This month’s Peace Index survey focused on assessments of the government’s and its officeholders’ performance after a full year in office, and on certain aspects of Israeli-Palestinian relations. In the past two months we have also looked into the Israeli public’s preferences regarding the next U.S. president from the standpoint of Israel’s interests.
The government’s performance:
After a full year of the current government’s tenure, the public’s assessments of its performance in three main spheres—security, economy, and foreign relations—turn out to be medium and lower. Of the three, the highest positive assessment goes to the security sphere: about half (49%) of the Jewish public regards the government’s performance there as good, with an identical rate viewing its performance in this sphere as not good. In the other two spheres, assessments are considerably lower: only 36% think the government is doing a good job of managing Israel’s economic affairs, and in foreign relations only 31% assess its performance as good. The overall grade that the Jewish public gives the one-year-old government for its performance stands at 5.1 on a scale from 0 (poor) to 10 (excellent). The Arab public gives a lower overall grade of 4.6 on the same scale.
A segmentation of the Jewish public’s assessments by voting reveals an especially positive assessment of the government’s performance in the security sphere by Shas and Torah Judaism voters (68% - good) as well as Likud voters (63%). The lowest numbers for its performance in this area were found, as expected, among Zionist Union and Meretz voters (37% and 32% respectively). Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett have been criticizing the government from the right, and their disparagements are reflected in the relatively low rates of positive assessment of the government’s security performance among the voters for their parties: 55% of Bayit Yehudi voters approve of the government’s performance in the security domain and only 46% of Yisrael Beiteinu voters. In the economic arena, positive assessments are most common among Shas (64%), Bayit Yehudi (62%), and Torah Judaism (54.5%) voters, which may hint at which sectors are benefiting from the government’s economic policy. Another interesting finding here is that only about one-fourth of the voters for Kulanu, the finance minister’s party, approve of the government’s economic performance. And as for foreign relations, the highest rate of those viewing the government’s performance as good was found among Bayit Yehudi voters (68%). Far behind were Likud and Torah Judaism voters, of whom 45% see a good performance in this area.
Assessment of the senior officeholders’ performance:
We presented the interviewees with a list of six senior officeholders—Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yaalon, Finance Minister Kahlon, opposition leader Herzog, Chief of Staff Eisenkot, and Police Commissioner Alsheikh—and asked them to assess their performance. At the top of the scale are the three security officeholders on the list: the chief of staff (71% of the Jewish public assessed his performance as good), the defense minister (57.5%), and the police commissioner (56%). Interestingly, among Zionist Union voters the rate positively assessing Yaalon is higher than among voters for his own party, Likud (65% and 58% respectively). As for the other officeholders on the list, none had a majority assessing his performance as good. In descending order come Finance Minister Kahlon (48% of the Jewish public viewed his performance as good), Prime Minister Netanyahu (40%), and opposition leader Herzog (15%). That is, the assessments of the two leaders—of the government and of the opposition—are the lowest, though it is hard to ignore the especially low grade for the latter’s performance. Indeed, even among the voters for Herzog’s party, the Zionist Union, only 29% gave him a positive grade on this question. The rate of Arab interviewees who had no clear opinion on this issue was so high that we cannot offer data here on this sector’s distribution of opinions.
Netanyahu’s declaration on the future of the Golan:
About two weeks ago, at the cabinet meeting held for the first time on the Golan Heights, Netanyahu declared that “the Golan will remain part of the state of Israel forever.” We wanted to know the public’s position on whether, given the talks on Syria’s future being held in the international arena, he was right to make this declaration, or not right because the statement needlessly drew international attention to the question of the Golan’s future. The replies indicate that about half of the Jewish public (51%) are sure or think Netanyahu was right to make the declaration, 42% believe the opposite, and the rest do not know. That is, a majority, though small, holds the view that Netanyahu acted rightly in this regard. Here the disparity by party voting was huge: whereas among Likud, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, and particularly Bayit Yehudi voters a majority of about two-thirds or higher backed Netanyahu, among Kulanu, Yesh Atid, Zionist Union, and Meretz voters the majority saw his statement as inappropriate. Among the Arabs a clear majority (60%) took that stance.
