U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, approved on Dec. 23, condemned the establishment of Israeli settlements outside the 1967 borders as “a flagrant violation under international law.” Though the United States abstained from the vote, Secretary of State John F. Kerry reiterated the U.S. government’s position that settlements remain an obstacle to the peace process in a speech several days later. The Israeli government has widely criticized the resolution and the Security Council’s focus on these settlements as well as the reference to the contested lands as “Palestinian Territory.”
Though this diplomatic disagreement has been widely covered, there has been much less discussion of the Israeli public’s sentiments. Where does the Jewish-Israeli population stand on the issues raised by the Security Council resolution? Do Israeli Jews view the territories in question — which in Israeli discourse are commonly known as Judea and Samaria, their biblical titles — as Palestinian territories or as part of Israel? Do they view Jewish settlements on these territories as residing on occupied territory? Or are they viewed as part of Israel?
A recent public opinion survey provides important insights on prevailing mindsets among this population. The survey was carried out between Oct. 28 and Nov. 3 and included 1,027 respondents over the age of 18, a representative sample of the Jewish-Israeli adult population. The sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percent.
Participants were asked if — to the extent of their knowledge — Israel has formally declared its sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. Even though Israel has never formally extended its sovereignty and prominent right-wing politicians are increasingly demanding Israel annex at least part of these territories, only about half of Israeli Jews surveyed replied correctly. The rest are almost evenly divided between those who erroneously think that Israel already annexed these territories and those who do not know.
Strikingly, among those who knew that Israel has not declared sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, practically half answered “yes” when asked whether Israel should formally declare its sovereignty over these territories. In other words, taken together, about half of the Jewish-Israeli respondents believe that Israel either has already formally declared its sovereignty over Judea and Samaria or should do so.
Interviewees were further asked if certain settlements built on lands captured in the 1967 war are within the territory of the state of Israel. The set included eight relatively long-existing settlements, most of which were established in the 1970s. The settlements included a diverse mixture of sizes, demographics and locations, including some in outlying regions and others closer to the pre-1967 war boundaries.
A majority of Israeli Jews thought that several of the settlements were within the territory of the state of Israel, and a plurality perceived others as such. However, none received an absolute majority of “outside the territory of the state of Israel” responses.
The small sample size of settlements restricts confident inferences about why some settlements are more likely to be perceived as within the territory of the State of Israel. Size and type of locality might be important: Ma’ale Adomim, Ariel and Kiryat Arba are all urban localities with larger populations than the other settlements in the sample, although Beit El is considerably larger than Kfar Etzion. Proximity to the “Green Line” — the boundaries of the pre-1967 war — does not seem to be significant. Ariel and Kiryat Arba are much deeper on the east side of the Green Line than Ma’ale Shomron and Kfar Etzion.
Familiarity, on the other hand, likely does matter. Ma’ale Adomim, Ariel and Kiryat Arba are names Israeli Jews are likely to hear in their daily lives, even if just in passing. All three have theaters for the performing arts and soccer clubs. Ariel has a university, and TV channels regularly provide its weather forecasts.
To be sure, the picture is not one dimensional. When asked about support for a two-state solution, considerably more respondents express support than opposition to it, a finding consistent with many other surveys.
However, when breaking down the population according to age group, more complex trends are revealed. In the case of the questions about Israel declaring sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, the critical tipping age is 50. A majority of those 50 and over responded substantively differently than younger respondents, the largest difference between categories.
Predictably, post-graduate education, political position and religiosity also matter. Those with a post-graduate degree tend to be more informed. Religious and traditional Jews are more likely than secular ones to perceive Ariel to be inside the territory of the state of Israel. Nonetheless, when holding these constant, age proves to be the most consequential explanatory factor.
The significance of the age of 50 is not incidental. The year 2017 will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war in which Israel conquered the contested territories from Jordan. According to the findings in this research, those born before 1967 are more likely to remember Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries. They know that Israel has not formally declared its sovereignty on Judea and Samaria. They view settlements to be outside the State of Israel’s territory. This is especially true for those who were at least 10 years old in 1967. For that generation, the Green Line is tangible.
In contrast, for those born after 1967, the boundaries of the pre-1967 war are not palpable. Karl Mannheim wrote in his famous “The Problem of Generations” that the specific range of experiences individuals in shared age groups undergo predisposes them to certain mindsets and perspectives. In the Israeli case, those born after 1967 never experienced the Green Line — they regularly see Ariel on the weather forecast, they drive by Ma’ale Adomim on route to the Dead Sea and they went on school trips to parts of the Judean Desert on the East side of the Green Line.
The daily life experiences of post-1967 Jewish Israeli generations contrast sharply with what they read and hear from the Security Council and Secretary Kerry’s speech.
Generational mindsets are not immutable — whatever the issue at hand. At the same time, it may be worthwhile acknowledging that the issue of Israeli settlements is not just an issue of demographic change. Rather, settlements’ contribution to the erosion of the pre-1967 Green Line in the mind-set of the younger generation of Israeli Jews may prove to be the more formidable challenge.
Oded Haklai is an associate professor in the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of “Palestinian Ethnonationalism in Israel” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) and co-editor of “Settlers in Contested Lands: Territorial Disputes and Ethnic Conflicts” (Stanford University Press 2015) and “Democracy and Conflict Resolution: The Dilemmas of Israel’s Peacemaking” (Syracuse University Press 2014).