Netanyahu - Reuters - May 23, 2011
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington May 23, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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It's doubtful that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his wildest, most optimistic dreams, would have dared to imagine when he set off for the United States last week that Israelis would respond to his six-day trip so enthusiastically: According to a new Haaretz poll, they are giving the visit high marks, considering it an overwhelming success.

The poll, conducted by the Dialog organization, under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs of the Tel Aviv University Statistics Department, showed that 47 percent of the Israeli public believes the U.S. trip was a success, while only 10 percent viewed it as a failure.

Nearly half of the public felt "pride" at seeing Netanyahu address the joint session of Congress on Tuesday, while only 5 percent deemed it a "missed opportunity." The rest expressed no opinion, while 20 percent of those questioned said they hadn't watched the speech.

Israelis also don't believe that U.S.-Israel relations have been harmed by the visit despite its attendant problems, tensions and disputes.

Some 27 percent of those polled said they believe relations between the two countries will actually improve as a result of the visit, while only 13 percent thought relations would deteriorate. Nearly half of those questioned don't think there will be any change.

From the poll, it emerged that Netanyahu's trip not only put a brake on the drop in his popularity ratings, but actually reversed the trend.

While in a Haaretz poll five weeks ago Netanyahu seemed to be in hot water with the public, with 38 percent expressing satisfaction with his performance and 53 percent disappointed with it, in yesterday's poll the results were essentially reversed: 51 percent were satisfied, while 36 percent were not.

It's doubtful that U.S. President Barack Obama enjoyed such a spike in his popularity after the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

The public thus seems to be turning a deaf ear to the many political and diplomatic analysts who criticized the prime minister's address to Congress and who said it proved that Netanyahu was not capable of pulling the negotiations with the Palestinians out of the dangerous mire they are in.

The public also seems to have dismissed the learned warnings that Netanyahu had generated an unnecessary confrontation with Obama, for which Israel is liable to pay a high price down the line. Apparently average Israelis - from the right, the center, and even from some parts of the left - are welcoming Netanyahu back to Israel with open arms.

Despite all the tension in Washington this past week, Israelis generally don't believe that Obama is hostile to Israel.

Asked their opinion of Obama, who tussled with Netanyahu late last week and also stung him a bit during his speech to the AIPAC annual conference on Sunday, 43 percent of those polled described him as "businesslike," while a quarter described him as friendly and only 20 percent saw him as hostile.

Most of the respondents, however, distinguished between Obama's relations with Israel and his personal relationship with Netanyahu, recognizing that there is a lack of chemistry between the two, though they did not seem too concerned by this.

It would be worthwhile for Netanyahu to savor this week and enjoy his weekend. These numbers are exceptional, and it's unlikely they will hold up over time.

The Middle East, to which he returned yesterday, doesn't give its leaders too many reasons to celebrate.