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Poll Shows Most Israelis Want Peace but Doubt It's Possible

Dec 9, 2010 – 8:50 PM
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Joseph Schuman

Joseph Schuman Senior Correspondent

(Dec. 9) -- Most Israelis are apparently willing to make the tough territorial sacrifices required for a lasting peace with the Palestinians, even if their government seems far from doing so. And most Americans would like to see that happen with a neutral United States playing the mediator.

But there's a considerable amount of pessimism that a comprehensive and lasting peace will be arranged any time soon.

Those are the findings of three polls taken among Jewish Israelis, Israeli Arabs and Americans, and released today by the Brookings Institution. The results come just two days after the Obama administration gave up trying to procure enough compromise from the Israeli government to put the essentially suspended peace process back in action.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to lay out the administration's new Middle East peace strategy Friday night at a Brookings-sponsored conference. But with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unwilling to restore a moratorium on new settlement construction in the West Bank, and the Palestinians unwilling to talk without one, it isn't clear whether Clinton will have new ideas to propose.

"I think in her speech tomorrow she'll give our current perspective on where we are and what we believe, you know, should be the way to move forward," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, but he declined to give details.

Still, the decision by President Barack Obama to pursue mediation between the Israelis and Palestinians seems to be a popular one at home.

According to the U.S. poll, conducted in October and November, 72 percent of Americans support the U.S. participation, with 41 percent saying the Obama administration's efforts are at the "right level," while 30 percent of respondents wanted the White House to try harder.

Just over two-thirds of Americans also want the administration to "lean toward neither side," a quarter would prefer a U.S. attitude that favors Israel, and just 2 percent said the Palestinians should get extra backing, the poll indicated.

The most striking finding of the U.S. poll was how much age and political affiliation determined Americans' perspective in the matter.

"Republicans, whites, men, and older Americans tend to support leaning toward Israel far more than Democrats, young Americans, independents, women, non-whites," said the Brookings report, led by University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami.

With its reluctance to freeze West Bank settlement construction, the Netanyahu government -- with coalition partners close to the settlers -- seems out of step with a plurality of Israelis.

Forty percent of respondents to the poll of Jewish Israelis said they are "prepared for a just and comprehensive peace with Arabs based on the 1967 borders, with agreed modifications" -- which means a non-Israeli West Bank -- "and the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state next to Israel."

Only 27 percent of respondents said they'd reject a withdrawal to the 1967 borders and establishment of a Palestinian state, even if all Arab states offered to recognize Israel, while 30 percent were open to other options.

And 62 percent of Jewish Israelis want their government to do more to promote a comprehensive peace.

One attitude shared by Jewish Israelis and Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the population, is doubt that such a peace will be achieved.

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Forty-seven percent of Israeli Jews and 63 percent of Israeli Arabs surveyed said it will never happen, while 8 percent of each group said it would happen in the next five years. Forty-three percent of Jews and just a quarter of Israeli Arabs said they consider peace inevitable but that it will take more time.

The Obama administration, while clearly fed up with Israel's intransigence on the settlement construction, is nonetheless still diplomatically active.

Clinton met this morning with the chief Israeli negotiator, Isaac Molho, and plans to meet Friday morning with his Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat.

"We will continue to be engaged to get each of the sides to take the steps that are necessary to get back to direct talks and to make progress on a two-state solution," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "When the parties were here earlier in the year, we said this was ... going to require constant attention and constant effort. And we know the progress is almost impossible to make without our engagement."
Filed under: World, Politics, Barack Obama
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