Many assume that if the Israeli decision-makers were to openly change their position on the conflict and its resolution, the public would throng after them en masse and support an agreement. The present survey, like earlier surveys we conducted, shows that this assumption is very flimsy and that people are not hurrying to get on the Olmert government's peace train.

And apparently, despite the wide media coverage of the Annapolis conference and the prime minister's proclamation that it marked a political turning point of historic importance, the Jewish Israeli public's level of interest remained quite low; as in the period before the conference, the majority did not follow it with any regularity. Furthermore, notwithstanding the joint statement and the positive final spirit, the overall public sentiment was negative, particularly regarding whether the conference achieved a basic clarification of the disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians, or advanced chances of peace. People were more likely to remain skeptical, or not change their opinion about the chances of reaching a lasting peace with the Palestinians, than to be encouraged by the event and more optimistic about the chances for peace.

Not surprisingly, the public believes almost unanimously that both the Israeli government and the people genuinely want peace with the Palestinians. Surprisingly, today there is also a majority, albeit a small one, that thinks the Palestinian Authority genuinely wants the same, while views regarding the Palestinian people are divided, with a very slight advantage for those leaning to the positive side. Moreover, a considerable majority of the Jewish public sees the Palestinians' demand for an independent state as just, and thinks Israel can agree to the establishment of such a state.

The source of the Jewish public's skepticism - and even pessimism - is apparently the widespread belief that a peace agreement based on the "two states for two peoples" formula would not lead the Palestinians to end their conflict with Israel. This distrust of the Palestinians' intentions is also evident in the Jewish public's clear, ongoing preference for a closed border without free passage, even if the two-state solution were to be implemented.

However, the Jewish public does not think this desirable solution is within reach; the prevailing view is that without Hamas' agreement, there is no chance of reaching a peace treaty, and that the sides will have difficulty overcoming their disagreements on the core issues.

As in the past, this time, too, we found that the main issues on which the public thinks the sides will have trouble reaching a compromise are (in this order) Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees' right of return, though compared to the late 1990s, less weight is now ascribed to Jerusalem and considerably more is given to the refugee issue.

Those are the main findings of the Peace Index survey that was carried out on Monday and Tuesday, December 3-4.

Public detachment

According to what the interviewees themselves said, despite the heavy media coverage, less than one-quarter of the Jewish Israeli public (24 percent) regularly followed what happened at the Annapolis conference, 47 percent followed the events only "sometimes," and 26 percent not at all. This division is almost identical to those we found two months and a month before the conference.

In other words, the positive attitude that the Israeli, Palestinian, and American decision-makers showed toward the gathering was not shared by the public, most of which remained skeptical or pessimistic. That detachment is evident in assessments of the outcomes: 63 percent think the conference did not bring about a basic clarification of the disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and a similar percentage say it did not increase the chances of a peace settlement.

This skepticism apparently also explains the segmentation of views on whether the positions Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed at the conference were too tough (only 8 percent), too conciliatory (31 percent), or appropriate (32 percent). Twenty-eight percent had no opinion on the matter, unlike past conferences, when the public showed great awareness and strong opinions about the positions that the Israeli representatives presented.

The responses as to how the conference influenced interviewees' optimism or pessimism about chances for peace also reflect a low degree of public involvement: 29 percent said they were more optimistic, 38 percent they were more pessimistic, and 33 percent did not change their attitude, had not heard of the conference at all, or did not know.

As in the past, the dominant view in Israel is that the Israeli government and people are interested in peace - 78 and 80 percent, respectively. Surprisingly, though, now there is also a majority - albeit a small one - that says the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas also wants peace (55 percent). Regarding the desire for peace among the Palestinian people in general, the opinions are divided, with a very slight lead on the positive side: 48 percent think the Palestinians want peace, while 45 percent think they do not.

Notwithstanding all the events in recent years, a majority of the Jewish public also views the Palestinians' demand for an independent state as justified - 62 percent (compared to 34.5 percent who see it as unjustified). As in the past, there is also a majority - 58 percent - that is sure or thinks Israel can permit the establishment of an independent Palestinian state (32 percent think or are sure it cannot, and the rest do not know).

No faith in the Palestinians

However, despite the positive attitude toward the two-state solution both in terms of justice and pragmatism, a large obstacle is the widespread belief among the Jewish Israeli public that even if a peace agreement is signed along these lines, it will not end the conflict with the Palestinians. Whereas 61 percent hold this pessimistic assessment, only 31 percent believe an agreement on two states would end the conflict from the Palestinians' standpoint.

Furthermore, a large majority - 71 percent - believe it is impossible to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians without Hamas' consent, with only 21 percent claiming the opposite. Given the perception of Abbas' weakness, it is clear why this assessment also contributes to the lack of faith in the feasibility of a peaceful solution.

All this apparently explains the belief of the majority of the Jewish Israeli public - 53 percent versus 26 percent - that, even if an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is signed based on the "two states for two peoples" formula, the border between the two states should remain closed (5 percent prefer it be closed to Palestinians and open to Jews; 1 percent, open to Palestinians and closed to Jews; and 15 percent do not know).

In light of the upcoming resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, we asked the interviewees what they see as the most difficult issues blocking an agreement between the two sides. Out of a list of six issues, the question of Jerusalem came out on top (39 percent).

Yet, compared to the findings of the November 1999 Peace Index, it appears there has been a significant decline in that assessment, which was then 57 percent. There has been, however, a considerable increase in the importance ascribed to the refugee question, which has come to be perceived as the most important obstacle, from 5 percent in 1999 to 32 percent today. Other matters of dispute - the borders, the settlements, the independent Palestinian state and water - lag far behind, in this order: borders (14 percent), settlements (8 percent), establishment of an independent Palestinian state (6 percent) and water (1 percent)

General Peace Index: 48.1 (Jewish sample - 45.6); Oslo Index: 36.9 (Jewish sample - 34.5); Negotiation Index: 50.7 (Jewish sample - 47.7)

The Peace Index Project is conducted at the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Studies and the Evans Program for Conflict Resolution Research of Tel Aviv University, headed by Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Prof. Tamar Hermann. The telephone interviews were conducted by the B. I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University on December 3-4, 2007, and included 592 interviewees who represent the adult Jewish and Arab population of Israel (including the territories and the kibbutzim). The sampling error for a sample of this size is 4.5 percent. For the survey data see: http://www.tau.ac.il/peace.