Public Opinion, Public Diplomacy and Peace Making
Dr. Colin Irwin
Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool
Like Northern Ireland the Israel Palestine conflict is one of the most intensely researched in the world. This includes public opinion. But at a time of change of Administration in the US, a new government in Israel and the appointment of George Mitchell as the President’s Special Envoy to the Middle East the time seemed right to introduce some of the public opinion and public diplomacy methods employed as part of the Northern Ireland peace process to Israel and Palestine. This report reviews that effort. Inevitably the research covers ground polled by others. No apologies are made for this as the intention here was to look afresh at the problems of Israel and Palestine from a slightly different perspective to underline and confirm existing truths and/or discover new truths if any such truths exist.
These methods have now been used with considerable success in Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Kashmir and Sri Lanka. One of the key features of these methods is to ask the people living in and through a conflict what they believe are the ‘problems’ that lay at the heart of their conflict, what the ‘solutions’ to these ‘problems’ might be and then to test these perceptions in both their own community and the society of their reported adversary. A month of such interviews in Israel and Palestine produced two very different questionnaires. One that focuses on the main features of a peace agreement, what negotiators frequently refer to as ‘substantive issues’ and the other on the failures of past negotiations associated with the ‘peace process’ itself. This first part of this report will deal with the substantive issues and the second part will deal with process.
The analysis of the substantive issues covered in Part 1 of this poll suggests that the shape of an agreement for a two state solution may not be very different to the various solutions proposed in the past. However, the results of the second part of this poll suggest that the peace process itself is in much need of reform and on this point there appears to be sufficient grounds upon which to establish an Israeli/Palestinian consensus for new negotiations that are not subject to the failings of the past.
About the poll. This poll was commissioned by OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine in collaboration with Dr. Colin Irwin of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool. The fieldwork to develop the questionnaires was undertaken by the research team in Israel and Palestine in November and December 2008. The fieldwork for the public opinion polls was undertaken by AWRAD of Ramallah and Dahaf of Tel Aviv following the elections in Israel in February 2009. Five hundred interviews were completed in Israel and six hundred in the West Bank and Gaza to produce representative samples of both populations in terms of age, gender, social background and geographical distribution. Publication of the results of the polls has been timed to provide the new administration in the US and new government in Israel with information to assist them in developing their policies for peace in the Middle East.