Taking America’s Pulse On Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


Shibley Telhami is the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. An American of Israeli Arab heritage who moved to the United States at the age of 19, Telhami earned his doctorate in political science at the University of California at Berkeley and taught at such universities as Cornell, Princeton and Columbia. He has served as adviser to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and was a member of the U.S. delegation to the Trilateral U.S.

-Israeli-Palestinian Arab-Incitement Committee. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he recently completed a poll of 1,008 American adults conducted by GfK KnowledgePanel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Jewish Week caught up with him recently. This is an edited transcript.

Q: Your poll found that an increasing percentage of Americans favor a one-state solution (with full citizenship for all Arabs) rather than a two-state solution.

A: The percentage supporting a one-state solution increased from 24 percent last year to 34 percent this year, but that increase is not coming at the expense of those who want a two-state solution [but rather from support of keeping the status quo or other solutions]. That percentage has remained at 39 percent the last two years. I suspect we are seeing [the impact of] more young people. Those 18 to 29 are more supportive of a one-state solution. Another possibility is that over the past year, with all the talk of the failure of negotiations, the Gaza war and what people saw happening there, more people are feeling comfortable with the one state idea because they are not comfortable with the occupation.

At the same time, two-thirds of those who favor a two-state solution say they would opt for a one-state solution if a two-state solution were not viable.

That percentage was 64 percent last year and 66 percent this year, so it changed just slightly. My guess is that while people may want a two-state solution, they do not see it as realistic. But morally, one state gives them a way out.

Other than a two-state solution, is there any other choice?

A bunch of leading international relations scholars met in Washington recently and they tried to look at alternatives to two states. They couldn’t come up with one that would be equitable and workable.

How do Americans view the Palestinian plan to ask the United Nations to endorse a Palestinian state?

We told them some Europeans are for it, that Israel is against it, and asked what they think the U.S. should do in the Security Council. The number of people who want the U.S. to employ a veto is small — only 27 percent. Even among American Jews, a majority of them don’t want the U.S. to veto the resolution. The only category of people who want the U.S. to veto the resolution are Evangelicals.

A plurality of Americans want the U.S. to abstain on a resolution that simply endorses a Palestinian state, while one-quarter want the U.S. to support it. Everybody knows that abstaining is almost as strong as voting for it.

What is the breakdown between Republicans, Democrats and Independents regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue?

The differences across party lines are wide: 51 percent of Republican respondents want the United States to lean toward Israel, compared to 17 percent of Democrats. While most Democratic and independent respondents want the United States to lean towards neither side — 77 percent and 73 percent, respectively — less than half of Republicans want the United States to remain neutral. And slightly more Democrats than Republicans would favor leaning toward Palestinians — but the numbers here are tiny.

In your poll you asked that if there were no two-state solution, would you favor Israel’s Jewishness over its democracy, even if it means Arabs don’t have full rights and there would be occupation or annexation without equality. What did Americans think?

We found that 71 percent favor Israel’s democracy over its Jewishness. This holds to varying degrees across party lines: 84 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans.