Fat chance for a peace agreement
The traditional tendency of the Israeli Jewish public to uncritically adopt the decision-makers' reading of the map concerning relations with Arab states is apparently in a process of change. Even though most of the Israeli Jewish public does not expect peace with Syria in the foreseeable future, a similar majority also thinks that despite the repeated media reports and politicians' statements about Israeli-Syrian tension, the two countries have not actually been close to war of late. Indeed, many more believe in the possibility that the two countries will open peace negotiations in the foreseeable future, or that relations between them will remain as they are, than in the chances of war breaking out between them.
This doubtfulness also emerges regarding relations with the Palestinians: The majority thinks Olmert has renewed the political negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to shore up his status in light of the eventual publication of the full Winograd Commission report, and not because conditions have emerged that increase the chances for a peace agreement. Furthermore, the majority considers that the two governments headed by Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen are not strong enough to sign, in the name of their peoples, a peace treaty entailing significant mutual concessions. Only a negligible minority believes these contacts have good chances of leading to a peace agreement. The main reason for the skepticism lies in the substantial contradictions between the sides' national interests, not in the sides' lack of willingness to make the necessary concessions.
Assessments of the Olmert government's weakness are linked to the wide consensus that his is a moderately poor or very poor government. This also explains the Jewish majority's desire that the full Winograd Report be published soon.
As for the ongoing Qassam fire on Sderot and its environs, the prevailing view across the political spectrum is that there is a need for extensive Israeli military activity in Gaza to stop these attacks. Moreover, today a majority opposes holding political contacts (seeking a cease-fire) with Hamas at the same time as the talks with Abu Mazen.
Those are the main findings of the Peace Index survey that was carried out from Monday to Wednesday, September 3-5.
Despite the many recent reports in the different media about tension with Syria and the statements on this issue by various decision-makers from both the civilian and military spheres, the Israeli Jewish public does not seem convinced that Israel and Syria were indeed approaching a clash. Only 29 percent thinks there was a possibility of war on the horizon, compared to 57 percent who do not think so (14 percent do not know). And regarding the foreseeable future, only 29 percent see a reasonable chance of Israeli-Syrian war, while 42.5 percent expect the two states to start political negotiations and 16 percent expect the situation to remain as it is (13 percent did not know). Among voters for all the parties in the last Knesset, only among Likud and Shas voters is there a sense of impending war. In none of the other parties does the majority see it that way.
As noted, doubtfulness about the decision-makers' reading of the map also emerged in views about the renewed contacts with the Palestinian side. Some 49.5 percent say Olmert renewed the contacts with Abu Mazen to strengthen his standing, harmed by the preliminary Winograd report, in anticipation of the full report's publication, and not because recent circumstances are more conducive to negotiations with the Palestinians -a claim with which only 27 percent agree (6 percent agree with the two claims to the same extent, and the rest lack a clear opinion on the matter). As expected, the only party in which most voters think the renewed contacts reflect changed circumstances is Kadima, where 50 percent hold that view compared to 35 percent who see Olmert's desire to bolster his status as the key factor.
Generally, the assessment is that both Abu Mazen's government (84 percent) and the Olmert government (73 percent) are too weak to sign a peace agreement in the name of the two peoples, assuming that such an agreement would include significant concessions. Hence, it is not surprising that 60 percent of the public rate the chances of the recently held contacts ultimately yielding a peace agreement as slim (30 percent see these chances as medium likely and 4.5 percent as high). Interestingly, voters for all the parties are unanimous that the likelihood for an agreement is very low (less than 10 percent). A majority for those rating the chances as medium good likely exists among Meretz and Labor voters, while even among Kadima voters the common view is that the chances are low.
The assessment of the Israeli government's weakness - which is only slightly lower than the assessment of the Abu Mazen government's weakness - is closely linked to the view that it is a moderately bad or very poor government, which is held by over three-fourths (78.5 percent) of the public. Note that even among Kadima voters, 60 percent viewed the Olmert government in this way. This perhaps explains the fact that a majority (52 percent) consider that it would be good for the country if the full Winograd Commission report were published soon, with only 30 percent saying this would be bad for the country.
Beyond the weakness of the representatives in question, for 55 percent the main reason for the expected lack of progress in the talks lies in the substantial contradictions between the two sides' national interests, with only 31 percent ascribing it to the sides' reluctance to make the necessary concessions. A cross-section between the two questions reveals that, both among those who see the main obstacle as contradictory interests and those who see it as unwillingness to make concessions, only a small minority rates the negotiations' chances as good. However, whereas among the former the majority views the chances as slim, among the latter the majority views them as medium good. The logic here is clear: refusal to concede can change under certain conditions and end in an agreement, but major contradictory interests mean the chances for successful negotiations are indeed slim.
As for the ongoing Qassam fire on Sderot and its environs, as in the past, a considerable majority (69 percent) supports an extensive ground operation in Gaza. This majority is not only clear but also crosses the political spectrum, including Labor (64 percent) and even Meretz (67 percent) voters. However, unlike in the past, and apparently influenced by the renewed contacts however unavailing - with the Abu Mazen government, today a majority (52 percent) opposes holding concurrent negotiations with Hamas for a cease-fire (42 percent still favor holding such contacts and the rest have no clear opinion). Here the gaps between right and left are clearer since a majority for such negotiations exists only among Labor (62 percent) and Meretz (66 percent), while among the rest of the parties the tilt is negative.
The peace indexes for this month are: Oslo: General 31.5%; Jews 27.7%?
Negotiations: General 46.9%; Jews 43.6%
Syria: General ? 32.5%; Jews ? 27.4%?
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 September 3-5, 2007, and included 589 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%.?
For the survey data see: http://www.tau.ac.il/peace