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Poll: American Support Grows For One-state Solution In Israel


Last week, you may remember that we reported that CNN had fired commentator Marc Lamont Hill after he made a speech about Palestinian rights at a U.N. event. Critics interpreted his appeal for a, quote, "free Palestine, from the river to the "sea," unquote, as a call for the destruction of Israel, and they branded his remarks as anti-Semitic. He strongly denies that, saying his call was for justice for all parties in Israel and the West Bank Gaza.

Well, now, a new poll from the University of Maryland finds that many Americans share the views expressed by Hill. Pollsters asked if the Trump administration should pursue a peace plan that would create two states - one Jewish and one Palestinian - or if the U.S. should pursue a one-state solution, and the responses were equally split.

To tell us more about the poll and what it says about how Americans view the Middle East conflict now, we've invited Shibley Telhami. He is the director of the University of Maryland's Critical Issues Poll. He's been probing American attitudes about the conflicts in the Middle East for more than 30 years. He's with us in our studios in Washington. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So if you could just walk us through how the pope laid out the options for a peace settlement - and just recognizing that this is tricky because a lot of people know this subject very well, some people not at all. But the tricky part is that Israel is defined as a Jewish state. And if it became a single state including Israel proper and the occupied territories, then Jews could find themselves in the minority. So how did the poll lay out this dilemma?

TELHAMI: So, in general, what we ask is what the public wants the U.S. to advocate in its mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict among many options, such as two-state solutions for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza side-by-side with Israel, a Israeli annexation of the territories without equal citizenship, continuation of the occupation or a one-state solution where everybody is equal, both Arabs and Jews, knowing, of course, that this means that Israel would no longer be possibly a Jewish state or defined as a Jewish state. And historically, what we've had is most people support a two-state solution.

And a few years back, we started seeing a decline in the two-state solution support and a rise in the one-state solution, but still, the two-state solution way ahead. This is the first time where we find roughly the same number of people who support two states also support one-state. Thirty-five percent say they prefer the U.S. to advocate for a one-state solution, and 36 percent say they prefer the U.S. advocate for a two-state solution.

MARTIN: The U.S., especially under President Trump, considers Israel a close ally. And this has raised questions about whether the U.S. can be an impartial mediator. What did Americans say when you asked if the U.S. should lean more toward Israel or toward Palestinians?

TELHAMI: And this is also something I've been studying literally for 30 years. So we have a track record of looking at this. One thing has not changed in those 30 years is the strong majority of Americans always say they want the U.S. to lean toward neither side throughout. And now too we have still over 60 percent who say they want the U.S. to lean toward neither side.

What has changed is that, among Republicans, an outright majority - now 57 percent - say they want the U.S. to lean toward Israel directly. However, among Democrats, the overwhelming majority 82 percent want the U.S. to lean toward neither side.

MARTIN: So, finally, what is the big takeaway for you from this survey after having, you know, polled in this area for so many years? What do you think the headline is?

TELHAMI: Well, there are really three headlines. One headline is the American public, especially Democrats, are really far from where the mainstream media is and congressional politicians are on this issue. Second, there's no question in my mind that there is a rising interest in the one-state solution. There's many reasons for it, in part, because it's been legitimized from both left and right, to be honest, including this administration, the right in Israel as well as not just the left but also because of a creeping recognition that maybe two states are not possible.

And many people, particularly on the left, worry that advocating the two-state, even if they want it, is if it's not possible anymore, it's in a way legitimizing the status quo that they see as unjust. The third is that - on the question of generational change, there is no question in my mind that the generational trend is more and more toward a one-state solution in the data. We've seen that before, and that is increasing.

MARTIN: That's Shibley Telhami. He is the director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll. He's also the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. And he was nice enough to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Thank you so much for joining us.

TELHAMI: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.