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Summary - May 2001

Arafat is personally not prepared or not capable of signing an agreement to end the conflict; the political negotiations must therefore wait until he is replaced. At the same time most Israeli Jews feel that even if the Palestinians ultimately sign a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel, they can still not be relied upon to honor it. A sizeable public also agrees that Israel's national security and the individual security of its citizens have deteriorated since the Oslo accords were signed. In the absence of an agreement, the currently preferred solution is one of unilateral separation, including Israel's vacation of territories that are not crucial to its security, and the creation of a buffer zone between Israel and the Palestinians. The negative feelings about the present security situation should not be taken as an indication of national weakness, since the majority believes that, if the present state of violence persists, the Israeli society have the inner strength to hold out for a long time -- longer than the Palestinians. These are the principal findings of the index carried out on 29 and 30 May 2001, two days prior to the heinous attack on a discotheque in Tel Aviv.

Israeli-Jewish support of the Oslo process has decreased steadily since the summer of 2000, as is clearly reflected in the continuing drop of the Oslo index, indicating a prevalent negative attitude vis a vis both the Palestinian side and process itself. 70% of the Jewish public estimate that Arafat personally lacks the desire, or the capability, to sign an agreement to end the conflict with Israel, even if Israel agrees to all his demands -- and that he will make additional demands aimed at foiling the agreement. The negotiations must therefore be put on hold until Arafat is replaced by a new leadership (24% do not agree, and 6% don't know). This does not refers only to Arafat in person -- only a small minority (12%) of the Israeli-Jewish public now believe that the Palestinians will honor a comprehensive peace agreement, even if they sign it, while a decisive majority of 80% do not believe that they will honor such an agreement. An analysis of these figures in accordance with the votes in the premiership elections reveals certain differences between Sharon and Barak voters, albeit both groups show a far higher percentage of respondents who do not believe that the Palestinians will honor an agreement signed by them, than those who believe it. Only 6% of Sharon voters place their faith in the Palestinians, against 30% of Barak voters, who believe that if the Palestinians ultimately sign an agreement, they will honor it. Segmentation according to Knesset votes indicates that, even among Meretz voters (the group that still evinces the greatest support of the Oslo process), a higher percentage (51%) do not believe that the Palestinians will honor their signature, than those who believe this (31%). It should be noted that the Arab respondents overwhelmingly (91%) support Arafat's willingness and ability to sign an agreement, and believe (94%) that the Palestinians will honor such an agreement if and when they sign it.

The lack of faith in the Palestinians is closely linked to the prevailing conviction of the Jewish public (80%) that all or most Palestinians perceive Israel as a Western imperialist state attempting to control the region (14% feel that this applies only to a Palestinian minority, and 6% have no opinion on the subject.) Interestingly enough, most of the Arab respondents (54%) also consider this to be the prevalent Palestinian perception of Israel. It should also be noted that a majority of both Jewish and Arab respondents feel that both Jews and Palestinians consider the conflict to be political in nature -- a conflict between two national movements -- not a religious conflict, despite the conspicuous religious arguments, explanations and contents raised in the context of the escalating confrontation in recent months.

Some 82% of Jewish respondents estimate that the state of Israel's national security and the personal security of its citizens is now worse than it was before the Oslo process. Only about 6% feel that both these domains have improved in the wake of the Oslo process; (the rest believe that the situation remains unchanged, or have no opinion on the subject.) Differences between Sharon and Barak voters in the 2001 elections are also evident, but not substantive, in this respect: 84% of Sharon voters feel that national security has deteriorated since Oslo, against 70% of Barak voters. The difference in numbers on the attrition of personal security is smaller -- 86% of Sharon voters against 76% of Barak voters. Segmentation of the figures according to Knesset voting again indicates that even a majority (60%) of Meretz voters feel that national security has been affected since Oslo, and an even greater majority (about 70%) of this group feel similarly regarding the personal security of Israel's citizens. In other words, there is a gradual dwindling in the hard core of Oslo supporters.

