Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Prof. Tamar Hermann
This month’s Peace Index centered on the question of how the public views the changes that have occurred in the governing coalition—the addition of Yisrael Beiteinu headed by Avigdor Lieberman, and his appointment as defense minister—and how it expects these changes to affect some aspects of diplomacy and security. We also looked into the public’s attitude toward the security situation, the resignation of minister Gabai, and the resignation from Yisrael Beiteinu by Member of Knesset Orly Levy-Abecasis, as well as the legal authorities’ behavior on the issue of the Netanyahu family’s household affairs.
The changes in the coalition: The Jewish public’s support for Netanyahu’s decision to add Lieberman-led Yisrael Beiteinu to the government (39%) is higher than its support for the other possibility that existed at the time: adding the Zionist Union headed by Isaac Herzog (27.5%). The rest are divided between those who saw both options as equally desirable (12%) and those who saw neither of them as worthy (12.5%). A segmentation of the answers to this question by voting in the Knesset elections revealed that among Likud voters, 71% prefer Yisrael Beiteinu as a coalition partner while only 9% would have preferred to see the Zionist Union join the coalition. That is, in deciding to add Yisrael Beiteinu, Netanyahu reflected the will of his voters. Among Zionist Union voters a majority (59%) would have wanted to see a government that included their party and not Yisrael Beiteinu. In other words, Herzog, too, correctly gauged the sentiments of most of the voters for his party when he took part in negotiations on joining the government. Among voters for Bayit Yehudi, the party headed by Minister Naftali Bennett that put up some resistance to Yisrael Beiteinu’s joining the coalition, the majority (64%) prefers the accession of Yisrael Beiteinu compared to only 8.5% who would have wanted to see the Zionist Union in the government.
In the Arab public the most common preference on the question of adding Yisrael Beiteinu or the Zionist Union to the government is: “both of them to the same extent” (33%). A possible interpretation here, however, is that this public views neither of these parties as desirable. In second place is the preference for a government that includes the Zionist Union (32.5%).
Yaalon is better suited: The Jewish public is much less satisfied with Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister. Fifty-four percent think Yaalon is better suited to the post, with only 24% regarding Lieberman as better suited to it than his predecessor. That is, the preference for Yisrael Beiteinu over the Zionist Union apparently stems from the desire of the Jewish public, the majority of which (56%) defines itself as right-wing, to even further enhance the right-wing camp’s dominance in the governing coalition and not from any particular esteem for Lieberman himself. A segmentation by Knesset voting shows that a huge majority (85%) of Zionist Union voters view Yaalon as better suited to be defense minister (only 5% of them think Lieberman is better suited). Among Likud voters a higher rate sees Lieberman as better suited to the post than the rate who regard Yaalon—a member of their party—as better suited to it (42%—Lieberman is better suited, 37%—Yaalon is better suited). In Bayit Yehudi there is a slight preference for Yaalon over Lieberman (40% vs. 31%).
Our previous conjecture, according to which the Arab public is not only unenthused about the coalitional change but also has reservations about possibly adding Zionist Union, is reinforced by the responses to the question of suitability for the post. Indeed, the highest rate (39%) answered that Yaalon is better suited to the position, but only a slightly smaller rate (30%) said that the two politicians are [un?]equally suited.
Lieberman’s appointment and the Palestinian issue: Lieberman’s indignant remarks over the past year about the Netanyahu government’s purported feebleness in fighting terror has caused many to wonder how his appointment will affect policy on the Palestinian issue. This month’s survey reveals that the highest rate (45%) of the Jewish public indeed expects Israel’s policy to get tougher, though more than a third (36%) think it will not change. A segmentation of the responses to this question by Knesset voting shows that, among Zionist Union voters, only 34% anticipate that the policy will get tougher (the highest rate—49%—foresee no change), while among Likud voters 56% believe the approach will get tougher. Among voters for Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, a majority of 67% sees a toughening on the horizon, along with 50% of Bayit Yehudi voters (compared to 33% who do not foresee a change in policy).
A similar pattern, though a bit less pronounced, emerges for assessments of the Palestinian Authority’s policy in response to Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister, with an almost complete balance between 38% who think it will get tougher and 37% who expect it to stay the same.
As for how the appointment will affect the chances to renew the peace process with the Palestinians, the prevailing response in the Jewish public (39%) is that it will not have an effect one way or the other. However, the rate of those who think the appointment will reduce the chances (34%) is considerably higher than the rate who believe it will increase them (16%). In other words, an overwhelming majority (73%) assesses that Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister will not boost the chances of renewing the peace process with the Palestinians or will even diminish them.
