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Despite the proliferation of civil initiatives for renewing the political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and the ongoing support of a large majority of the Jewish public for renewing contacts, no significant erosion has occurred in public support for the government's current policy on foreign and security issues. Thus, only a minority believe that Sharon has missed opportunities to renew the negotiations and an even smaller minority view his policies toward the Palestinians as too rigid. Accordingly, a considerable majority believe that when Sharon says he seeks to advance the negotiations even at the price of painful compromises, he means what he says.

On this basis it is clear why most of the civil initiatives, including the Geneva Accord, which recently achieved a substantial marketing success in terms of exposure to the general public, unlike all the other initiatives from various shades of the political spectrum, have not managed to unite most of the public behind them. Furthermore, apart from the content of the specific initiatives, most of the public believes, as in the past, that these initiatives are illegitimate in principle, though a considerable minority believe that the initiatives influenced Sharon to declare his aim to renew political negotiations with the Palestinians.

Those are the main findings of the Peace Index survey for November, which was conducted from Sunday to Tuesday, November 30-December 2, 2003.

To the question: "During Sharon's tenure were there opportunities for renewing the negotiations with the Palestinians that he failed to exploit, or were there no such opportunities?" 57 percent of the Jewish interviewees answered that Sharon has not missed any opportunities, whereas 33 percent felt there were such opportunities but they were not exploited. A segmentation of the respondents according to voting for the Knesset shows that an overwhelming majority of Meretz voters, 82 percent, and of Labor voters, 69 percent, believe Sharon has indeed missed opportunities for renewing negotiations. Among Shinui voters the rate of those who think opportunities were missed, 46 percent, is somewhat higher than the rate of those who say there were no such opportunities, 38 percent. Among Likud voters, however, only 18 percent think there were missed opportunities whereas 75 percent do not think so; in Shas, 0 percent believe there were missed opportunities and 85 percent feel there have not been any. As for National Union voters, only 6 percent see opportunities that were missed compared to 72 percent who do not see any.

To the question: "How do you assess Sharon's policy toward the Palestinians?" only 21 percent answered that it is too rigid, 25 percent said it is too moderate, and 44 percent view it as appropriate (10 percent do not know). Moreover, a clear majority of 60 percent believe that when Sharon says his aim is to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians even at the price of "painful compromises," he really means it, whereas only 29 percent think he does not wish to advance the process if it entails such compromises (11 percent do not know).

Thus, the proliferation of civil initiatives does not reflect any significant questioning by the public of the government's policy on foreign and security issues. A segmentation by voting for the large parties shows that in five of them, the rate of those trusting Sharon's intentions is higher than the rate of those not trusting them: in Labor, 51 percent trust and 42 trust do not trust; in the Likud, the figures are 70 percent and 20 percent; in Shas, 55 percent and 30 percent; in the National Religious Party, 54 percent and 39 percent; in Shinui, 57 percent and 32 percent. Meretz is the only party in which the rate of those not trusting (50 percent) is higher than the rate of those who trust (32 percent); National Union voters are equally divided between those trusting and not trusting.

None of this means the public is content with the existing situation. As evidence, a sweeping majority of the Jewish public, 75 percent, support holding negotiations for peace with the Palestinians. Converting this basic readiness to the currency of specific concessions, the following picture emerges of substantial willingness for concessions: 65 percent support the establishment of a Palestinian state in the context of an advanced stage of negotiations for peace (30 percent oppose it, and 5 percent do not know), 60 percent agree to the evacuation of all the Gaza settlements (34 percent oppose and 6 percent do not know), 58 percent agree to the evacuation of the remote and isolated West Bank settlements without the large blocs, and another 17 percent agree to the evacuation of all the settlements (20 percent are not prepared for any evacuation, and 4 percent do not know). Nevertheless, 61 percent do not agree to transferring the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty and East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine (33 percent agree, and 6 percent do not know).

Also, a wide consensus of the Jewish public opposes the right of return to Israel for the Palestinian refugees, even a limited number of them, as the findings of last August's Peace Index revealed.

