Pessimism on all fronts
Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip has not eroded the Israeli Jewish public's consistent support for the "two states for two peoples" formula as a basis for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This public does not, however, see that solution as achievable in the near future, particularly given the widespread view that Mahmoud Abbas' government will be unable to prevent Hamas' takeover of the West Bank even if it receives assistance from Israel and other countries. Despite and perhaps because of that assessment, a majority supports assisting Abbas' government to strengthen it against Hamas, but on the condition that this government meets Israel's prior demands and with clear distinctions between those areas Israel should and should not assist. While the majority favors financial assistance, there is sweeping opposition to supplying weapons and removing checkpoints; on the issue of releasing prisoners, the rate of opponents is slightly higher than that of supporters. On the question of humanitarian assistance to the residents of Gaza, a clear majority is in favor even on the assumption that the aid is likely to strengthen the Hamas government.
The Syrian issue showed the longstanding trend of widespread opposition to a full peace agreement in return for a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. This opposition seems to be bolstered by the prevailing view that in the context of such an agreement Syria would not be prepared to cut its ties with Iran and Hezbollah or end its support for Hamas and the other terror organizations.
On the question of who among the heads of the three large parties is now most capable of safeguarding Israel's security interests while promoting the chances to achieve peace with the Arabs, there is a clear preference for Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu over Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert trailing far behind. This order of preference is evidently connected to the finding that the rate of those defining themselves as right-wing on foreign and defense issues is considerably higher than the rate of those defining themselves as centrist or left-wing.
These are the main findings of the Peace Index survey that was carried out on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 26-27.
Seventy percent of the Israeli Jewish public presently supports a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on the "two states for two peoples" formula (26.5 percent oppose it and the rest do not know). However, as for the question of whether or not it is possible to reach an agreement based on this formula in the near future, 39 percent replied that it is possible and 55 percent that it is not. As expected, there is a close connection between support for the two-state solution and the belief that it is achievable. Among the believers, the rate of support comes to 94 percent, whereas the nonbelievers are equally divided between supporters and opponents.
The prevailing pessimistic assessment of the chances of the two-state formula is apparently linked to the fact that about half the public thinks the Mahmoud Abbas government will be unable to prevent a Hamas takeover of the West Bank even if it receives assistance from Israel and other countries (43 percent of people think it will be able to prevent it and the rest do not know). Despite and perhaps because of this, 54 percent support providing assistance to the Abbas government (compared to 41 percent who oppose it and 5 percent who do not know). The overwhelming majority (67 percent), however, would condition such assistance on the Abbas government fulfilling the Israeli government's prior demands such as recognizing Israel and putting a stop to terrorism. Only 22.5 percent support assistance without conditions, 4 percent oppose it under any conditions, and the rest do not know.
As for the types of assistance, a majority supports releasing the frozen Palestinian funds (54.5 percent in favor, 39 percent against) but a larger majority opposes providing weapons (79 percent) and removing checkpoints (71 percent). Regarding prisoner releases as well, the rate of opponents (54 percent) is higher than that of supporters (39 percent). As for humanitarian assistance to the civilian population in Gaza by allowing the provision of medicine, foods, and other essential items, a clear majority of 58 percent thinks Israel should do so even on the assumption that such aid is likely to strengthen the Hamas government there, with 40 percent opposed.
On the Syrian issue, the occasional reports of Bashar Assad's readiness to reach a peace agreement with Israel apparently have not affected the Israeli Jewish public's consistent opposition to full withdrawal from the Golan Heights in return for a full peace treaty, with rates of opposition and support at 63 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Fourteen percent are ambivalent and the rest do not know. The opposition to an agreement seems to stem, at least in part, from the unanimous (85 percent) assessment that Syria would not be prepared, in return for the Golan, to cut off its relations with Iran and end its support for Hezbollah, Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations whose leaders are based in Damascus.
With Ehud Barak having been elected leader of the Labor Party, we checked who among the leaders of the three large parties could, in the public's view, best safeguard Israel's security interests while advancing the chances for peace. The findings show that 38 percent of the Israeli Jewish public prefer Benjamin Netanyahu, 24 percent Ehud Barak and 5.5 percent Ehud Olmert. Twenty-four percent of the public rejects all three and the rest (8.5 percent) have no clear position on the matter. This means the heads of the two currently largest partners, the senior partners in the coalition, do not reach between them the level of trust accorded to the head of the main opposition party, at least in the political-security sphere. These findings are consistent with the responses to the question: "How would you define your worldview on foreign and defense issues?" Some 23.5 percent of people defined themselves as Right, 19.5 percent as moderate Right, 24.5 percent as Center, 15 percent as moderate Left, and 7 percent as Left (10.5 percent did not know). In other words, the Jewish public clearly tends to the Right. Interestingly, the rate of those who define themselves as centrist is nearly five times higher than the rate of confidence in Ehud Olmert, the leader of the centrist party. Indeed, a cross-section of the responses to this question with the voting for the last Knesset elections shows that only 7 percent of the Kadima voters currently prefer Ehud Olmert, whereas 38 percent and 22.5 percent of them, respectively, prefer Netanyahu and Barak (24.5 percent saw none of the three as worthy).
Among Israeli Arabs, whose positions on the conflict generally are close to those of the residents of the Palestinian Authority, disagreements surfaced on the question of assistance to the Abbas government, apparently because of the connection between such assistance and strengthening Hamas. Thus, 35 percent of people support assistance to the Abbas government, 49 percent oppose it and 16 percent do not know. Similarly, only about one-third of people favor supplying weapons to the forces under Abbas' command while about half are against it. There is, however, a broad consensus among the Israeli Arabs in favor of releasing prisoners (96 percent), removing checkpoints (92 percent) and transferring frozen funds (86.5 percent). In other words, a majority of the Israeli Arab public opposes assistance that is aimed at strengthening Abbas' government in its struggle against Hamas, whether because they think Israel should not interfere in an intra-Palestinian struggle or because of identification with Hamas.
General Oslo: 35.0; Jews: 32.9
General Negotiations: 48.5; Jews: 46.6
General Syria: 36.4; Jews: 32.0
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 June 26-27, 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%. For the survey data see: http://www.tau.ac.il/peace.