In light of the pessimistic evaluation of chances to attain an agreement with the Palestinians, respondents were asked as to their preferred solution at this time. Findings show that about 60% of the Jewish public support a unilateral separation, meaning that Israel would, without an agreement, vacate territories that are not vital to its security, and endeavor to create a buffer zone between Israel and the Palestinians. 34% are opposed to this (6% have no clear opinion). The differences between Barak and Sharon voters are sizeable: while about one half (53%) of Sharon voters support such a unilateral separation, including the vacation of territories, and 42% are opposed, more than three-quarters (76%) of Barak voters support it and only a a minority (17%) is opposed. Segmentation of replies to this question according to Knesset voting shows that while a decisive majority of Meretz (77%) and One Israel (74%) voters, and a small majority (56%) of Likud voters support a unilateral withdrawal, a majority (60%) of NRP voters oppose such a solution (35% in favor), similar to United Torah Judaism (71% against 14% in favor). SHAS voters are more or less split down the middle -- 47% support a withdrawal and 44% oppose it.

According to the findings of this survey, support for a unilateral withdrawal should not be taken as reluctance on the part of the Jewish public to reach an agreement with the Palestinians due to the price this will exact. The fact is that the percentage of respondents who support the Israeli government's consent to a total settlement freeze, if this enables a cease fire with the Palestinians, is higher today than those opposed to paying such a price for an agreement -- 49% against 43%. What is more, the gap between those who agree to dismantle all the settlements -- if attaining a peace agreement is solely contingent on such a step ( 40%) -- and those who are not prepared to evacuate all the settlements, even if a permanent agreement were to hinge on such a move (50%) -- is not very large. On the other hand, where the Jerusalem issue is concerned, opposition to the concessions demanded by the Palestinians remains intact, even if the attainment of a permanent settlement were to hinge on it: a decisive majority of 64% are opposed to paying for a permanent peace settlement in terms of handing over sovereignty of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, and this includes the Temple Mount and the Old City; (only 29% are prepared to agree to such a step.)

A great deal has been said recently about a drop in the morale of the Jewish public in Israel, the question being: is the readiness for a unilateral withdrawal prompted by national debilitation? This seems unlikely, given the prevailing estimate of the national strength. Asked: "If the present state of violence persists over time, which of the two societies -- Israeli or Palestinian, will in your opinion hold out longer where its national strength is concerned?" A decisive majority of 62% of Jewish respondents believe that Israeli society will hold out longer, and only 12% feel that Palestinian society has greater inner strength and will thus be better able to hold out in a lengthy violent confrontation. (12% believe that both societies are equally capable of holding out for a protracted period of time, 7% feel that neither of the two have sufficient inner strength to hold their ground, and 7% have no opinion).

Minor differences were revealed on this issue between voters for SHAS (70%), One Israel (66%), Likud and the NRP (65%). On the other hand, a considerably lower percentage of respondents who believe that Israeli society is better able than Palestinian society to hold out in a continuing violent confrontation, emerged among voters for United Torah Judaism (50%) and Meretz (48%).

It should be noted that the Arab respondents present a reverse picture: 56% feel that the Palestinians' inner strength is greater, and they will therefore hold out longer if the violence continues, and only13% believe that Israeli society is stronger and better able to hold its ground over time (11% believe that both societies can hold out in the long term; 10% feel that neither of the two can hold out for long if the violence persists, and 10% have no opinion).

The peace index for May is as follows: the general peace index covering the entire Jewish public is 52.4 points (50.6 in the Jewish sample); the Oslo index is 36.3 (33.7 in the Jewish sample); the Syria index is 35.8 (30.9 in the Jewish sample).

The peace index project was conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Research Institute for Peace at Tel Aviv University, headed by Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Dr. Tamar Hermann. The telephone interviews were conducted by the "Makhshov" Institute on 29-30 May 2001, and comprise 570 respondents representing the adult Jewish and Arab population of this country (including West Bank and the kibbutzim). Margin of error in a sample of this size is estimated at 4.5%.


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