In the Arab public a majority (54%) thinks Lieberman’s appointment will lead to a toughening of Israeli policy. However, when it comes to the anticipated policy of the Palestinians, the most common view (40%) is that it will remain as it was, though 37% expect it, too, to get tougher.
The appointment’s effect on the number of terror attacks: The prevailing view in the Jewish public (44%) is that the number of terror attacks will not change because of Lieberman’s appointment. At the same time, the rate who think their number will decline (22%) is greater than the rate who expect their number to increase (14%). That is, at present more Jews think Lieberman’s appointment has a deterrent value. The picture, however, is more complicated: in the Jewish public there is still a very similar majority to the one found in previous months (68%) who fear that they themselves or one of the people important to them will be harmed in the current wave of terror attacks. In other words, at least for the time being Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister will not induce a decline in the level of security-related fear. More generally, and not necessarily connected with Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister, a majority of the Jewish public (56%) currently assesses Israel’s security situation as not good, while 42.5% view it as moderately good. A very interesting finding is that the Arab public’s assessment of Israel’s security situation is more favorable: a clear-cut majority (77%) views it positively.
The appointments’ effect on relations with the United States: About half of the Jewish public (48%) thinks Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister will not cause a change in Israel’s relations with the United States. Another 24%, though, expect the relations to get worse, while 12% anticipate the opposite. The Arab public’s position on this matter is similar.
To sum up the findings so far, it appears that on most of the questions we looked into, a majority of the Jewish public views the coalitional change as a step in the desirable direction, though Yaalon’s replacement by Lieberman does not stir much enthusiasm. Furthermore, the majority does not see Lieberman’s appointment as likely to foster a change in the diplomatic or security sphere, except for the expectation of a toughening of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.
The resignation of Minister of Environmental Protection Avi Gabai: In the Jewish public, the rate of those who regard Minister Gabai’s resignation as unjustified (47%) is higher than the rate who say he was right to take this step (39%). Also in this context, a higher rate (43.5%) rejects the claim that the head of the Kulanu Party, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, had an interest in surreptitiously supporting Gabai’s resignation so as to signal to Netanyahu that Kulanu’s presence in the government is not guaranteed; only about one-fourth (26%) agree with that conjecture. Notably, the rate of “Don’t knows” on this question (31%) is especially high. In the Arab public, a clear opinion emerges in favor of the resignation: 66% think the former minister’s step was justified. Unlike in the Jewish public, the highest rate (46%) thinks Minister Kahlon probably surreptitiously supported the resignation so as to signal to Netanyahu that his party’s tenure in the government is not a sure thing.
Member of Knesset Orly Levy-Abecasis’s resignation from Yisrael Beiteinu: The distribution of opinions in the Jewish public on what led her to resign is, indeed, less than clear-cut. Thirty percent of the Jewish public was convinced by Levy-Abecasis’s explanation that her party did not make enough demands in the social-welfare sphere in return for joining the government. A slightly higher rate (37%), however, thinks she resigned because she did not get a ministerial appointment. Here too an especially high rate said they did not know (26%). Among voters for Levy-Abecasis’s party, who apparently are angry at her, a clear majority of 70% (!) think her resignation stemmed from the fact that she was not appointed as a minister. In the Arab public the highest rate (39%) ascribed her resignation to the fact that she did not receive such a post.
The legal authorities’ behavior on the Netanyahu-household issue: Half (50%) of the Jewish public does not trust the authorities to make a thorough and professional inquiry into the Netanyahu family’s conduct of its household affairs, though a large minority (43%) trusts them to do so. Correspondingly, a considerable majority (54%) agrees with the claim that the ongoing occupation with this issue stems from inappropriate behavior by the Netanyahu family, while only a minority (34%) agrees with the claim that the concern with the issue stems from the desire to oust the Netanyahu government. Among the Arab respondents, in fact, a majority (53.5%) say they trust the legal authorities to act professionally on this issue. We found a similarity between the two publics on the question of the real reason for the investigation: among the Arabs, too, the majority (which is considerably larger than the majority among the Jewish public) sees the investigation as stemming from the Netanyahu family’s inappropriate conduct (68%).
Negotiations Index: 46.7 (Jewish sample 44.2)
The Peace Index is a project of the Evens Program for Mediation and Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University and the Guttman Center for Surveys of the Israel Democracy Institute. This month's survey was conducted by telephone from May 31 to June 1, 2016, by the Midgam Research Institute. The survey included 600 respondents, who constitute a representative national sample of the entire adult population aged 18 and over. The maximum measurement error for the whole sample is ±4.1% at a confidence level of 95%. Statistical analyses were done by Ms. Yasmin Alkalay.