Palestinian support for a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel is declining, a joint Palestinian-Israeli study has found.

The latest public opinion survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that while the majority of Palestinians and Israelis prefer a two-state solution to the conflict, Palestinian support for such a resolution has declined in recent months.

"The results show a decline in the Palestinians support for the two-state solution," Waleed Ladadweh, a researcher with the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research told The Media Line. "From 64 percent in December 2009 to 57 percent in this poll."

Dr Nabil Kukali, Director of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, agreed that Palestinian public opinion is trending towards a bi-national state.

"On the whole, Palestinians support the peace process, but there are some changes in attitudes towards the two-state solution," he told The Media Line. "The Palestinians feel hopeless and they don't think the Israelis will give the Palestinians one meter of their land."

Palestinians and Israelis were asked whether they preferred resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through two states for two peoples, a bi-national Palestinian-Israeli state in which Palestinians and Israelis would have equal rights or a Palestinian-Israeli confederation, in which two states share joint political institutions, an arrangement somewhat akin to Belgium. 71 percent of Israelis and 57 percent of Palestinians were found to support a two-state solution, 24 percent of Israelis and 29 percent of Palestinians were found to support a bi-national state, and 30 percent of Israelis and 26 percent of Palestinians supported a confederation.

Respondents were also asked which of the three solutions would be most difficult to implement. 21 percent of Israelis and 18 percent of Palestinians felt a confederation would be the most difficult solution, 29 percent of Israelis and 32 percent of Palestinians felt a two-state solution would be the most difficult solution, and 38 percent of Israelis and 42 percent of Palestinians felt a bi-national state would be the most difficult.

Ya'akov Shamir, prof. of communications at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said that while a growing number of Palestinians support a bi-national state, on the whole such an option is not on the table.

"In recent months the option of one state, for both Israelis and Palestinians, came up on the agenda," he told The Media Line. "Palestinians push this option as a threat to Israelis because whenever there are difficulties in negotiations or in making progress in the two state solution, they believe that the situation on the ground and the demographic reality may lead to international pressure to accept such an option."

"In Israel there is a group that believes that a bi-national state is inevitable because with Jewish and Palestinian communities so entangled in the West Bank, it will be almost impossible to divide them," Dr Shamir said. "The second argument is that Israel is so heavily invested in the West Bank, that when the Israeli public finds out what they have to give up for a two state solution, they won't support it [...] However, on the whole neither Israelis nor Palestinian are open to this idea."

Dr Shamir said the threat which a bi-national state poses to Israeli Jews explains the higher Israeli support for a two state solution.

"A bi-national state is a much greater threat to the identity of the Israeli public than it is to the identity of the Palestinian public," he said.

But Dr Jamil Rabah, Director of the Ramallah-based polling group Near East Consulting, said the growing Palestinian support for a bi-national state was not a result of the potential threat it posed to Israeli Jews.

"I don't think Palestinians see a bi-national state as a threat," he told The Media Line. "I think it's a genuine feeling that one democratic state in which Jews, Muslims and Christians all live together would simply be easier."

"Even before the Oslo process in the early 1990s many Palestinians spoke about a bi-national state," Dr Rabah said. "Today, Palestinians don't know where to go - the West Bank is infected with settlements, Jerusalem is very difficult to resolve. So more and more people feel that a Belgium-like confederation might be an easier solution to accomplish."

Dr Rabah said there are many unnoticed but important subtleties to surveys of Palestinian public opinion on the peace process.

"The results of these kind of surveys depends a lot on how the question is asked," he said. "The Israeli and Palestinian definitions of a two state solution are very different. Whenever we ask this question, the idea of a two state solution is strongly supported but only if the border is the 1967 border and refugees are given the right of return. So the question is not whether or not people support a two-state solution, but what type of two state solution?"

More than 1200 Palestinians were interviewed in person earlier this month in over 100 random locations throughout the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, while over 500 Israeli adults were interviewed by phone. The margin of error was 3 percent for the Palestinian poll and 4.9 percent for the Israeli poll.

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