Annexation Polls Lack Nuance

Supporters of full, unconditional annexation are not as many as Netanyahu seems to think.
June 28, 2020

The scope of all surveys is limited by the list of questions. Consider, for example, the following question from a survey by Israeli pollster Menachem Lazar: “What is your position on the Netanyahu plan to annex / apply Israeli sovereignty in parts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley in the coming weeks?”

But now consider some of the assumptions that are packed into this seemingly simple question. The question relates to a “Netanyahu plan.” This is significant, because we could call the plan by many other names such as “the Trump Plan,” or the “Government Plan,” or the “Netanyahu-Gantz plan.”

The question also mentions both annexation and applying sovereignty. This, too, is significant because there may be those who support the application of sovereignty but oppose annexation. It also mentions “parts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley,” but you could write “parts of the West Bank,” or “Israeli settlements in the occupied territories,” or “settlements,” which all mean different things.

And what do we mean by “parts”? Which parts?  Lazar doesn’t know. The survey respondents didn’t know. Neither do I. So, anyone who answers this question commits to a stance on something whose exact nature is unclear. Do “parts” mean two settlement blocs, or three, or a few isolated settlements, or 30 percent of the territory, or only the Jordan Valley, or only near the old Green Line?

Lazar’s survey is not unique. All surveys on the question of annexation have the same problems. The real problem is now with surveys but reality. No one can pose a good question and get a clear answer when the actual situation is so vague. You can ask a question like: “Are you in favor of the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim” and receive a meaningful answer. But you can’t ask, “Are you in favor of annexation somewhere, under certain conditions, sometime,” and receive a meaningful answer. Maybe that’s why Dalia Scheindlin, also a pollster, tweeted at me: “There is no basis to the claim that most Israelis support the policy.”

I was initially irritated by her tweet. Scheindlin is a pollster at an institute that promotes a leftist worldview. Understandably, she wants to downplay the argument that the public supports annexation. But when I reread all the annexation surveys, I came to the conclusion that Scheindlin was half right. Indeed, there is no basis for “claiming that most Israelis support the policy,” because there is no policy Israelis can support or oppose. Not until we know all the details.

Here’s another example of a somewhat confusing question, this time from a survey of the Israel Democracy Institute: “The coalition agreement, signed by both Likud and Blue and White, states that after a consultation between Netanyahu and Gantz, the government and/or the Knesset will approve the plan coordinated with the U.S. for the implementation of sovereignty over parts of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. Do you support or oppose such sovereignty in the near future?”

Can you follow the many assumptions required? What if one supports annexation without a leaders’ consultation, or without coordination, or just a partial annexation, or just annexation approved by the Knesset but not one approved by the government? How can someone begin to even answer the survey question?

The proposed answers to each question can also be tricky. Each survey offers several options as possible answers. Each option is another trap. Sometimes the question simply asks if you support or oppose a plan that is not clearly defined. Other, specific options were presented, such as, “I only support annexation approved by the American government.” This is actually a helpful option, as it tells us something about the conditions under which Israelis would approve or disapprove of annexation. Lazar’s survey presented the option of “annexation/applying sovereignty, but only in the Jordan Valley.” From this question we can infer that there are Israelis who limit their support to a particular geographical area.

So, we tried to arrange all the surveys and answers in a way that would show more clearly the views of Israelis when it comes to annexation. It wasn’t easy. We took a series of surveys, and tried to figure out who was  a clear supporter of a robust annexation plan or a clear opponent of even minor annexation.

Here’s one example of how we did it:

In one survey, we found a segment of the public that advocated for  full or partial annexation compared with any other option for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A similarly-sized segment said that it would support annexation even if it meant harming peace with Jordan. We considered these two segments as clear supporters.

Another example: In a January poll, a group opposed annexation even in the Jordan Valley — the region where annexation is considered the most consensual. We marked these as clear opponents. In some cases our choices could seem debatable. But to get a slightly clearer picture of what the public thinks, there was no escape from making these choices. In the table, we included all the polls used, and the findings we extracted from each survey, as well as the averages of the latest polls (from June).

Some conclusions:

About a third of Israelis (Jews and Arabs) are currently opposed to any annexation, and their number is rising. This is possibly because the decision is becoming more concrete; or maybe it is because of recent right-wing opponents (who understand that support of the plan implies support for the entire Trump program); or because there is not yet a coalition agreement that could provide the annexation move a broad political umbrella. We assume that most of the clear opponents could not be persuaded to change their minds.

Supporters of full, unconditional annexation are not as many as Netanyahu seems to think. They are about a fifth of all Israelis (and about a quarter of Jewish Israelis). However, the number of supporters is much higher when we count supporters of what we call “conditioned annexation.” That is, supporters who only support annexation if it’s coordinated with President Trump, or those who only support a partial annexation, or those who only support annexation in the Jordan Valley, or the settlement blocs, or if the whole coalition, including Blue and White, is on board. If we count these Israelis (excluding those who support annexation under impossible conditions such as the acquiescence of the Palestinian Authority), more than half should be counted as supporters (and closer to two-thirds of Israeli Jews). Of course, the problem with conditional support is that until we know what the plan is and what its terms are, we simply won’t know if this specific plan has a majority.

And it’s worth mentioning that support for the Trump peace plan is diminishing because the Trump plan is actually supported by Israelis who also support the “two-state solution” as the preferred alternative to resolving the conflict. In other words, and this is quite ironic, in Israel, full support of the Trump program is more a feature of the political center-left than one of the right.

A version of this column was published in Israel’s Maariv Daily.

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