Haaretz Survey: Israelis Think Neither Side Won Conflict, but Approve of PM’s Decisions

Responses reflect Israelis’ experience of many previous operations against terrorist organizations.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Benny Gantz at a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 28, 2014.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Benny Gantz at a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 28, 2014. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The Israeli public doesn’t view the recent war in Gaza as a victory, but nevertheless overwhelmingly approves of the troika that led Operation Protective Edge, a new poll shows.

The poll was conducted for Haaretz by the Dialog firm last night, on the first day of the Israel-Hamas cease-fire in Gaza.

A decisive majority of respondents proved unimpressed by the claims of victory made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Had they been asked to sum up the month-long campaign in one word, it would have been “tie.” Fully 51 percent said neither side had won, while 56 percent said the goals laid down by the government – destroying Hamas’ tunnels and dealing Hamas a severe blow – were achieved only partially.

These responses reflect Israelis’ experience of many previous operations against terrorist organizations. They know the end of every such operation contains the seeds of the next round. They know such operations produce neither great victories nor searing defeats, but at most the achievement of limited goals – an achievement that will be put to the test in the coming months and years.

This same maturation can be seen in response to questions about whether Israel should renew negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and take steps to “bolster” him. A clear majority said yes – which goes to show that everything is relative. Two months ago, Abbas was the devil. Today, Hamas has replaced him in this role, and he is suddenly a white knight by comparison.

It presumably helps that about six weeks ago, Abbas stood in front of the Arab League’s foreign ministers and, in Arabic, condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teens. Israelis also presumably appreciate the fact that during the war in Gaza, quiet was generally maintained in the West Bank.

But in light of Israelis’ bitter feelings about the war’s outcome, their level of satisfaction with the performance of Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz is astonishing. Actually, it isn’t so surprising that 83 percent approve of Gantz’s performance; Israelis perceive him as the ultimate general – not, as some ministers recently charged, someone with no fighting spirit who just wanted to “return home safely.” But Netanyahu and Ya’alon also received whopping 77 percent approval ratings.

This seems like a contradiction. If most respondents don’t consider the operation a great success, why do they give such overwhelming support to the troika that led it?

There are two possible explanations. First, Netanyahu and Ya’alon enjoy almost automatic support from the center-left, which wanted the operation to end and weren’t enthusiastic about ideas like reoccupying Gaza or toppling Hamas. Their remaining support comes from their own base on the right, which was happy over the harsh blow dealt Gaza and sees the two men as the rightist camp’s leaders, and therefore has no interest in disowning them.

Second, if the fire from Gaza resumes in the coming weeks or months and Israel is retroactively seen as having been humiliated, their approval ratings will swiftly drop to levels that compare with the way the operation itself is viewed by Israelis. But the public is waiting to see how things develop, and for now, until proven otherwise, it is demonstrating sweeping faith in its leaders.

It’s impossible to avoid a comparison with the public’s view of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Accused at the time of acting rashly and displaying bad judgment, he quickly lost the center-left, and of course the right as well. In contrast, Netanyahu managed the conflict coolly and judiciously and avoided being tempted into stupid moves. And he therefore won the admiration of both camps.

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