Peace Index / Most Israelis Support the Attack on Iraq

Last month's Peace Index survey focused on the Israeli public's view toward two key current issues: the looming war with Iraq and the formation of Israel's new government along with the need to set a clear policy on the Palestinian issue.

Last month's Peace Index survey focused on the Israeli public's view toward two key current issues: the looming war with Iraq and the formation of Israel's new government along with the need to set a clear policy on the Palestinian issue. We found that a large majority of the public favors a U.S. attack on Iraq, while most believe that the chances are quite low that the American campaign will lead to a Baghdad missile attack against Israel. The public is divided when it comes to how the country is reacting to the threat, but most believe the government's conduct has led to more calm than alarm among the population.

When it comes to the Palestinian issue, a large majority favors holding negotiations with the Palestinians, as in the past. However, a similar majority believes that a return to the discussion table must wait until PA Chairman Yasser Arafat no longer maintains a significant political role. A smaller majority believes negotiations cannot be resumed until terror against Israel ceases.

Support for holding negotiations is not de rigueur but reflects a readiness for significant concessions by Israel: a majority is prepared for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state based more or less on the 1967 borders, and an even larger majority supports evacuating all Gaza settlements and isolated settlements in the West Bank. On the other hand, a sizable majority opposes transferring the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to the Palestinians so that it may become the capital of the Palestinian state, while a large majority rejects allowing the return of refugees to Israel, even in small numbers, for the purpose of family reunification.

These are the main findings of the Peace Index for February 2003, which was conducted on Tuesday-Thursday, February 25-27.

Today, over three-quarters (77.5 percent) of Jewish respondents favor a U.S. campaign against Iraq. Breaking down the results of the survey by party voting in the recent elections indicates a consensus across all camps: there is a majority of supporters of a war among all the parties and in all sectors of the Jewish public.

The reasons for this sweeping support are indirectly evident from the respondents' answers to the question as to why only a small number of Israelis have demonstrated against the U.S. offensive compared to mass demonstrations in Europe and other venues throughout the world. The limited protest in Israel was attributed to the fact that a majority of the Israeli public regards Iraq as a substantial threat when it comes to using weapons of mass destruction (27 percent) and as a strategic threat to the country (25 percent). Other explanations given for limited Israeli opposition to the war were the belief that a U.S. victory will increase the chances for renewing negotiations with the Palestinians under terms favorable to Israel (21 percent), and the fact that a majority of the Israeli public sees the United States as Israel's main ally (18 percent).

On the other hand, the respondents explain the mass demonstrations against the United States primarily in terms of the widespread belief that it is possible and appropriate to resolve international crises in a non-military fashion (30 percent); 26 percent cite anti-American sentiment stemming from the fact that the United States is now the world's only superpower; 20 percent point to the protesters' belief that the real reason for the administration's decision to go to war is American oil interests in Iraq; while only 11 percent say it is the view that Iraq does not constitute a significant threat in using weapons of mass destruction.

Likewise, the survey reveals a lower percentage of those who believe an American campaign against Baghdad will lead Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to attack Israel. In December 2002, 55 percent believed the chances were high that Iraq would attack Israel in response to a U.S. attack (36 percent believed the chances were low or very low). Today, however, only 40 percent believe that the chances that Iraq will attack Israel are high (52 percent believe the chances of an Iraqi attack here are low or very low). There also was a slight decline, from 49 percent in 2002 to 43 percent today, in the percentage of those who believe that the Palestinians are likely to exploit a war against Iraq to intensify terror against Israel.

A particularly interesting finding is the weak correlation between the degree of support or opposition to the war and belief in the likelihood that Iraq will attack Israel in response. Among those who see the chances of an Iraqi attack as very high or quite high, 75 percent favor a U.S. campaign; among those who regard those chances as quite low or very low, 81 percent back America's aims. A similar pattern emerged regarding the effect of a campaign against Iraq on Palestinian terror: among those who think the war will lead the Palestinians to step up terror, 78 percent favor the U.S. offensive; among those who believe the war will not affect Palestinian terror, 75 percent support the attack; and among those who expect that the war will, in fact, deter Palestinian terror, 86 percent are in favor of the attack.

