Poll: Settlers Split On Leaving West Bank


Of the 95,000 Jews living outside of Israel’s security fence in the West Bank, fully 40 percent said they would refuse to leave even if Israelis voted in a referendum for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

On the other hand, one-third of Israelis living in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ariel — and fully 43 percent of those living in the Jordan Valley — said they would leave tomorrow if they received compensation for the move.

Although the future of Ariel is still to be negotiated, it was included in the survey along with the other areas “that at the end of the day will likely require evacuation,” according to Orni Petruschka, a founder of the Israeli group Blue and White Future, which commissioned the survey.

“There is a misconception about settlers — they are not monolithic,” he said. “They come in different flavors. They have more ideologues, except for those in Ariel. My intuition is that [Israeli] people are today less critical of settlers. … There is an appreciation of settlers’ family values.”

The poll was done to further the efforts of Blue and White Future in promoting a two-state solution, and it comes as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in Washington Monday to meet with President Obama as part of the ongoing peace negotiations. Petruschka called the two-state solution “critical for the future of Israel.”

“We cannot leave it in the hands of the Palestinians to move forward in that direction,” he explained. “Israel should take care of its own future. And to promote that, we have proposed a new paradigm that complements the current one — that everything is done through negotiations. We believe a two-state reality can be advanced through independent steps provided they are constructive, promote the reality of two states and bring us closer to the vision.”

Petruschka said he and the group’s other cofounders, former internal security chief Ami Ayalon and former Israeli peace negotiator Gilad Sher, believe that the reality of a two-state solution can be promoted even without an agreement. All Israel has to do, they said, is to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank and take steps to relocate most of the 95,000 settlers living outside the security fence. Twice in the past, when Israel took unilateral steps — withdrawing from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip — the vacated lands became terrorist havens.

“There needs to be a plan for their relocation that would involve urban planning, psychological issues, employment — things that should be planned ahead of time,” Petruschka said. “We don’t think trying to blame the settlers or portray them as obstacles to peace is constructive. It would be a mistake. Settlers were sent there by successive Israeli governments and they deserve to be treated properly and respectfully.”

Petruschka added that the “issue of voluntary evacuation is not only a smart thing but a moral thing for those settlers who wish to evacuate. There have been settlers in the Jordan Valley since the 1970s who are now in their 60s. There is no nursing home, clinic or hospital there, and their children don’t live nearby. They can’t sell their houses because there are no buyers. We have been using them as chips at the bargaining table, and we have built a fence around those people.”

The survey found that 46.5 percent of those 50 to 59 and 31 percent of those 60 and older were prepared to leave voluntarily without an agreement. Only 10 percent of those 18 to 29 shared that view. In addition, 45 percent of secular Jews said they are ready to leave but only 13 percent of religious Jews agreed.

Those figures could substantially increase if, for instance, the only kindergarten teacher in a settlement left.

“There could be a domino effect,” Petruschka said. “But we are not proposing that Israel disintegrate settlements. On the contrary, we want to resettle them” as an entire settlement — if they wish — within Israel proper.

Should there be a peace agreement, one-third of religious Jews said they would leave, and 68 percent of secular Jews agreed.

A majority of settlers — 55 percent — said they believed a referendum on any peace agreement is the legitimate mechanism to be used to confirm a deal, and that a simple majority is all that would be needed.

Fully 43 percent of those willing to evacuate after an agreement said they would be motivated by suitable compensation; 36 percent cited employment or vocational training; 32 percent said it would have to be a peace agreement they could trust; 26 percent cited psychological support for their children; 23 percent said it would be to get away from radicals, and 23 percent cited concerns about security in the West Bank.

The poll, conducted primarily by telephone, occurred three separate times: in April 2008, in January 2012, and in August 2013. Petruschka said the results of all three surveys were consistent. The three surveys had a sampling error that ranged from 3.1 percent to 4.5 percent. A total of about 1,200 settlers were polled in all, and the data was analyzed by the Macro Center for Political Economics in Tel Aviv.

The survey found that of the 20,000 Israeli families living outside the security fence, about 30 percent would by willing to move to a home in Israel proper in advance of any peace agreement provided they received sufficient compensation to allow them to buy a comparable home. Petruschka said that compensation would range between $300,000 and $400,000 for each family for a total of about $10 billion.

“That might be a frightening number, but Israel has absorbed a million immigrants from Russia,” he said. “I’m sure that once a peace agreement is in place, the international community will pitch in to help with the relocation of Palestinian refugees [to Palestine] and would incentivize Israel for this.”

Asked about the 40 percent of settlers who said they would refuse to move even if there is a peace agreement, Petruschka suggested that their views might change over time. He noted that in 2003 Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister on a platform that called for continued support for Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip; his chief opponent, Amram Mitzna, called for their evacuation. Sharon’s Likud Party won, receiving enough votes for 40 seats in the Knesset and Mitzna’s Labor Party won only 19 seats.

But by the end of 2003, Sharon came to the conclusion that the settlers had to be relocated and a poll of Israelis showed that he was able to convince 70 percent that this was the course to take, Petruschka pointed out.

The voluntary evacuation of settlements, he noted, would send a message to the international community that Israel is sincere in its quest for a two-state solution and “has no claim to sovereignty over the land east of the security fence. … It will defuse the issue of settlements and nobody will build there.”

“Israel would regain its standing [internationally],” Petruschka said.

And the message to the Palestinians, he said, is that “Israel has an alternative to the negotiations, and Israel will continue to be the democratic home of the Jewish people whether you agree or not. We would be telling them that if they continue to insist on the right of return there will be no agreement, but it will not jeopardize the future of Israel.”

Asked how that might go over with the Palestinians, he replied: “In any negotiations when you are willing to walk away from the table, you have a strong hand.”

Petruschka added that although he doubts the current coalition government will go along with this proposal, “I think it is our obligation to propose ways to advance a two-state solution. Things are very dynamic in Israel … and the relevance of proposals like this can change dramatically in a week’s time.”