Testing the readiness for concessions according to the party map shows that on the issue of the Palestinian state, a considerable majority support its establishment even among Likud voters (67 percent in favor and 33 percent opposed), as well as a small majority of National Religious Party voters (50 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed). As expected, the rates of support among Meretz (96 percent), Labor (94 percent), and Shinui (81 percent) voters are much higher. Indeed, there is a clear majority of opponents in only two of the large parties: Shas (25 percent in favor and 70 percent opposed) and the National Union (24 percent in favor and 59 percent opposed). A similar pattern emerges in the segmentation of positions by party voting on the question of evacuating the Gaza settlements. For the West Bank settlements, however, a more complex picture emerges. Only among Shas voters does a large majority (65 percent) oppose any evacuation (20 percent agree to an evacuation, and the rest have no opinion). Conversely, only among Meretz voters is a majority, albeit not large, prepared for evacuation of all the settlements (55 percent), whereas a substantial minority (41 percent) favors evacuation only of the isolated settlements, which is the solution acceptable to the majority in the rest of the large parties, including National Union and NRP voters.

As for the question of Jerusalem, the party distribution is clear-cut: Meretz (91 percent) and Labor (68 percent) voters support dividing the city and making East Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinian state, whereas in all the other large parties, including Shinui, a decisive majority opposes this possibility.

This segmentation of preferences shows great similarity to the pattern of the public's views on Sharon's readiness for concessions on these issues. Thus, 72 percent believe that in an advanced stage of negotiations Sharon will agree to the establishment of a Palestinians state (21 percent say he won't and 7 percent do not know), 52 percent say that in such a situation he will agree to evacuation of the Gaza settlements (38 percent say he won't and 10 percent do not know), 72 percent think Sharon will agree to evacuation of the isolated and remote West Bank settlements (only 14 percent think he will not agree to leave any settlements, 5 percent think he will agree in such a context to the evacuation of all the settlements, and 9 percent do not know), and 67 percent feel Sharon will not agree to transferring the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to the Palestinians or to East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine (21 percent say he will agree, and 12 percent do not know).

After three years of the intifada, and given the revival of public discourse on the conflict and ways of resolving it, we checked whether a change has occurred in the public's preferences about ways of coping with the intifada and in feelings of personal and national security compared to such feelings in November 2000. The data show a surprising stability in light of the changes of the last few years. Thus today, as in the previous measurement, there is actually an equivalence between the rate of those who think a political approach would be more effective - 39 percent (40 percent three years ago), and those who favor a military approach - 38 percent (40 percent in the previous measurement); in both measurements, 17 percent say on their own initiative (since this possibility was not presented to them) that a combination of the two approaches is optimal, and about 6 percent say neither of the two ways is effective or that they have no clear position on the issue.

Surprisingly, there was also no change in the sense of personal security: today, 61 percent feel a very high or quite high personal threat, and 38 percent feel a low threat or none at all (in November 2000, 59 percent felt a high or quite high threat compared to 31 percent who felt a quite low threat or none at all). Nor has there been any change in the sense of a national threat: today, 64 percent feel a very high or quite high threat (62 percent in November 2000), whereas 34 percentfeel a low threat or none at all (compared to 36 percent in the previous measurement).

Interestingly, testing the connection between feelings of personal security and views of Sharon's performance and of the civil initiatives revealed no significant differences between those who feel a high or quite high personal threat and those who feel a low threat or none at all. That is, it seems the sense of danger, or, alternatively, security, does not lead people to form political preferences of one kind or another.

As for the views of the Arab public, as expected, 88 percent assess Sharon's policy toward the Palestinians as too rigid, 6 percent as appropriate, and 1 percent as too moderate (5 percent do not know). An overwhelming majority of 76 percent say that Sharon has missed opportunities for renewing negotiations (18 percent say he has not missed any, and 6 percent do not know).

Quite surprisingly, although a majority of 56 percent believe Sharon does not seek to advance the process, a not inconsiderable minority of 32 percent responded that he really does seek to advance the negotiations even at the price of painful compromises.