62% of Israeli Jews: gov’t should do more for peace

New Saban Center survey shows complicated but important data and some opportunities.

A new survey by Professor Shibley Telhami, with the University of Maryland, provides helpful, realistic, not always happy information about attitudes in the region. Nrg and ynet both reported on the survey; but here’s my choice of the interesting highlights with the full poll data linked in. The bottom line is that that Jewish and Arab Israelis are feeling harsh but pragmatic; there are openings in support of peace, but it takes a close reading to find them.

The surveys here were conducted for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, a center-liberal leaning think-tank where Telhami is a Senior Fellow. One survey was conducted by Dahaf polling institute, among 500 Jewish Israeli adults from November 17-25; the margin of error was +/-4.5%. A second survey was conducted among the Palestinian/Arab population of Israel, from October 20-November 3, by Zogby International. The sample was 600 adults, with a +/-4.0% margin of error. (Here’s the American sample). In general, when reading polls please note: if these details don’t appear, beware of shoddy methodology.

Here are my selections from the data; read the full surveys for plenty more information. In the Jewish sample:

•    A majority of Israeli Jews believe there will be peace with Palestinians – 51% compared to 47% who say there will not be peace. Forty-three percent say there will be peace but it will take time; eight percent say it will happen in the next five years.

•    Forty percent – a plurality – are prepared for a just resolution to the conflict based roughly on the 1967 borders and a two state solution. But 27% reject that even under favorable terms, and 30% reject both positions; for a total of 57% supporting “rejectionist” views.

•    Enough of the cynical manipulation of Israelis’ feelings about Obama. The Jerusalem Post has found the magical poll question that repeatedly gives him a low number, which it loves to keep asking; so that the hearsay ends up being “Obama’s ratings in Israel are in the single digits!” Wrong. How about a straight favorability question: In this survey, 41% of Israelis feel positive about him and 51% feel negative. That’s a realistic ten-point gap reflecting the tough-love line the Administration tried to take – and Israelis’ nervous, uncertain reaction. Not even close to hatred.

•    Sixty-two percent of Israelis do not need the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for negotiations. Hear that, Binyamin Netanyahu? You’re out of touch.

•    More than seven-in-ten Jewish Israelis support the notion that Israel is the “homeland of the Jews and all its citizens,” basically a Meretz position.

•    Sixty-two percent of Israelis think Israel should be doing more than it is doing today to reach peace. Hear that, J-Street detractors?  You’re out of touch.

And among the Arab citizens of Israel:

•    The plurality, 32%, view Iran as the biggest threat to them (nearly twice as many as those who cite Israel); 54% think a nuclear Iran would make things worse (more than twice as many as the opposing view). A majority thinks the world should not pressure Iran to stop its program (50%, versus 41% who believe Iran should be pressured) – but the gap between the two responses has closed significantly since 2009 (53% to 38%)

•    Clear majorities in 2009 and 2010 reject the notion of transferring Israeli Arab towns to the Palestinian authority. Fifty-eight percent currently oppose it, although this is a surprising drop from 66% in 2009. Perhaps Liebermanism has caused such despair that growing numbers of our citizens feel they must secede.

•    Resistance to national service is falling and compared to 2009, there are now more Arabs who would do it under the right conditions, than those who reject it: 49% would do it if there is a Palestinian state or unconditionally, compared to 47% who reject it (a drop from 51% who rejected national service in 2009). A majority, 57% (three points higher than in 2009

•    A majority, 57% (three points higher than in 2009) believe that Palestinian right of return is so important there can be no compromise. This is a sobering obstacle to their support for a future agreement, which is likely to include a compromise. It’s about the same level of resistance most Jewish Israelis have toward compromising on Jerusalem – which becomes more flexible when an agreement seems like a reality. Maybe we can expect a similar pattern among Arabs in Israel.

•    They are more pessimistic about peace: 63% believe it will never happen. That certainly must contribute to the internal tension between Jews and Arabs in Israel. I.e., peace could mitigate some of the tension.

Is there a clear message? That it’s complicated. Both sides hold rejectionist attitudes that frighten the other – but the data also shows some shared goals and pragmatic willingness to accept the other. If the leaders were really seeking to make peace, they would draw courage from the latter instead of whining out excuses based on the former.