BLOG - Peace Making Lessons from Northern Ireland to Israel and Palestine: 16 - Establishing leader, party, public and international confidence in the decisions to be made
Colin Irwin Fri 13 Jul 2012 updated: Sat 14 Jul 2012
Peace Building Problem.
At the moment of decision people start to lose their nerve. Is this a good idea or is it political suicide?
Northern Ireland Experience
Each poll contained a wide range of questions dealing with issues left over from the previous poll; the beginnings of new questions to be explored in greater depth in future polls; contextual 'how do you feel about' questions; ordering priorities and so on. But each poll also contained a set of questions designed specifically to help resolve particular problems that arose at that point in the peace process. In the first poll the most critical issue to be addressed was decommissioning. People did not want the negotiations to be stopped. If there was a problem they wanted it dealt with by a subcommittee. In the second poll all the objections to negotiations had to be dealt with. Critically Ulster Unionist supporters wanted their party to be in the negotiations with Sinn Féin. The third poll was designed to provide detailed information about public opinion on all the different parts of the agreement that had to be made. The agreement took shape and was tested as a ‘package’ in the fourth poll. Critically the parties knew before they cut a deal that they could win a referendum. They did. As well as demonstrating continued support for the Belfast Agreement in the three post agreement polls the first of these polls, the fifth poll, explored various options for overcoming the problem of decommissioning and new negotiations were initiated. The sixth poll dealt with these problems again in the Mitchell Review but also included a lot of questions about how people felt about the failing peace process. People wanted action and the new institutions of government were established. In the seventh poll the concept of 'placing arms beyond use' was tested against public opinion and shown to be generally 'acceptable'. But it was close. Although the Ulster Unionist Council decided to go back into government with Sinn Féin on this basis the vote was only 459 in favour to 403 against.
Public Opinion Poll Action
Content is as important as timing. Agree with the parties which questions are going to be run in which poll. The person or team running the poll must have their 'finger on the political pulse' and should know what results are required by paying close attention to people on the street, news reports, radio talk shows, the press and most importantly their private discussions with the party negotiators. Poll results cannot be 'fixed', but they must be relevant and the analysis must draw conclusions appropriate to the needs of the day.
Israel and Palestine
In addition to being the most researched conflict in the world Israel and Palestine are now probably the most polled as surveys of public opinion become an increasingly more significant element of democratic political culture all over the world. But quantity does not necessarily mean quality and certainly does not equate with polling as a constructive part of a peace process. In Northern Ireland the BBC and other news media were running polls but the peace polls there were simply bigger, better and critically more relevant to the resolution of the conflict than any of the other polls. They set a standard which, in time, the other pollsters had to meet or be dismissed as of little relevance. A well-managed program of peace polls does not only help resolve problems at the centre of a conflict it also raises the game for everyone else. The polling undertaken in Israel and Palestine lacks coordination so the good work that does get done is drowned out by the noise of other pollsters whose work is frequently of very poor quality or partisan. The analysts in Washington, Oslo, Geneva and other Western capitols may be very pleased with the public opinion surveys they commission but they are loosing the public diplomacy war where and when it matters.(1)
1 For example although the Geneva Accord website lists the polls that draw conclusions in support of negotiations and a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine they have edited out the partisan polls that oppose their initiative. This would be understandable if they were winning the public diplomacy war. But they are not. The partisan pollsters have won as illustrated by the sequence of polls listed below:
‘Survey: Israeli Jews oppose settlement freeze and evacuation of outposts’ (Israel News: Lerner, A., June 4, 2009)
‘Dahaf Institute Poll: Majority Of Israelis Support Obama’s Settlement Policy’ (Yedioth Ahronoth: Kadmon, June 5, 2009)
‘Poll: 56% of Israelis back settlement construction’ (Associated Press: June 12, 2009)
‘J Street blasts ‘distorted’ poll that says Israelis against settlement freeze’ (Haaretz Service: June12, 2009)
??Jerusalem Post’/Smith Poll: Only 6% of Israelis see US gov’t as pro-Israel’ (The Jerusalem Post: Hofman, G., and Smith Research/Jerusalem Post Poll, June 19, 2009)
‘Poll: Israelis oppose full settlement freeze 69%:27%, only 6% say Obama favours Israel’ (Independent Media Review Analysis: June 19, 2009)
‘Netanyahu’s Defiance of U.S. Resonates at Home: Polls Show Resistance to Settlement Freeze’ (The Washington Post: Howard Schneider, August 19, 2009)
The Geneva Accord polls are available at: http://www.geneva-accord.org/mainmenu/polls/