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Israeli Arabs: No Compromise on 'Right of Return'

Most Arab citizens of Israel are unwilling to compromise on “right of return,” or on Israel as a Jewish state.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 12/15/2010, 9:50 PM / Last Update: 12/16/2010, 12:44 AM

INN

A poll of 600 Arab citizens of Israel has found that most believe that the millions of descendants of Arabs who fled Israel during the 1948 War of Independence must be allowed to “return” to Israel. A full 57% said that the “right of return” is “important and cannot be compromised in any way,” while an additional 28% said the “return” of millions of Arabs is “important,” but a compromise could be found.

The poll was conducted by Professor Shibley Telhami, working with the University of Maryland and the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

The findings emphasize a major stumbling block to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that is not often mentioned in the world media. PA leaders, and leaders across the Arab world, insist that Israel accept as citizens an estimated 5 million people who claim descent from Arabs who lived in Israel prior to 1948.

If Israel were to do so, it would dramatically change the state's demographics, turning Israel into a majority Arab state.

Almost 50% of Israeli Arabs said they would not accept Israel as a Jewish state "under any conditions." Another 32% said they would accept Israel as Jewish only if a PA state were established.

The majority – 63% - believe that Israel and the PA will not make peace in the next several years, and almost 80% said that if peace is not reached, either nothing will change, or Israel and the PA will be in a state of “intense conflict.” Only 8% said they believe Israel and the PA will join in a “one-state solution.”

14% Want Revenge
The poll showed a disturbing trend for Arabs living in Israel to express hostility to Israel. The trend was particularly strong among those who say they have relatives who fled Israel during the 1948 war.

When asked how they feel about civilian casualties among PA Arabs, 14% said they feel the need to take revenge on Israel. Those with families who fled Israel were more than twice as likely to express the desire for revenge. For 8%, the need for revenge was their primary reaction.

While 60% of Israeli Arabs who do not have relatives who fled Israel said they feel empathy for Israeli civilians murdered by terrorists, only 27% of those with relatives who fled said the same, while 49% said their response to terrorist killings is to think that “Israelis brought it upon themselves.”

53% of those with “refugee” relatives said they rely on Al-Jazeera for news, and 6% said they watch the Hizbullah station Al-Manar; only 19% said they get their news from Israeli networks. Among those who are not related to “refugees,” 38% watch Al-Jazeera and 3% watch Al-Manar, while 37% get their news from Israeli networks.

Life is Better in Israel
When asked if they would support the transfer of Arab towns in Israel to PA control in a land swap, 58% said no. Of those, 42% gave their reason for wishing to stay in Israel as “job and living standards are better in Israel,” 22% said they do not want to be separated from other Arabs living in Israel, and 9% said Israel is more likely to be democratic than is a PA state.

Another 9% said they feel “no affinity” with PA Arabs, up from just 2% who said the same in 2009.

On the subject of Iran's nuclear program, 61% said they believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, but only 41% said Iran should be pressured to stop its nuclear program. The majority – 57% - of those without relatives who fled Israel said Iran should be pressured to stop its program, while only 28% of those with relatives who fled said the same.

Druze Most Israeli, Muslims Least
Druze citizens of Israel were most likely to view themselves as Israeli. More than 30% selected “Israeli” as their primary identity while 39% chose “Druze.” Sixteen percent said “Arab,” and 8% answered, “Palestinian.” Among Muslims, only 10% identified first and foremost as “Israeli,” while 34% said “Arab,” 27% said “Muslim,” and 24% said “Palestinian.”