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Israel and the Palestinians

Attitudes toward Israeli Settlements

A modest majority believes that Israel should not build settlements in the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza. This is true both before and after respondents hear Israeli and Palestinian arguments on the issue.

In 2005, Israel abandoned its settlements in the Gaza Strip and pulled out of the area, but it was maintaining and increasing its settlement activity in the West Bank. Curiously, no publicly available poll questions were asked about this process in 2005, nor had many questions been asked about Israeli settlements prior to that time.

Until 2002, there was no data on the specific topic of Americans' view of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Partly for this reason, PIPA's May 2002 study asked a series of five questions on the topic of settlements.

Respondents were initially presented the subject of the Israeli settlements with the following statement: "A highly controversial issue is that Israel has built villages for Israelis, called settlements, in the West Bank and Gaza, which are territories where Palestinians live that have been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war."

Part of the sample was then asked, "Do you think it is all right for Israel to build settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, or do you think they should not?" Fifty-two percent said they should not, while 35% said it was all right (don't know, 12%).

To determine how Americans would evaluate the arguments presented on both sides, respondents heard two arguments in favor of the Israeli position and two arguments in favor of the Palestinian position. These arguments were written in close consultation with the representatives of the Embassy of Israel and the Palestinian UN Mission. The order of presentation of arguments was randomly reversed.

As shown below, a Palestinian argument based on international law did fairly well, with 57% finding it convincing, while another argument was found convincing by 51%. One of the Israeli positions was found convincing by a modest majority of 54%, and the other by just 51%.

After hearing the arguments, opposition to the settlements rose slightly to 54%. [1]

Israeli Settlements
Israeli Arguments
(written in consultation with Embassy of Israel)
Palestinian Arguments
(written in consultation with Palestinian UN Mission)
Israel has a right to build settlements in the West Bank and Gaza because Jews have lived in these areas for centuries and have legitimate historical claims to property there. UN resolutions 242 and 338, which were endorsed by nearly all members of the UN, including the US, called for Israel to withdraw from territories it invaded in the 1967 war. Thus, for Israel to build new settlements in these areas is illegal under international law.
Convincing 54% Convincing 57%
Just as Arabs live in Israel, Jews should be able to live in the areas which could come under Palestinian control in the future. Thus, Israel has a right to build housing for Jews who want to live in those areas. During the peace process, Israeli settlement activity doubled. As Israel was negotiating about land with the Palestinians, they continued to illegally confiscate land. Clearly the Israelis are negotiating in bad faith and undermining the peace process.
Convincing 51% Convincing 51%
Conclusion All right to build Should not build
Do you think it is all right for Israel to build settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, or do you think they should not? Before Hearing Arguments 35% 52%
After Hearing Arguments 32% 54%

The only other question on the settlements was asked in April 2002 by an Investor's Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor poll. It asked, "To what extent is the spreading of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights responsible for the suicide bombings by Palestinians?" Respondents were offered a seven-point scale, on which 1 meant "not at all responsible" and 7 meant "completely responsible." Seventeen percent declined to answer. Twenty-two percent gave a 1, 2, or 3; 14% gave a 4; and 48% gave a 5, 6, or 7. Clearly there is some propensity in the public to view the expansion of settlements as prompting Palestinian violence. However, this question is problematic, because it requires a respondent to go to one extreme of the scale and pick "1" in order to say that the settlements' spread is not responsible for suicide bombings, while the numbers 2 through 7 all signify some degree of responsibility. [2]

The ‘road map’ for Middle East peace proposed by the United States in 2003 included calls for Israel to relinquish some of its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza among other provisions related to resolving the conflict. While a majority opposes Israel building additional settlements in the disputed territories, Americans were wary of helping to finance the cost of resettling Israelis in Israel if their government agreed to this part of the road map. Asked whether they favored or opposed the US and EU helping pay for the costs of the resettlement, a majority of 54% was opposed, while 37 percent favored the proposal.[3]



Report Contents

View PIPA/Knowledge Networks study [pdf files]
Americans on the Middle East Road Map

[full report]
May 30, 2003