The turbulent “Arab Spring” that has rocked the region has had other
far-reaching effects, including making opinion polls easier to conduct and more
accurate, said leading pollster Dr. David Pollock, a former Middle East Advisor
to the US State Department and chief of research for the Middle east
region at the US Information Agency.
Pollock, who supervised and wrote
the Pechter Poll, sat down with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday to discuss the
poll’s findings, which he has presented to American, Palestinian and Israeli
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Despite years as the US State Department’s Middle East adviser
and chief of research for the Middle East region at the US Information Agency,
Pollock wasn’t sure how east Jerusalem Arabs would answer the questions when he
started last November – simply because no one had ever asked them in such a
The poll of 1,039 east Jerusalem Arab residents
found that 35 percent would prefer to be citizens of Israel; compared with 30%
who would rather be citizens of a future Palestinian state.
In a possible
peace agreement that divided Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, 40% said they
would move to stay in a neighborhood that was part of Israel; compared with 27%
who said they would move to stay part of Palestine.
While Israelis and
Palestinians are polled more frequently than residents of any other country in
the Middle East, no one has ever focused on east Jerusalem Arab residents
“It’s such a sensitive issue, people are a little afraid to
touch it because they didn’t know what the results would be,” Pollock said,
after a briefing of the poll at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on
Thursday. “It’s too sensitive, too uncertain, and potentially
“From a political Palestinian standpoint, it’s awkward to
find out that more of the Palestinians – in what you’d like to be your capital –
would rather be Israeli citizens than Palestinian citizens,” added
The poll’s exhaustive questions – ranging from economic status,
to satisfaction with Israeli services, to the biggest concerns in a future peace
agreement – shed light on the specific concerns of Arab residents.
answers give political leaders a scientific, organized glimpse into the
otherwise sketchy realm of popular opinion, which is often clouded by vocal
The reasons that many east Jerusalem residents want to stay
Israeli are economic: access to better jobs, smaller classes for their children
and better healthcare, according to the poll. “Their political sympathies are
not that strong; their preference for Israeli citizenship is for practical
reasons,” Pollock said.
The 270,000 Arab residents of east Jerusalem have
Israeli identity cards and can vote in local elections, and are eligible for the
same services as Israelis – including health care, education, unemployment and
Compared with Palestinians in the West Bank, they are generally
betteroff economically (44% have household incomes over NIS 4,800/month), on par
with Israeli Arabs – but still drastically lower than their Jewish counterparts
The Pechter Poll was completed over three weeks in November,
interviewing a random sampling of 1,039 Arab residents from all neighborhoods in
Jerusalem. Approximately 20 local interviewers conducted four or five
face-to-face interviews every day.
The study cost roughly $30,000, part
of which was funded by the Council on Foreign Relations. Pechter is
funded by think tanks, foundations, NGOs and occasionally small government
The two-year-old Pechter company has done 20 polls, all in the
Arab world – a relatively recent development. In-depth polls in the
Middle East have traditionally been difficult, given the region’s culture,
oppressive regimes and general mistrust of strangers asking probing questions
about political opinions.
“In other Arab societies, it takes a revolution
to make [polling] possible,” said Pollock. “In Iraq, you could never do polls
under Sadaam Hussein, but now it’s one of the most-polled countries. In Egypt… I
never would have trusted a phonebased survey, but now, people are free to speak
their minds without the fear of government,” he added.
The purpose of
polls is to quantify local opinions in a comprehensive and scientific process,
Pollock said. He characterized the “Arab Spring” of revolutions around the
region as an “eruption of public opinion” that illustrates the importance of
“In these days, with revolutions and uprisings, clearly what
ordinary people think matters,” said Pollock. “It would be foolish for anyone to
ignore the potential that popular attitudes could have to lead people to action,
and to actually change the political map.”
Many of the residents polled
last November expressed pessimism for the future of a peaceful
Jerusalem. Almost half of the respondents said they believed that some
groups would continue the armed struggle – even if there were a final peace
agreement – and 63.5% said a new intifada is likely, or somewhat likely, if
current peace efforts collapse.
But polls don’t just illuminate
complicated political opinions – sometimes, they can shed light on surprising
and humanizing aspects. One of the quirks that the study discovered – in
an open-ended question about concerns about a final status agreement – is that
should Arab residents lose their ability to move freely in Israel, 60% are very
concerned about continued access to the beach.
At the center of the
poll’s purpose is its attempt to answer the question, “what do they really
want?” in a specific, organized manner, to make it useful for policy
It sounds elementary, says Pollock, but it’s true: “If you want
to know why someone thinks something, just ask them.”