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Edition 12 Volume 2 - June 01, 2011

Public opinion on the API
The iron wall  - Tamar Hermann
Why is the Israeli public turning a blind eye to this initiative?

Consistent support  - Ghassan Khatib
Polls show the same consistent support for the API.

The real issue is political leadership  - David Pollock
Is this glass half empty or half full?

American public opinion and the Middle East peace process  - John Zogby
This is the one foreign policy issue that engages Americans.

The iron wall
 Tamar Hermann

Since the Saudi peace initiative (later rebranded the Arab Peace Initiative) was put on the table in 2002, it is repeatedly referred to by Palestinian and Arab speakers, by international leaders and commentators and by Israeli activists and experts (mostly of the political left) as unequivocal and convincing evidence of the fundamental flaw in the Israeli mainstream's current narrative of "no partner, no chance for peace" and as a major shift in Arab regional strategy. Paradoxically, however, the API has not become a major topic in the Israeli public discourse. In fact it has turned into a phantom in the internal debate over the future of Israeli-Palestinian and Israel-Arab relations.

It is not that the Israeli Jewish public is unaware of the API; in a March 2007 Peace Index Poll (PIP) following the initiative's reaffirmation in Riyadh, 62 percent of Israeli Jewish interviewees said that they had heard about it. In this survey, the public was divided over the API, with a large minority considering it promising: 45 percent of the respondents saw it as a possible basis for an agreed solution while 47 percent were of the opposite opinion.

The question, then, is why the Israeli public is turning a blind eye to this initiative. Like it or not, the API has gotten much attention elsewhere, and there are more than a few indications that Israelis are interested in peace if only for the sake of their own security and wellbeing.

Much has already been written about various Israeli governments persistently ignoring the API, suggesting that this might have had an effect on the general public's attitude. This is too easy an answer, however, because the Israeli public is far from automatic about adopting its leaders' views on peace and security issues. Another explanation has therefore to be sought. I would suggest that this act of willfully ignoring the API has to do with a cognitive "iron wall"--adopting Zeev Jabotinski's famous metaphor--standing between the Israeli-Jewish public and the Middle East as a whole. This wall is penetrated only by specific signals coming from the other side: the threatening and negative ones.

This selective hearing is rooted in the estrangement of most Israelis from life and developments on the other side of the wall. Thus, according to the June 2010 PIP survey, about three quarters of the Jewish population do not read, write or speak Arabic. Two-thirds have never visited an Arab country (Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, etc.) and 66 percent of these say that they are not interested in doing so. A sense of detachment from the region is further manifested by the overwhelming majority (84.1 percent) who state that they never watch Arab TV stations or listen to Arab radio.

These findings are probably influenced by Israel's traditional western orientation, dominant since the pre-state days. Yet it is not seen this way by most Israelis. The conflict is apparently viewed by the Israeli Jewish public as unrelated to this orientation. In the same poll, over two-thirds disagreed with the hypothetical argument that if the Zionist Jewish immigrants who came to Palestine in the first half of the twentieth century had tried to integrate into the Middle East and had maintained less strong relations with the West and with western customs, the Israel-Arab conflict might not have deteriorated to its present state.

Along the same line, the data suggests that most Israelis are not interested today in integrating into the Middle East and do not see the region and the regional players, who are perceived by and large as highly hostile, as a potential source of anything good, peace included. In the February 2007 PIP, 54 percent of the respondents maintained that the API did not imply a basic transformation in the Arabs' hostile attitude towards Israel and did not signal their authentic interest in peace. Fifty two percent responded that the Israeli government should not consider adopting the API.

This negative reading of the Arab side is strongly reflected in the answers to the following question, presented twice--in February 1995 and June 2010: "In each of the following areas--the political, the economic, and the cultural--are you interested in having Israel integrated into the Middle East or into Europe-America?" At both points in time, the Israeli Jewish public preferred by a great majority (over 66 percent) the West over the Middle East with respect to all three spheres of integration. Furthermore, over the years the pro-western bias has increased and interest in the Middle East per se has declined consistently across the political, economic and cultural dimensions.

One may assume that attitudes towards the peace process would be correlated in one way or another with regional integration preferences. We therefore cross-tabulated the Jewish public's responses to the above question with Jewish answers to the following one: "What is your position regarding the peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority?" In all three realms, both the supporters and those in opposition to peace negotiations with the Palestinians were more enthusiastic about integration into the West than into the Middle East.

