Questions and numbers: Was I wrong? What do Palestinians want? Are Jews still smart?

December 15, 2016


A week and a half ago, I wrote a column under the headline ” target=”_blank”>to quote from his blog post, “to probe how the public feels about the prospect that Obama may initiate or support a U.N. resolution on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict before Trump moves to the White House.” He did this by presenting people with two opposing arguments – I presented just one of them in my article and hence created a misleading impression.

The first argument is this: “It’s wrong for Obama to act on such an important issue during the transition. The decision on this issue should be left to President Trump to deal with, regardless of the complexity of our political system. Besides, it’s not up to the United States and the international community to decide the final parameters of the political solution on this issue. This should be left first and foremost to the parties themselves. In addition, the Israeli government has opposed such steps and we must be mindful not to alienate them.”

46% of Americans agreed with this argument. 73% of Republicans and 21% of Democrats. The partisan gap concerning Israel is well known and can be seen in all polls dealing with Israel. It is also a main and worrying feature of the Telhami survey, as I wrote last week.

The second argument the poll presented was as follows: “One reason the United States has been ineffective in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that American Presidents face domestic political constraints in Congress, campaign contributions, and lobbies. Presidents have an opportunity to act effectively to advance the national interest during the Presidential transitions when they face fewer constraints. President Ronald Reagan did this before he left office in starting a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization that may have helped bring the PLO and Israel together five years later. The U.S. has a stake in this issue and it’s clear the parties have not been able to resolve it on their own. Obama should seize the opportunity.”

45% of Americans support this argument against the other one. 71% of Democrats and 20% of Republicans.

Is this a fair question? It is certainly fairer than I made it seem last week, and thus a correction is due. Is this a good question for a survey of Americans? I have my doubts. Some of them were explained last week, some in previous years when I was writing about this annual survey. I tend to think that questions to the American public about Israel and Palestine in a survey “must be simple, as most Americans barely know to locate Israel on a map, let alone explain the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Telhami’s questions are complicated. But he was right: when I criticize them I need to present them accurately.


I do not like polls when I can’t look at the numbers. I usually do not write about such polls. I will make an exception in the case of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey – but note that all I have is a long a detailed press release. It indicates that “two thirds of the Palestinian public believe that the two-state solution is no longer viable.” It also indicates that Palestinians (53%) want president elect Donald Trump to “stay out of the peace process.” 74% of Palestinians support “joining more international organizations,” 62% support “non-violent popular resistance,” 53% support “a return to an armed intifada,” and 48% support “the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.”

But what do they want to achieve by doing these things?

I assume they were presented with certain options when they gave the following answer: “46% believe that the first most vital Palestinian goal should be to end Israeli occupation in the areas occupied in 1967 and build a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. By contrast, 30% believe the first most vital goal should be to obtain the right of return of refugees to their 1948 towns and villages, 13% believe that it should be to build a pious or moral individual and a religious society, one that applies all Islamic teachings, and 11% believe that the first and most vital goal should be to establish a democratic political system that respects freedoms and rights of Palestinians.”

Are these the only options? How about: living a more peaceful and economically secure life – would that be an option that Palestinians would vote for even if a Palestinian State is not established “in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital?” How about: a Palestinian state in part of the territory, and excluding Gaza, and a more prosperous economic future? In other words: how about solutions that are not black-or-white, nothing-or-everything type of solutions – solutions that most Israelis and Palestinians agree are not viable at this time?

Wouldn’t you like to know?


A ” target=”_blank”>wrote about this not long ago, in one of the articles aimed at promoting my new book (English translation is coming in a few months). Here is what I wrote:

Jews in Israel today don't live in a country where they are a minority, and have a completely different culture than 19th-century European or 20th-century American Jewry. In fact, their culture is much more similar to other nations with diasporas that recently gained statehood after many generations without.

And the Jews in the Diaspora themselves have changed: While they don't convert to get ahead – there's no reason to do so in this day and age – their cultural distinctiveness is growing fainter. The same goes for biological continuity, which is rapidly being assaulted by intermarriage.

In other words: If the Jews need to be different to be smart, then they're already less different. If they need to marry Jews, then they're also doing that less.

Half of those living in Israel don't deal with the non-Jewish world. Half of those living in the Diaspora are not persecuted and discriminated against. This means that all of the explanations discussed until now [for Jews’ excellence] may have been a correct hypotheses for determining what made Jews so successful in the past, but they're not suitable now or for the future. They don't guarantee that Jews – if they once were smarter – will be smarter in the future…

I conclude my article by saying this (read it in full

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