Peace Index Most Israelis Support the Fence, Despite Palestinian Suffering

The construction of the separation fence is overwhelmingly supported by the Israeli-Jewish public, despite the internal debate and the international pressure against it.

Ephraim Yaar, Tamar Hermann
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Ephraim Yaar, Tamar Hermann

The construction of the separation fence is overwhelmingly supported by the Israeli-Jewish public, despite the internal debate and the international pressure against it. The support for the fence is based on the widespread assessment that it can significantly reduce terror attacks, though only a small minority believe it can prevent them completely.

A majority also believe the route of the fence should be determined according to security considerations of the government and should not necessarily follow the Green Line, even if the route causes suffering to the Palestinian population.

The widespread assumption is that in deliberating the case of the fence, the International Court of Justice at The Hague is biased in favor of the Arab side. Nevertheless, the public is still divided on the question of whether or not Israel should have appeared before the court.

Along with the wide support for the separation fence, a large majority support the right of citizens who oppose the fence or its route to express their protest so long as they use legal means. However, there is unanimous opposition to protest by illegal means.

In the present situation in which the negotiations with the Palestinians are not being renewed, the unilateral-separation plan is widely supported and the majority view it as preferable - because of its immediacy - to the alternative of waiting to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

In the context of a unilateral separation, a majority support the evacuation of all the settlements in Gaza and of the small, isolated settlements in the West Bank, but only a minority support the evacuation of all the West Bank settlements.

The targeted-assassination policy also enjoys great support today, even though it involves harming innocent Palestinians. The reason is the widespread assumption that the assassinations reduce terror that kills innocent Israelis.

Those are the main findings of the Peace Index survey that was conducted from Monday to Wednesday, March 1-3, 2004.

Despite the domestic and foreign criticism of the separation fence, the Israeli-Jewish public almost unanimously (84 percent) supports it (13 percent oppose it and 3 percent do not know). Although only 16.5 percent think the fence and the other physical means of partition can completely prevent terror attacks, 70 percent believe such means can significantly reduce the number of attacks. The wide public support for the fence crosses the political parties. But whereas among Shinui, Likud, and Labor voters it is almost total (about 90 percent), among voters for the National Union, the National Religious Party (NRP), Shas, and Meretz it is lower (about 60 percent-70 percent).

About two-thirds of the Jewish public believe the route of the fence should be determined according to security considerations of the government, and only a 20 percent minority favor the idea that it should run along the Green Line. On this issue, Meretz voters stand out in expressing the minority view: 70 percent of them favor the Green Line as the route of the fence (compared to 40 percent of Labor voters, 31 percent of Shinui voters, 21 percent of Shas voters, 13 percent of NRP voters, and 11 percent of Likud voters, and 0 percent of National Union voters).

The Jewish public's adamancy on the issue of the fence is manifested in a low level of consideration for the suffering caused to the Palestinian population, such as harm to its ability to cultivate lands and difficulties in moving from place to place within West Bank territory. Thus, only 31 percent believe this suffering should be taken into account in determining the route of the fence, compared to 64 percent who see it is a secondary if not negligible consideration. Not surprisingly, here too a large majority of Meretz voters hold the minority view, 88 percent of them saying that Palestinian suffering should be taken into account in determining the route.

Labor voters are almost split on this question, with 52 percent saying the suffering should be taken into account while 42 percent regard it is a secondary consideration. Among Shinui voters the proportions are similar but in reverse: a small majority of 54.5 percent view the suffering as a secondary or negligible consideration compared to 43 percent who see it as significant or important in determining the route.

However, among NRP, Shas, and Likud voters an overwhelming majority - 80 percent, 79 percent, and 75 percent, respectively - believe Palestinian suffering should not be an important consideration in determining the route.

Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming support for the fence, a majority (71 percent) support the right of people who oppose the fence or the chosen route to express their protest so long as that protest takes a legal form (26 percent oppose even legal protest and 4 percent do not know).

There is, however, a consensus - 92 percent - of opposition to illegal protest, even by citizens who strongly oppose the fence (6 percent also support illegal protest and 2 percent do not know). This finding corroborates earlier findings of Peace Index surveys that the Israeli-Jewish public has a strongly legalistic worldview. Protest is acceptable, but only if done in ways permitted by the law. The moment it involves deviation from the law - whatever the content of the protest - the public opposition is overwhelming.

On the question of whether Israel behaved properly in deciding not to attend the deliberations of the World Court of Justice at The Hague on the issue of the legality of the fence, the Jewish public is currently divided. Despite the prevalent view - 69 percent - that the court will be biased toward the Arab position (a similar assessment was found last month), only 53 percent think the government acted properly and that Israel should not have attended the deliberations, whereas 42 percent believe it would have been right to attend.

The current policy on the issue of a unilateral separation is also favored by a majority of the Jewish public, 62 percent supporting it with only 28 percent opposed. Indeed, different majorities of voters for all the large parties support the separation, including Meretz voters (53 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed). When the alternative of a unilateral separation that can be implemented immediately is contrasted with a peace agreement with the Palestinians that presumably will take much time to achieve, the clear preference is for a rapid withdrawal rather than a protracted effort to reach a settlement (51 percent vs. 36 percent). At the same time, it is worth recalling that a constant, considerable majority - this month, 63 percent - support renewing the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

As for the steps involved in a unilateral withdrawal, 60 percent support evacuating the Gaza settlements, 32 percent oppose it, and the rest have no clear opinion (last December we found an even larger majority of 80 percent supporting the evacuation of these settlements in the framework of a peace agreement).

There is also a majority, 52 percent, who believe Sharon will indeed evacuate the Gaza settlements (29 percent think he will not evacuate them and 19 percent do not know). A different picture emerges regarding the possibility of a unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank. Here, a majority indeed favor evacuating the small, remote settlements (64 percent say they would support this and 27 percent say they would oppose it). However, a clear majority of 60 percent say they would oppose evacuating all the West Bank settlements, including the large blocs, compared to only 30 percent who claim they would support such a step.

On the targeted-assassinations policy, we found the same trend of public support for the government's policy as on the issues of the fence and unilateral withdrawal. As in the past, a substantial majority - 70 percent - supported the statement that the assassinations should continue even if this involves harming innocent Palestinians and only 20 percent thought the assassinations should stop. These numbers reflect the assumption that the assassinations are necessary to at least reduce Palestinian terror attacks on innocent Israelis.

Among the voters for the large parties, a majority only of Meretz voters - 59 percent - oppose the assassinations (35 percent support them), while Labor voters are divided between 53 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. An overwhelming majority of 93 percent of National Union and NRP voters, 86 percent of Shas voters, 78 percent of Likud voters, and 64 percent of Shinui voters also currently favor continuing the assassinations.

In the Arab sector, in contrast to the Jewish population, there is wide opposition to the separation fence, the prevalent view being that it will not help reduce terror. Similarly, most believe that in determining the route, great weight should be given to the suffering caused to the Palestinian population and not to security considerations of the government. As among the Jewish public, among the Arab public there is sweeping support for the right of legal protest by opponents of the fence whereas a majority oppose illegal protest, though about one-quarter also condone such protest.

The Arab public is divided on the question of a unilateral separation, and in contrast to the Jewish public clearly prefers the alternative of waiting to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians. As expected, most of the Arabs favor evacuating the West Bank and Gaza settlements in the context of a unilateral separation, and the vast majority believe the assassinations policy should be stopped.

The Oslo Index for this month came to 31.8 (in the Jewish sector, 26.4), and the Negotiation Index was 48.7 (in the Jewish sector, 45.5).

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 from March 1-3, 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 about 4.5 percent in each direction.



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