Here, in one sentence, is the gist of Frank Jacob’s 1,500-word op-ed in the New York Times this week: Divided cities are bad, and we should strive to reunite them – except for Jerusalem, which we should instead strive to redivide, even though it will likely mean building a wall through its heart. “In a place where there’s no middle ground,where you’re either from one side or the other, it’s hard to see how a case can be made that both parts of the city belong together, and should grow together,” he pontificated. “Even [former West Berlin Mayor and German Chancellor] Willy Brandt would agree.”
I have no doubt Brandt would agree if he were still alive; most Europeans do. But here’s who wouldn’t agree: a sizable minority, and quite possibly a majority, of those East Jerusalem Palestinians whom Jacobs and his fellow pundits so blithely advocate tearing away from Israel.
In a November 2010 poll which 1,039 East Jerusalem Palestinians conducted via face-to-face interviews, fully 35 percent said they would prefer remaining Israeli if a two-state solution emerged, compared to only 30 percent who preferred Palestinian citizenship. The remainder declined to answer or said they didn’t know.
Since a Palestinian who openly prefers Israel would be deemed treasonous by most of his compatriots, the fact that a majority of those who actually answered the question nevertheless chose Israel is stunning – especially because the interviews were conducted by Palestinian pollsters (the poll was officially conducted by Pechter Middle East Polls and the Council on Foreign Relations, but they hired a West Bank firm, Dr. Nabil Kukali’s Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, to do the actual interviews). That makes it likely that among those who declined to answer, an even larger majority would have chosen Israel.
The same preference emerged from a different question: Would you relocate to Israel (or Palestine) if your neighborhood of Jerusalem ended up in the other? Fully 40 percent of respondents said they would move to remain in Israel, while only 27 percent said they would move to become part of Palestine. Again, the likelihood is that those who declined to answer would break even more strongly for Israel.
In September 2011, two weeks before the Palestinians formally applied for statehood at the UN, Pechter and the Washington Institute conducted a follow-up poll, again using Kukali’s firm for the actual interviews. This time, 39 percent said they preferred Israeli citizenship and 53 percent preferred Palestinian, seemingly indicating, as the pollsters wrote, that “views have shifted toward this option among the one-third who previously voiced uncertainty or refused to answer.”
But it could equally reflect the fact that amid all the hoopla over the imminent statehood bid, more Palestinians felt acutely uncomfortable publicly stating a preference for Israel, regardless of what they actually thought. This possibility is bolstered by the fact that while 42 percent said they would move to Israel if their neighborhood became Palestinian, only 44 percent said they would move to Palestine if their neighborhood remained Israeli. In other words, all those who publicly preferred Israeli citizenship were willing to move to obtain it. But among those who publicly preferred Palestinian citizenship, many fewer were willing to move to obtain it.
Clearly, none of this makes East Jerusalem Palestinians into Zionists; those who preferred Israeli citizenship mainly cited practical reasons: “freedom of movement in Israel, higher income and better job opportunities, and Israeli health insurance.” But that doesn’t make their preferences less worthy of consideration.
So before Westerners blithely assert that dividing Jerusalem is what’s best for its Palestinian residents, perhaps they ought to pay a little more attention to what those residents actually say.