Half of Americans Want U.S. to Back UN Move on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Poll Shows

Survey shows clear and growing difference between Democrats and Republicans: Former are far more likely than latter to support such a resolution.

U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C., November 30, 2016.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

Almost half of Americans support the Obama administration backing or sponsoring a United Nations resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office in January, according to a survey conducted by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Over a quarter of Americans oppose such a resolution, while another quarter do not support or oppose it, the survey says, which was conducted from November 18-23 after Donald Trump's election victory.

The results show a clear - and growing - difference between the parties: Democrats are far more likely than both Republicans and Independents to support such a resolution, with 70 percent of Democrats supporting it compared to 22 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of Independents.

The results also show a growing trend over the past three years for support for sanctions against Israel: "The American polarization on how to react to Israeli settlements has expanded over the past two years as 60 percent of Democrats now support imposing economic sanctions or more serious action." 

Americans continue to be highly polarized along party lines on imposing some economic sanctions or taking more serious action on Israeli settlements but the gap has widened over the past year. 

In November 2016, when asked how they believed the U.S. should react to new settlements, a majority of Americans (52 percent) supported the U.S. doing nothing or limiting opposition to words. Republicans and Independents were more likely to agree with this (68 percent and 54 percent respectively) than most Americans and Democrats were less likely (37 percent).

While a majority of Americans want Trump to lean toward neither side in mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict, most expect him to lean toward Israel. There are however significant differences across party lines in what side Americans believe the new Trump administration should lean in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But when asked what they believe the new Trump administration will in fact do, the differences in numbers are not as large. 62 percent of Republicans believe that it will lean toward Israel compared to 55 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Independents.

Americans remain highly divided about support for Israel, with 55 percent of Democrats saying Israel has too much influence compared to 54 percent of Republicans who say that Israeli influence is at the right level. Overall, 44 percent of Americans say that the Israeli government has about the right level of influence, 39 percent say it has too much influence, and 15 percent say it has too little influence.

Most Americans, 76 percent, across party lines, agree that Israel is a strategic asset to the U.S. At the same time, a majority of Democrats (55 percent), say Israel is also a burden. A large majority of Americans (76 percent) agree that Israel is an important ally to the United States as it provides essential military and intelligence cooperation and plays a regional role that’s helpful to American interests. This support increases with age:  Americans who are 55 years of age or older and more likely to say that Israel is an important ally to the United States (86 percent). 

About a third of those surveyed did not consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict among America's five most important issues, while 41 percent put it in the top five, 18 percent in the top three and only 3 percent thought it was the most important issue. Republicans tended to rate it more important than Democrats and Independents did. 

The two surveys, one conducted about a month before Donald Trump's election and the second in the period 10 days to two weeks after, were conducted by Shibley Telhami, a senior fellow at Brookings. Telhami was born to an Arab Christian family in the Druze village of Isfiya, just outside Haifa.

Telhami writes that "Trump and his advisors have expressed divergent views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at different times leaving his ultimate approach murky. Meanwhile, President Obama is considering what legacy to leave for Trump towards a key U.S. ally, including whether to take any action on the conflict during his remaining weeks in office." 

The first survey was conducted about a month before the U.S. presidential election and included a national sample of 1,042 respondents. The margin of error is just over 3 percent. The differences between the results of the two surveys, which were obviously not identical because of the election results, were not large on most issues  

As for Obama supporting or sponsoring a UN resolution to end settlement construction in the West Bank before he leaves office, a plurality of Americans (40 percent) either strongly or somewhat support it, while 23 percent neither oppose nor support and 33 percent either strongly or somewhat oppose such a resolution.

Democrats are significantly more likely than both Republicans and Independents to back Obama’s support or sponsorship for a UN resolution to end Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank before he leaves office.65 percent of Democrats either strongly or somewhat support this but only 16 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Independents do. Republicans are more than five times as likely to either strongly or somewhat oppose this (57 percent) as Democrats (11 percent).

Finally, as to a U.S. veto of a UN resolution on Palestinian statehood,  a minority (31 percent) supports such a veto, including 51 percent of Republicans but only 16 percent of Democrats. When asked what they think the U.S. should do as a member of the UN Security Council if the UN considers a plan to endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state, 32 percent say that the U.S. should abstain from voting, 31 percent say that the U.S. should vote against endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian state, and 34 percent believe the U.S. should vote in favor of endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian state.