Personal security situation:
On the question “To what extent do you fear that you or one of the people important to you will be harmed in the current wave of terror attacks?,” 64% of the Jewish public responded that they greatly or moderately fear it. When this question was presented last month, the rate came to 69%, meaning that this month saw a slight decline in the fear of terror attacks. Likewise, when asked: “Do you agree or disagree with the assessment that the current terror wave is in a downward trend?,” the majority of the Jewish public (50%) answered positively while 46% replied negatively. A segmentation by parties or political camps did not yield a clear-cut picture here. In the Arab public the rate of those who fear being harmed is much higher—about three-fourths, even though the rate who think the terror wave is waning is almost identical to the rate among the Jews.
The negotiations with the Palestinians and their goals:
The Jewish public is divided on whether it is currently appropriate or inappropriate to renew the political negotiations with the Palestinians, though the rate of those who think the present time is inopportune (49%) is a bit higher than the rate who think the opposite (44%). When it comes to the goals of the negotiations, however, it turns out that the distribution of opinions is much clearer. On the question “Which of the following two things is more important to you: that a peace agreement be reached with the Palestinians or that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people?,” 48% of the Jews regarded Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people as more important than reaching peace (only 27.5% preferred that goal). Sixteen percent answered that the two goals are important to the same extent, and 6% responded on their own initiative that neither of the two is important to them. These findings apparently show that, in the view of the majority of the Jewish public, Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is a necessary (though not necessarily sufficient) condition for reaching a peace agreement. We found an even clearer distribution of opinions on the question of what is more important: that Israel have a Jewish majority or that Israel be the sole sovereign in all of the historical Land of Israel. Fifty-two percent responded that it was more important to them that the state have a Jewish majority, with only 22% opting for sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel as more important (for 19% the two objectives are important to the same extent).
Is there an occupation?
In this context it is interesting to sere the unequivocal slant of the public’s positions on the question of whether it is right or not right to define Israel’s control of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria as an “occupation”: a large majority of the Jewish public (71.5%) believes it is not an “occupation”! Exactly that rate in the Arab public thinks the opposite.
The leading candidates in the U.S. presidential elections—who is better for Israel?
“In your opinion, if Trump is elected the next American president, will he be committed to safeguarding Israel’s security?” Sixty-two percent of the Jewish public responded positively to that question. On a similar question about Hillary Clinton: “To what extent do you trust her that, if elected U.S. president, she will block any attempt to attack or isolate Israel?,” 48% answered in the affirmative and 45% in the negative. Seemingly, if one compares the responses to the two questions, the public prefers Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton from the standpoint of Israel’s interests. However, the findings signify that the picture is not really clear. Forty percent think it will be better for Israel if Clinton is elected, while 31% prefer Trump. In the absence of additional data, it is hard to explain the apparent contradiction in the response patterns on the three questions. The relatively small gap between the two candidates on the question of the presidency, along with the high rate of “Don’t knows,” may indicate that the Jewish public is not enthused with either of the two candidates in terms of Israeli interests. It is also possible that the Israeli public is influenced by the mood in the United States, where the picture of the public’s preferences is likewise unclear at present.
Negotiations Index: 45.4 (Jewish sample: 42.7)
The Peace Index is a project of the Evens Program for Mediation and Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University and the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research of the Israel Democracy Institute. This month's survey was conducted by telephone on May 2-3, 2016, by the Midgam Research Institute. The survey included 600 respondents, who constitute a representative national sample of the adult population aged 18 and over. The maximum measurement error for the entire sample is ±4.1% at a confidence level of 95%. Statistical processing was done by Ms. Yasmin Alkalay.