Some two-thirds of the Jewish public think that from Israel's standpoint it is impossible to go on indefinitely with the current state of relations between Israel and the Palestinians. A similar amount of Jewish citizens think that among the most urgent issues on Israel's agenda is the government's attempt to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Yet a large majority of this public does not believe that the Annapolis conference will significantly advance the chances of reaching a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace, or even achieve a basic clarification of the differences between the two sides. Given these low expectations, it is no surprise that only a small minority reports steadily following the preparations for the conference.

The low level of expectations for the conference is undoubtedly linked to the belief that there is a wide gap between the two sides' positions. A considerable majority of the Jewish public opposes transferring Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians so they can serve as the capital of Palestine, even if such a transfer comes in exchange for a permanent peace agreement. And with regard to the refugee issue, there is a wide, across-the-board consensus that Israel should not agree to the return of a single refugee to Israel itself. The survey also found that among the Jewish public, there are more opponents than supporters of handing the United States the arbitrating authority to determine what concessions each side should make to enable reaching an agreement - that is, should the talks reach a dead end.

But most of all, it appears the Jewish public does not trust its government. Across the whole political spectrum, an overwhelming majority thinks Ehud Olmert and his government are not strong enough to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians in Israel's name, assuming such an agreement would entail substantial Israeli concessions. Those are the main findings of the Peace Index that was carried out from Monday to Wednesday, 8-10 October.

Impossible situation

About two-thirds - 65 percent - of the Jewish public think that from Israel's standpoint it is impossible to continue indefinitely in the current state of relations with the Palestinians (29.5 percent say it is possible to go on this way), and 62 percent consider the Palestinian issue to be the most urgent or moderately urgent on the government's agenda (35 percent see it as not urgent moderately or not urgent at all). Interestingly, when Jewish Israelis are asked to assess the Palestinian viewpoint on continuing the current situation, the data are quite similar - 62 percent say it is impossible while 26 percent believe it is possible.

As noted, though, a majority does not expect the upcoming Annapolis conference to bring about a shift - only 39 percent of the entire Jewish public see a chance that it will enable the sides to clarify the disagreements between them (57 percent see no such chance), and an identical number of respondents believes the conference can increase the chances of reaching a permanent peace agreement (56 percent believe it cannot).

A segmentation of the responses with regard to voting preferences reveals that Meretz and Labor voters are the most optimistic (62.5 percent), immediately followed by Kadima voters at 54 percent. Forty percent of Shas voters believe in the conference's chances for success while only about one-third of voters for the rest of the parties are optimistic, and only about one-quarter of Likud voters - the most pessimistic about the conference - think it can contribute to achieving a peace agreement.

At the same time, about 60 percent think the participation of Arab states - such as Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia - could raise the conference's chances of resulting in significant achievements. Interestingly, only a 30-percent minority would like to see Hamas representatives participate in the conference. In other words, at present the Jewish public does not perceive Hamas as a desirable partner for dialogue, even if it changes its positions and agrees to engage in direct talks with Israel.

The low expectations for the conference appear to be the reason why only 20 percent reported that they followed the preparations for the event regularly, while about half said they follow them sometimes and 29 percent reported not following them at all.

No concessions

The data show that the public's readiness for concessions in the framework of such a conference is not high. Some 59 percent oppose transferring the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty so they can serve as the capital of Palestine, in exchange for a peace agreement (33 percent support such a move). Even firmer is the Jewish public's position on the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in the context of a permanent peace settlement: 87 percent are not prepared for the return of even a single refugee, 6 percent are prepared for the return of up to 100,000 and 3 percent are prepared for whatever number is decided.

We asked: if in the course of the conference it transpired that the gaps between the two sides' positions were responsible for their not reaching an agreement, would it be desirable for the United States to play the role of arbitrator and determine what concessions each side should make to bring about an agreement? Fifty-two percent opposed allocating this role to the United States while 41 percent supported it - even though our past findings have repeatedly shown that the Jewish public perceives the United States as an "honest broker."

Beyond the perception that the differences between the sides are too great to arbitrate and beyond the unwillingness to make concessions on issues the Palestinians will clearly raise as requisites for reaching a settlement (Jerusalem and the refugees), it seems that one of the main reasons for the Jewish public's low expectations for the conference is the belief shared by a vast majority - 77 percent - that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government are too weak to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians in Israel's name, especially if such an agreement would entail significant concessions. A segmentation of views on the strength of both the government and the prime minister shows that there is indeed a connection between these assessments and voting in the elections. But even among voters for Kadima - the prime minister's party - only 27 percent consider the government strong enough to take a strategic step and only 20 percent of voters for Labor,the senior partner in the coalition, think it is strong enough. In other words, the assessment that the current government is too weak is widespread among a majority of voters for all the Jewish parties.

On a different issue, we looked into whether or not there is public support to replace soldiers with civilians from private security firms at the crossing points between Israel and the West Bank. It turns out that a large majority of the Jewish public - 69 percent - consider such a decision as unwise and only 29 percent are in favor. This seems to indicate that the Jewish public has trust in the IDF only. Interestingly, there was not a single party (including Meretz) for which a majority of voters supports a decision to civilianize the crossings.

Israeli Arabs: more optimistic

In the Arab sector, this time, too, clear disparities were found between the positions of the Arab public and the Jewish public. Unlike the Jewish public, which considers a continuation of the current situation to be impossible from the standpoint of both sides, a majority of the Arab public (47 percent vs. 42 percent) thinks that from the Israeli standpoint it is possible to sustain the current state of relations with the Palestinians indefinitely. However, a majority of the Arab public sees a continuation of the current situation from the Palestinian standpoint as impossible - 51 percent vs. 41 percent, who believe it is possible.

The optimism among the Israeli Arab public about the possible results of the Annapolis conference is slightly greater than that of the Jewish public. Some 37.5 percent think it could achieve a basic clarification of the sides' disagreements and just about the same percentage think it will not result in such a clarification; 46 percent say the conference could increase the chances of reaching a permanent peace agreement compared to 37.5 percent who do not think so. At the same time, the extent of personal interest in the preparations for the conference is similar in the two publics, and so are assessments about the participation of Arab states: 62 percent of the Arab public (60 percent of the Jewish public) think such participation can contribute to improving the results.

As expected, in the Arab public a majority, albeit not a large one - 53 percent - favors including Hamas in next month's Annapolis conference. As is the case for the Jewish public, there is also a majority (63 percent) that favors transferring Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods to Palestinian sovereignty and allowing the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel (71 percent). Unlike the position of the Israeli Jewish public, a majority of the Arab public (53 percent) favors giving the United States the authority to determine the concessions each side should make in case the talks reach a dead end. Indeed, in comparison to the Jewish public, a higher rate of the Arab public sees the Olmert government as strong, but here, too, the majority - 54.5 percent - regards it as too weak to make major concessions in Israel's name.

As for civilianizing the crossings, a majority among the Israeli Arab public also opposes this decision - 50 percent vs. 28 percent. Very possibly, though, the Arab public opposes this civilianization for completely different reasons than the Jewish public, in part because of their general opposition to checkpoints.

Indexes:

General Peace Index: 54.2 (Jewish Sample: 48.3)

Oslo Index: 35.1 (Jewish Sample: 32.3)

General Negotiations: 51.6;(Jewish Sample: 49.2)

The Peace Index Project is conducted at the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution 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 8-10 October, 2007, and included 580 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