What Do Jerusalem Arabs Want? Elliot Abrams/Newsweek
Arab Legion Platoon on the walls of Old Jerusalem (1948)
It is conventional wisdom that all Palestinians seek, above all else, a Palestinian state. This is a reasonable conclusion to draw, although polls over the years have suggested that it may well be inaccurate.
Consider the most recent poll, by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Fikra Forum, and conducted by Nabil Kukali of the Palestine Center for Public Opinion.
A slim majority of Palestinians living in Jerusalem would prefer Israeli citizenship to being citizens of a Palestinian state, a new poll indicates. Just over half, or 52 percent, of respondents told pollsters they would prefer “Israeli citizenship with equal rights,” while 42 percent prefer to be Palestinian citizens when a Palestinian state is established. The figure is far higher than in polls conducted in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. In Gaza, just 4 percent said they preferred Israeli citizenship; in the West Bank, just 12 percent.
There are many logical reasons for such views on the part of Jerusalem residents who happen to be Palestinian Arabs. Israel is a democracy, while the future Palestine may not be. Israel is a reasonably rich country with decent medical insurance and old age pensions, while Palestine may not be. Israel has an international airport and beaches, while Palestine will not have those. No surprises.
But the basic finding is worth some reflection. Palestinians who live in Jerusalem would rather live in Israeli Jerusalem than Arab or Palestinian Jerusalem. They have, it is logical to assert, a more positive view of the actually existing Israel than of the future Palestine.
In part, this is presumably because Israel exists and its commitment to democracy and its level of social and economic development are clear, while Palestine may if it ever comes into existence be just another Arab dictatorship. Given all that, it isn’t surprising that so many Jerusalem Arabs would prefer to live in Israel.
So what do we learn from this? First, that American and Western—and Israeli—refusal to demand that the Palestinian Authority respect civil and political rights, and build democratic structures, is well recognized by Jerusalem Arabs. They want the creation of a Palestinian state, but they are well aware of its likely nature and prefer to live in a Western-style democracy.
Second, that the typical Arab and European denunciations of Israel as a racist society where Arabs are treated so badly is plain false. Those who live under Israeli law—with all its imperfections and failures—know better.
Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, where this article first appeared.