In light of the above, the API as is, regardless of its concrete contents, is not going to be embraced in the foreseeable future by the Israeli public. Yet conceivably, if it is repackaged and presented to Israeli Jews as someone else's initiative--preferably, of course, as an Israeli peace initiative--the message may eventually come through.-Published 1/6/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Tamar Hermann is a professor at the Open University of Israel and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Consistent support
 Ghassan Khatib

The Arab Peace Initiative adopted at an Arab summit conference in 2002 and reiterated in another summit in 2007 was never controversial among Palestinians in the occupied territories.

This peace initiative, which calls for a two-state solution on the borders of 1967 and a just solution for the refugee problem on the basis of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 (which calls for the right of return for refugees) is generally compatible with the political solution advocated by a comfortable majority of Palestinians, especially in the period from 1993 and onwards marked by the peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis.

This should not be seen as a seamless consensus since Palestinian public opinion has reflected differences over the possible solution of the conflict with Israel. For example, in the years when support for the peace process was at its highest, between one-third and one-fourth of Palestinians were either skeptical or opponents of the two-state solution. Sometimes this was for political reasons, and at other times this was for ideological and religious reasons.

For the Palestinian people, the significance of the Arab Peace Initiative is not only that it fits with the vision adopted by the majority. Rather, it was seen as an effective move reflecting a united Arab position in support of ending the occupation and achieving the right of return. It unified the Arab position behind Palestinians, giving them the weight necessary to influence a solution in favor of the Palestinian position.

This unified Arab position backing Palestinians was seen by Palestinians as a strategic asset and strength that might tempt the Israelis to move forward with a solution based on the API. Palestinians used the Arab Peace Initiative as leverage and an asset to bargain with. In other words, a peace settlement based on the API would not only offer Israel peace with Palestinians, but rather peace with the rest of the Arab world, without exception. That was thought to be tempting enough for Israel because it also offered, in addition to peace with all the Arab countries, the normalization that Israel always sought.

As a result, over the years since the initiative was born, public opinion polls among Palestinians showed a steady and comfortable majority of roughly two-thirds supporting the initiative and viewing it a good solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There was some insignificant fluctuation, but for the most part, the steady majority was consistent.

Even during the years when the public's support for Hamas formed a plurality, polls show the same consistent support for the API. Indeed, Hamas itself allowed the inclusion of a paragraph supporting the Arab Peace Initiative and accepting a solution on its basis within the political platform of the national unity government formed in 2005 headed by Hamas, that won the vote of confidence of the Hamas-majority parliament.

Since the Arabs adopted this initiative and to this day, despite the changes within Palestinian public opinion and despite signs of radicalization on other issues, the Palestinian public has maintained its support for the API, which even today remains an acceptable framework for a solution were Israel to accept it and embrace it.-Published 1/6/2011 © bitterlemons-api

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

The real issue is political leadership
 David Pollock

Around half of Israelis, Palestinians, and some other key Arab publics, according to various opinion polls taken in the past decade, support something like the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, whose basic concept is peace and Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel's full withdrawal from the territories it captured in the 1967 war. Similarly, around half of each one of these publics would also support other analogous proposals focused more narrowly on "land for peace" in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, such as the unofficial Palestinian-Israeli Geneva initiative of 2003 or the Clinton parameters of December 2000.

Given such statistics, is this glass half empty or half full? These results suggest that political leadership could move these societies toward peace based on mutual compromises. But whether such political leadership can be found, whether the devilish details of a peace agreement can be successfully negotiated, and whether any such agreement could withstand the shifting winds of public opinion--all these are different questions entirely.

For now, more specifically and potentially significantly, at least a narrow majority of West Bank/Gaza Palestinians supports such compromise proposals--even when the questions are worded to include some territorial swaps beyond the 1967 lines and to exclude an unlimited "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. And Israelis tend to support such proposals even when worded to provide for sharing Jerusalem and to omit any mention of recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state."

At the same time, Palestinians are somewhat more likely, and Israelis somewhat less likely, to support the Arab Peace Initiative as compared to the other proposals mentioned above--almost certainly because of the former's inclusion of an ambiguous reference to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 on the "right of return". For a significant number of Israelis, this issue seems to outweigh even the prospect of recognition by the entire league of Arab states. And for a significant number of Palestinians, this issue seems to expand their willingness to accept peace with Israel--although, as just noted, a majority has usually been prepared to accept that even without provision for refugee movement into that country's pre-1967 territory.