The respondents were divided as to whether the public is generally calm (47.5 percent) or alarmed (52.5 percent) about an impending attack. However, a majority (48 percent) believes that the government's behavior is helping to calm down the public (34 percent believe it is sowing alarm and the rest do not know).

Despite wide-ranging support for a U.S. attack, the public shows a surprising degree of empathy for the suffering that will be caused to the Iraqi people. The rates of empathy are indeed considerably higher than what we measured in December 1998. Therefore, regarding the question: "In your opinion, in deciding whether or not to attack Iraq, should the United States take into consideration the suffering likely to be caused to the Iraqi people?" there was a clear majority - 56.5 percent - responding positively, while only 39 percent responded negatively. In February 1998, however, only 30 percent thought harm to the civilian population should be considered in deciding whether to attack, compared to 65 percent who believed the United States did not need to take this into account. A breakdown of the responses by party voting shows that while among Meretz (79 percent), Shinui (68 percent), Labor (65 percent) and Likud (51 percent) a majority favors including the humanitarian consideration, a majority of National Religious Party (56 percent) and Shas (51 percent) voters did not believe the likely civilian suffering should be a consideration in deciding whether or not to attack.

As in the past, regarding the issue of negotiations with the Palestinians, a decisive majority - 69 percent - favors talks. However, an even larger majority - 73 percent - believes it is impossible to renew contacts in the present situation, but rather the country must wait till Arafat no longer maintains a substantial political role (19.5 percent believe contacts can be renewed in the present situation). In addition, 58 percent believe the renewal of contacts must wait until terror against Israel stops.

The survey reveals that support for renewing negotiations is not merely ritual consensus, since it is accompanied by readiness for substantial Israeli concessions. When we posed a scenario in which negotiations were renewed and the Palestinians agreed to sign a peace agreement that included, from their standpoint, the following concessions - a declaration of the end of the conflict, a relinquishment of the right of return, a recognition of the Jewish people's historical connection to the Temple Mount while allowing Jews to visit and pray there, and a commitment to make every effort to stop the terror - a majority of the entire Jewish public - 58 percent - would accept the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with agreed-upon border modifications. An even larger majority, 69 percent, agrees to evacuate the settlements in Gaza and the isolated settlements in the West Bank if these conditions were to exist, while leaving the large West Bank settlement blocs intact. Among those favoring renewal of negotiations, the readiness for concessions is, naturally, even higher: 68 percent support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and 80.5 percent support evacuating settlements according to the above formula.

On the question of Jerusalem, a sizable majority of 54.5 percent of the entire Jewish public opposes transferring the city's Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians to serve as their capital. Among those in favor of conducting negotiations, however, the picture is different: 50 percent support transferring the neighborhoods compared to 45 percent who oppose it. On the question of whether to allow, in the framework of the agreement, the return to Israel of a limited number of Palestinians for purposes of family reunification, a clear majority of 65.5 percent opposes the idea.

The readiness for concessions should be seen in the context of the assessment by 79 percent that the current Palestinian Authority leadership, headed by Arafat, would not sign such an agreement. Note that a majority, albeit a smaller 53 percent, also believes an Israeli government headed by Sharon would not sign such an agreement. In other words, notwithstanding the readiness for concessions, the public, in fact, believes that the chances of a peace agreement involving mutual concessions are low at this time, with most of the skepticism stemming from the positions ascribed to the Palestinian side.

We also asked about the role of humanitarian considerations in military decisions within the Israeli-Palestinian context: "Under the existing conditions, to what extent, in your opinion, should or should not the IDF take into account the factor of harm to Palestinian civilians while planning actions in the territories?" Some 44.5 percent said this should be taken into account, but not as a paramount consideration, 29 percent thought it should be paramount, and 24 percent responded that under current conditions, the issue need not be taken into account at all.

The general Peace Index for this month stood at 56.0 (in the Jewish sample, 53.8), while the Oslo Index came to 34.4 (in the Jewish sample, 31.3).

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 on February 25-27, and included 576 respondents who represent the adult Jewish and Arab population of Israel (including the territories and kibbutzim). The sampling error for a sample of this size is about 4.5 percent in each direction.