Summary - October 2007
The frequent reports about the approaching Annapolis conference have not changed the Jewish public’s expectations about it: as we found last month, currently only the rate of those who think the conference can yield a basic clarification of the disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, or significantly advance the chances for a peace agreement, is lower than the rate of those who see a chance that it will bear fruit. Indeed, compared to the previous measurement there was a certain rise in the public’s interest in reports about the conference, but the large majority continues to follow these only sometimes or not at all.
The limited interest in the conference does not stem from public apathy about the need to renew the peace process. Although many say this need is more urgent for the Palestinians than for Israel, combining those who think it is more important to Israel and those who see it as equally important to both sides reveals a critical mass that views peace also as important to Israel. This view is certainly linked to the prevailing assessment that the Palestinians now constitute a serious security threat to Israel; many perceive peace as a means to reduce the threat. Today as in the past, a large majority also believes that most of the Palestinians have not accepted Israel’s existence and would destroy it if they could. This public climate may well also explain the wide support for the government’s decision to respond to the continued Qassam fire with measures that also harm the civilian population, such as cutting off electricity and limiting the supply of fuel.
Nevertheless, it appears that the Jewish public does not fear a collapse under the Palestinian threat. A large majority believes that if the present situation continues, Israeli society can hold out longer in terms of its internal fortitude than Palestinian society can. Similarly, a particularly large rate assesses that today, seven years after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Israeli society is in better shape than Palestinian society. Along with the confidence in Israeli society’s resilience, the prevailing view is that to reach a peace agreement, Israel will have to make larger concessions than the Palestinians—which may explain the disagreements about the renewal of the peace process.
As for choosing between possible alternatives for concessions on Israel’s part, the Jewish public appears to have a clear order of preference. It clearly favors preserving maintaining a Jewish majority in the country and achieving a peace agreement over preserving the Greater Land of Israel. And between maintaining the Jewish nature of the state and maintaining its democratic character, democracy is clearly preferred though the gap is smaller than for the two previous choices, and also is smaller than the disparity found in the past between preferring democracy or the Jewish character of the state.
Those are the main conclusions that emerge from the Peace Index survey that was carried out on 29-30 October 2007.
A large minority of 40% of the Jewish public thinks the Annapolis conference could yield a basic clarification of the disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, while a majority of 50% does not think so and the rest do not know. A similar segmentation emerged on the question of whether the conference can or cannot significantly advance the chances of reaching a permanent peace agreement: only 40% responded that it can while 51% answered negatively. These findings are very similar to those for the same questions in September: time has not brought a rise in expectations for the approaching conference. The public’s interest in the preparations for the conference also remains quite low, though it increased slightly over the previous month. At present, 27% follow the reports about the conference steadily, 47% only sometimes, 23% not at all, and the rest had never heard of the conference or did not answer (the corresponding rates last month were 20%, 48%, and 29%, respectively).
On the question of who now has a more urgent need to renew the peace process, 37% said it was the Palestinians, 29% chose Israel, and exactly that rate thought the two sides have an equal need (3% see no urgent need for either side and the rest do not know). However, even though the public somewhat tends to view the Palestinians as having a greater need to renew the peace process, combining those who think Israel has a greater need and those who see it as urgent for both sides yields a clear majority (57%) for the view that Israel, too, has a need for peace. That is, the public’s current limited interest in the preparations for Annapolis does not necessarily mean it does not see peace as important.
The assessment that peace is important to Israel could be linked to the widespread view (68%) that the Palestinians now constitute a serious security threat (29% do not think so). Indeed, a connection was found between seeing the Palestinian threat as high and seeing peace as vital for Israel. Among those who think the Palestinians constitute a threat, the rates of those view peace as more important to Israel and as more important to the Palestinians are equal—33%. But among those who do not think the Palestinians constitute a threat, the rate of those viewing peace as more important to the Palestinians (49%) is much higher than the rate of those who consider it more important to Israel (20%).
There is, at the same time, wide agreement in the Jewish public (65%) that “Most of the Palestinians have not accepted Israel’s existence and would destroy it if they could.” Note that this finding is not exceptional; similar rates of agreement have been found in the Jewish public since the mid-1990s. The widespread fears of the Palestinian threat combined with the ongoing Qassam fire may well explain the wide support for the government’s decision to respond to the attacks with measures that also harm the civilian population, such as cutting off electricity and limiting the supply of fuel: 71% support such measures while only 12% oppose them. Among the opponents, a slightly higher rate base their position on a humanitarian concern (harming the civilian population) than on a utilitarian reason (these measures will not bring a halt to the Qassam fire). Note that among the voters for all the parties, only a majority of Meretz voters opposed the government’s decision.
Nevertheless, unlike the diagnosis of Sheikh Nasrallah that Israeli society is weaker than a spider web, apparently the Jewish public highly esteems the resilience of Israeli society in the conflict with the Palestinians. Seventy percent say that if the present situation continues, Israeli society can keep up its inner strength better than Palestinian society while only 12% think the opposite. Similarly, to the question “Seven years since the outbreak of the Second Intifada, when you think about the state of Israeli society and of Palestinian society, which of the two, in your opinion, is doing better?” 63% chose Israeli society and 14%, Palestinian society (14% responded that the two are doing equally badly, 2% that they are doing equally well, and the rest did not know).
Along with the confidence in Israeli society’s resilience, most of the Jewish public (58%) thinks that if the peace process is renewed Israel will have to make larger concessions than the Palestinians, with only 20.5% saying the Palestinians will have to concede more—which may at least partly explain the disagreements about renewing the peace process. In any case, the public appears to have clear orders of preference about what is more or less important to concede. Between preserving the Greater Land of Israel and preserving a Jewish majority in the country, 27% prefer the first objective, 56% the second, and 11% see them as equally important (2% think neither is important and the rest do not know). Similarly, when the choice is between preserving the Greater Land of Israel and signing peace agreements with Arab states and the Palestinians, 54% prefer the latter alternative and 31.5% the former (9% view them as equally important, 1.5% ascribe importance to neither, and the rest do not know). However, between maintaining the Jewish character of the state and maintaining its democratic character, 48% prefer the second and 34% the first (14.5% see them as equally important and the rest do not know).
Although these data indeed show a clear gap in favor of democracy, it is smaller than the two preceding disparities. Furthermore, when we looked into this question over a decade ago (June 1996), the same gaps emerged regarding the choice between the Greater Land of Israel and preserving the Jewish majority of the country and between the Greater Land of Israel and signing a peace agreement, but the gap in favor of democracy was larger: 57.5% then favored preserving democracy and 29% preferred maintaining the country’s Jewish character. In other words, democracy is still in the lead but, whereas its status has declined not inconsiderably, the status of Jewish nationality has strengthened.
The peace indexes:
Oslo Index: 40.7 (Jewish sample: 37.6)
Negotiations Index: 53.3 (Jewish sample: 49.4)
The Peace Index Project is conducted at the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution of Tel Aviv University, headed by Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Prof. Tamar Hermann. The telephone interviews were conducted by the B. I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University on 29-30 October 2007, and included 599 interviewees who represent the adult Jewish and Arab population of Israel (including the territories and the kibbutzim). The sampling error for a sample of this size is 4.5%.