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May 12, 2003

Peace Index: April 2003 / Large majority of Israeli Jews supports the road map

Haaretz reports

The Israeli Jewish public shows a tendency to guarded optimism in assessing the chances of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in light of the U.S. victory in Iraq and the leadership changes in the Palestinian Authority. The tendency is reinforced by the support of a large majority for the road map plan - despite the public's divided opinion as to whether the Bush administration's conception of Israel's vital interests is similar to, or different from, the Israeli government's conception of those interests.

In any case, the prevalent view is that the U.S. administration will exert heavy pressure on the sides to force them to accept the plan. This expectation of U.S. pressure is linked to the assessment by the majority that the chances of the Sharon government's adopting the road map are low.

Furthermore, even if a peace agreement is signed and a Palestinian state is established, the prevalent expectation is for hostile relations accompanied by "a low level of violence" between the two states, while a minority view holds that relations of cold peace, but without violence, will prevail.

That is, among those who believe the new reality in the region will have an influence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a decisive majority thinks the influence will be positive. At the same time, one should not ignore the considerable minority - 39 percent - that does not believe the new situation will have an influence one way or the other. On the assumption that this manifests a pessimistic attitude, together with those who assert that the chances of an end to the conflict have decreased, it appears that the Jewish public is divided in its assessment of the consequences of the new reality for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Clear support for road map

A clearer division emerged regarding the Jewish public's attitudes toward the plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace known as the road map. After the main points of the plan, with its different stages and stipulations, were presented to the interviewees, they were asked to what extent they support or oppose it. The findings show that 65 percent support the plan (20 percent support it very much and 45 percent considerably support it), while only 31 percent oppose it (18 percent oppose it very much and 13 percent considerably oppose it). The rest did not answer. (It all depends how the Roadmap was presented. How realistic was the presentation? Were pitfalls identified etc? Otherwise this result is very surprising)

As expected, there is a close connection between assessment of the chances for peace in light of the new regional situation and attitude toward the road map: Among the supporters of the road map, 57 percent believe the chances for an end to the conflict have increased, 34 percent think the chances have not changed, and 6 percent say the chances have decreased. Among the opponents of the plan, 31 percent feel the chances have increased, 51 percent believe they have not changed, and 6 percent claim they have decreased. (It is eawsy to understand why 57% of the public believe that the American victory makes a peace agreement more likely. What is more difficult to understand why 31% don't see it that way)

An analysis of attitudes toward the road map according to voting for the five large parties in the recent elections shows that the highest rates of support are among the voters for the two left-wing parties - Meretz (100 percent) and Labor (92 percent), with Shinui voters lagging only slightly behind them at 83 percent support.

Yet even among the Likud voters, a clear majority of 58 percent supports the plan compared to 37 percent who oppose it. Indeed, the Shas voters are the only ones among the five large parties for whom the proportion of opponents - 61 percent - is substantially higher than the proportion of supporters - 30 percent.

As noted, support for the road map is higher than the belief in the chances for an end to the historical Israel-Palestinian conflict. How can this disparity be explained? At least a partial explanation is found in the interviewees' responses to the question on the chances that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority will adopt the road map and genuinely act to implement it.

In regard to Israel, only 40 percent believe the chances that the Sharon government will act in accordance with the plan are high, whereas 54 percent think these chances are low. A segmentation of the responses by party voting shows that with the exception of the Likud voters, a majority of the voters for all the large parties assesses the chances as low. The Likud voters are equally divided between those who see these chances as low (47 percent) and those who regard them as high (47 percent).

An even more pessimistic forecast emerged regarding the chances that the road map will be implemented by the Palestinian Authority, notwithstanding the recent leadership changes: 71 percent of the Jewish interviewees think the chances of this are low compared to 22 percent who see them as high.

Split over U.S. pressure

In view of the prevailing skepticism about the readiness of the Sharon government and the Palestinian Authority to implement the road map, the interviewees were asked the following question: "The campaign against Iraq shows that the Bush administration acts resolutely to bring about the changes it wants in the international arena. What are the chances, in your opinion, that if the Palestinian Authority and/or the Israeli government do not accept the road map, the U.S. administration will exert heavy pressure on the two sides to force them to accept the plan?"

A breakdown of the answers indicates that U.S. policy in the region has indeed made an impression on the Israeli Jewish public; thus, 72 percent believe the chances of such pressures are very high or quite high compared to only 22 percent who do not think so.

Given the Jewish public's great support for the road map on the one hand, and the skepticism about the two sides' readiness to implement it on the other, the question that arises is whether this public views heavy pressure by the U.S. administration as desirable or undesirable. The answers reveal a division on this question: 50 percent oppose U.S. pressure while 44 percent favor it. Not surprisingly, there is a close link between the responses to this question and the public's perception of the degree of concordance between the Bush administration's and the Israeli government's conceptions of Israel's vital interests. In general, 44 percent believe the conceptions of the two governments are very similar or quite similar, while 48 percent assert that they are very different or quite different.

A cross-check between the responses to this question and to the previous question reveals that among those who see concordance between the two governments' conceptions of Israel's vital interests, 55 percent support U.S. pressure and 41 percent oppose it, whereas among those who believe the two governments' conceptions are divergent in this regard, 35 percent favor U.S. pressure and 60 percent oppose it. (What is interesting to note here is that the Left were prepared for unilateral withdrawal which is like the Roadmap in terms of where the parties endup yet only 55% want US pressure.)

These data indeed indicate a clear link between the attitudes on the two questions. At the same time, it is important to note that support or opposition to U.S. pressure is not influenced solely by assessment of the similarity or difference between the two governments' conceptions of Israel's vital interests; thus, even among those who see the two governments' conceptions as harmonious, 41 percent are opposed to U.S. pressure.

Apparently, then, positions on this issue are influenced by other considerations as well, such as opposition in principle to external intervention or the belief that pressures will not be effective, especially in regard to the Palestinian side. Further evidence of considerations of that kind was found in a cross-check of the answers to the question about support or opposition to the road map and those to the question about support or opposition to U.S. pressure. For example, among those supporting the road map, the majority (57 percent) not surprisingly supports U.S. pressure, but a considerable minority (34 percent) opposes it.

Moreover, the Jewish public's expectations about the relations between Israel and the Palestinian state that will be established if a peace treaty is signed, are not the highest: The prevalent view (40 percent) is that there will be hostile relations with a low level of violence, 34 percent believe there will be relations of cold peace but without violence, 12 percent in fact expect that hostile relations will continue along with a high level of violence, and only 5 percent think the agreement will lead to relations of warm peace. These assessments provide an additional explanation for the finding that a large part of the public is not prepared to have Israel's interests determined by dictates of the U.S. administration.