point last week, as reported here. But apparently the Israeli public doesn’t share this fear. Only 28% of respondents answered yes to the following question: “May our continued presence in the territories lead to a bi-national state?” The fact that only just more than one in four Israelis even consider accepting the principle that is guiding the political discourse of the country is quite startling. Some 53% of respondents actually dismissed the possibility.
So what it going on here? There seem to be two possibilities. One is that there really is a disconnect between politicians and the public on this subject. It’s conceivable that the public backs politicians advocating policies that seem to make sense without really engaging in the intellectual mindset that got them there. The other is that the result is due to the wording of the question, with bi-national being a slightly academic word that doesn’t push people’s buttons in the same way as the more commonplace talk of Israel and the territories becoming a “state for all its citizens” or talk of the “demographic issue.” Only time, and another poll, will show which it was.