From Qual to Quant and Back

I started my research career as a research consultant for Human Rights Watch in Israel and the Palestinian territories. My “data” came from what qualitative research:  lengthy, face-to-face interviews with knowledgeable people such as politicians, lawyers, human rights activists and ordinary citizens who have either witnessed, or personally experienced, interesting events. (There are other kinds of qualitative research, of course – focus groups, ethnography, journal entries, and more). Interview-based research is physically and emotionally demanding. It requires building a network of contacts to gain access to the right people; persuading those people to trust and speak with you, often for hours; engaging in emotionally intense, face-to-face discussions; carefully building trust and rapport; and then analyzing piles of typed transcripts, scribbled notes, or taped conversations. You either furiously write during the interview while also trying to listen, engage, and come up with new questions, or desperately try to remember as many details as you can to record in writing later. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to tape the conversation and even hire someone to produce a written transcript. Then, however, you are faced with hundreds of pages to wade through. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s I did interviews of this sort in multiple countries. Often, I used a translator, which adds complexity to the rapport-building exercise but also gives you more time to take notes during the interview, a research companion to talk about the work, and someone to help you navigate the process of finding the right people to speak with. My first translator was a Palestinian journalist, Walid Battrawi, now an important media figure in Ramallah, capital...
Public Opinion on Israel-Palestine is Changing in the Arab World

Public Opinion on Israel-Palestine is Changing in the Arab World

For as long as I can remember, the fate of Palestinians living under Israeli rule or in refugee camps in nearby Arab countries was a central concern for publics in the Arab world. Arab citizens, moreover, remained resolutely opposed to normalizing diplomatic, trade, and other relations with Israel before the latter withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza and permitted the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Recently, James Zogby, a respected Arab-American pollster, discovered through his own surveys in the Middle East that Arab public opinion has shifted rather dramatically. This is how he describes his new and surprising polling results: A “sea change” in Arab public opinion on the importance of the Palestinian issue. For decades, Israel-Palestine were at the top of the Arab public’s priorities, Now, they ranked “in the bottom tier” of concern in every Arab country he polled. “Significant majorities in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE [United Arab Emirates], moreover, felt it would be desirable for some Arab states to pursue normalization [with Israel] even without peace. Opinion was evenly divided in Lebanon, with four out of ten Palestinians also agreeing.” A majority of respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates favored the UAE’s recent decision to recognize Israel and establish diplomatic relations in return for an Israeli commitment to non-annexation of  the West Bank. The deal between the UAE and Israel has led to a significant drop in public support for annexation among Israel Jews. A dramatic Arab peace overture, in other words, has softened Jewish Israeli public opinion towards the Palestinians. Peace is not about to break...