In a choice between waiting until an agreement with the Palestinians is reached and the idea of unilateral separation that the prime minister recently raised - in his view, a necessary step given the lack of cooperation by the Palestinian side - a majority of the Jewish public prefer immediate separation. However, the price it is prepared to pay in this context in terms of evacuating settlements is much lower than the concessions it is prepared for in the context of a peace agreement.

About half support evacuating the settlements in Gaza and the isolated settlements in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria in the context of such a unilateral program, but only about one-fourth support evacuating most of the West Bank settlements in such a framework. As part of a peace agreement, however, there is almost full agreement to evacuating all the settlements in Gaza and a large majority are also prepared, in the framework of the agreement, to evacuate most of the West Bank settlements.

The strong desire for a separation, even a unilateral one, is connected to a fear among the overwhelming majority of the Jewish public regarding the emergence of a de facto binational state, if Israeli control over the territories continues and the Palestinians change from a minority to a demographic majority west of the Jordan. In fact, the Jewish public believes that even if a Palestinian state is established beside Israel, the Palestinian national identity will not stop at the border; that is, a clear majority believe that if such a state is established, the Arab citizens of Israel will be more loyal to it than to Israel, while small minorities believe that they will be more loyal to Israel or equally loyal to the two states. This finding indicates a negative sentiment among the Jewish public toward the Arab public, since a majority of the Jews think the Arabs receive all or most of their legitimate political rights as citizens and a majority, though smaller, believe they receive all or most of their legitimate economic rights.

One may interpret against this background the widespread agreement with Finance Minister Netanyahu's statement that the Israeli Arabs constitute a demographic danger, though a majority, albeit small, believes it is improper for a minister in the Israeli government to express himself in such a way.

On a different issue that recently returned to the agenda, namely, refusal to serve among reserve soldiers, this time as well we found very broad agreement against taking such a step in protest against government policy (a majority also oppose right-wingers refusing to take part in evacuating settlements should the government decide to take such a step).

The broad opposition to refusal is especially interesting in light of the finding that the Jewish public is split down the middle regarding the frequency of cases of harsh and inconsiderate treatment by IDF soldiers of Palestinian civilians in the territories, but the common view is that if such cases indeed occur, they should be treated with the same severity as if they involved Israeli civilians - and yet the system does not treat them with great severity, or at all.

Those are the main findings of the Peace Index survey for this month, which was conducted from Monday to Wednesday, December 29-31, 2003.

Given the ongoing difficulties in renewing the political negotiations, a clear majority of the Jewish public (59 percent) prefer a swift, unilateral separation by Israel from the Palestinians, with the other alternative being to work for an agreement with the Palestinians even if the process takes a long time (today only 29 percent favor that, and 12 percent have no clear preference). The question arises as to whether the public is aware of the fundamental difference between a unilateral measure and reaching an agreement. We examined this question in regard to disparities in willingness to evacuate settlements in each of the two situations.

It emerges that the disparity is by no means negligible. Thus, 50 percent are indeed prepared to evacuate the Gaza settlements even in the context of a unilateral separation, but 30 percent are prepared to evacuate them only in the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinians (14 percent oppose evacuating them in any situation and 6 percent do not know). Thus, it emerges that 80 percent are prepared to evacuate all the Gaza settlements in the context of a peace agreement.

The disparity in preferences in the two situations is even more pronounced regarding the West Bank settlements. Here, only 29 percent are prepared to evacuate most of the settlements in the context of a unilateral separation, whereas 37 percent are prepared for such an evacuation in the framework of a peace agreement (27 percent oppose evacuating most of these settlements in any situation and 7 percent do not know). As for evacuating the remote and isolated settlements, 51 percent are already prepared for it even in a unilateral framework, 27 percent only in the framework of an agreement, 14 percent not in any situation, and 8 percent do not know.

The broad support for separation apparently stems from the very widespread fear (73 percent) that if a solution to the conflict is not found in the near future and Israeli control of the territories continues, the Palestinians will eventually become a demographic majority west of the Jordan and a de facto "binational state" will emerge.

Seventy-one percent of the Jews agree with Netanyahu's statement that the Israeli Arabs constitute a demographic danger, although 52 percent feel it is improper for a government minister to express himself in this way about a group of citizens of the state (42 percent think the statement was proper and 6 percent do not know). The broad agreement with Netanyahu's words is apparently reinforced by a combination of the view that the Israeli Arabs' basic loyalty is to the Palestinian side, and views on the question of to what extent the state of Israel discriminates against them. The prevalent assessment is that especially in the political area but in the economic area as well, they receive all or most of what they deserve as citizens. Thus, 77 percent of the Jewish respondents said the Israeli Arabs receive all or most of the political rights they are entitled to (compared to 57 percent in September 1999), and 60 percent believed so regarding their economic rights (in the previous measurement, 50 percent). Note that 54 percent of the interviewees stated that in their view the Arabs should have equal political rights to the Jews (in September 1999, 46 percent thought so), whereas 44 percent said they do not deserve equal rights to the Jews in this domain (50 percent in the previous measurement). As for economic rights, today 57 percent favor equal economic rights for the Arabs (compared to 60 percent in 1999), whereas 41 percent oppose granting equal rights in this area and believe the Jews deserve more rights (37 percent in the previous measurement).

On the issue of refusal by reservists to serve in the territories, which returned to the public agenda with the publication of the letter by members of the elite Sayeret Hamatkal (the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit), it appears that today as in the past, a decisive majority (77 percent) oppose such measures. It should be noted that a majority, though smaller (65 percent) also oppose the right of refusal of service on the right side of the political spectrum, stating that if in the future reservists refuse to take part in evacuating settlements should the government decide on it, they will oppose such refusal.

As for the repeated publications by journalists and various human rights organizations about cases of inhumane treatment of Palestinian civilians by IDF soldiers, it appears that they have not changed the Jewish public's assessment of the frequency of these cases. At present, 41 percent believe such cases occur quite often or very often and 39 percent believe that they occur only infrequently or quite infrequently (20 percent do not know); the corresponding figures two years ago (January 2002) were 44 percent, 43 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Similarly, there was no change in views of how the system should deal with such cases: today - like two years ago - 47 percent think they should be treated with the same severity as if they involved Israeli civilians, 28 percent say they should be dealt with less severely, and 18 percent believe they should not be dealt with at all. On a question about the interviewees' impression of how the system actually deals with such cases, the most common assessment is that it treats such cases less severely than if Israeli civilians had been involved in them (41 percent); 29 percent think they are treated just as severely as if Israeli citizens were the victims; and 13 percent say the system does not deal severely with such cases at all (17 percent do not know).

The Oslo Index for this month came to 32 in the total sample and 28.7 in the Jewish sample. The Negotiation Index came to 52.4 and 50.4, respectively. The Peace Index project is conducted at the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research of Tel Aviv University, headed by Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Dr. Tamar Hermann. The telephone interviews were conducted by the B. I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University from December 29-31, and included 579 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 about 4.5% in each direction.