The most recent polls from Egypt and Jordan, however, show that the publics in those two countries--the only Arab ones officially at peace with Israel, after Israel ceded them all the land they claimed--are actually, and unfortunately, turning against those very peace treaties. A reliable Pechter Middle East Polls survey in Jordan in April/May 2011 shows something over half of that public opposed to peace with Israel. The latest Pechter Poll of Egypt, conducted during the revolution there in early February, showed this public roughly evenly divided on this matter, but with around a third responding "don't know" or refusing to answer the question. But since then, two other polls suggest that Egyptians are moving into the opposing column. The Pew Poll, taken in April, records 54 percent saying their country should cancel its peace treaty with Israel.

Of course, a great deal depends upon the precise timing, wording, and sample selection of each one of these (or any other) surveys. That is all the more reason why polls asking not about the Arab Peace Initiative specifically, but about other loosely similar proposals, can only be a rough guide to public opinion on these issues. And even polls that ask explicitly about the API must be taken with the proverbial grain (or more) of salt, depending upon their individual context, technical specifications, and overall credibility of the pollster. Nevertheless, the very brief additional selection of relevant results presented below may be useful.

The Geneva initiative, when taken as a whole document, has recently garnered narrow majority or at least plurality Israeli and Palestinian support. In March 2010, the International Peace Institute reported that 56 percent of Israelis support the Geneva initiative, with about half of the Palestinian population supporting it. The group's poll from December 2008 had shown similar results, with a 51 percent support rating among Israelis, but about 41 percent among Palestinians. Palestinian support, measured in November 2010, increased to 67.6 percent when respondents were asked specifically about the clause concerning Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, with no more than three percent land swaps.

The Brookings Institution has reported on opinions about the concept of land-for-peace in six Arab states: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2010, 56 percent of those polled said that they would be prepared for comprehensive peace with Israel if it pulled out of the 1967 territories, but that they do not believe Israel would do so. This number was the highest of the past three years.

According to the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research, as of March 2011 Palestinians still displayed a relatively high level of support for the API: 54 percent supported it, but this was down from 64 percent in August of 2009. Other Palestinian polls generally show comparable levels of support for the notions of "land for peace" and a "two-state solution", though usually without specific reference to the API.

Israeli opinions on the API, measured in late 2010 by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, were reported to be at a support level of 52 percent, a number significantly higher than previous years. Yet a Brookings survey taken at almost exactly the same time strongly suggests that such a yes/no finding is actually simplistic: while just 40 percent of Israeli respondents that they would be ready for a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians based on the 1967 borders with slight modifications, as against 30 percent clearly opposed, fully 30 percent responded that they had a view different from either of those two alternatives.

What then is the political, rather than the purely statistical, significance, of all these numbers? As noted above, political leadership is at least as important as public opinion. For the time being, both Palestinian and Israeli political leaders are adding conditions to peace, above and beyond the bare minimum that their own publics require. And elsewhere in the region, where public opinion now matters as never before, political leaders are struggling just to maintain some semblance of stability in the face of unprecedented uncertainty. As a result, even if public opinion may permit peace, it is certainly not pushing governments in that direction today.-Published 1/6/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

David Pollock is senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, specializing in regional political dynamics. He served as a senior advisor at the US State Department until 2007 and has conducted and analyzed hundreds of Middle East opinion polls.

American public opinion and the Middle East peace process
 John Zogby

Zogby International has been polling American opinion on the Arab-Israel dispute and the path to peace since the early 1990s. This is the one foreign policy issue that engages Americans, and policymakers would be wise to listen to the public. The overall responses point to a fundamental sense of fairness and balance and the trend lines offer more hope than the headlines suggest.

In our March 2010 poll, commissioned by the Arab American Institute, when asked whether they agreed with the proposition that "both Israelis and Palestinians are entitled to equal rights," 84 percent of Americans agreed. And by a margin of 67 percent to 17 percent, Americans continued to support the notion that "there should be an independent Palestinian state."

A plurality agreed that Palestinians should be guaranteed "the right of return". Similarly, a plurality agreed that Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land in the West Bank "should be torn down and the land returned" to the Palestinians. And on the sensitive issue of Jerusalem, Americans are evenly divided as to whether the city should be partitioned or remain under Israeli control. Further, when asked straight out, "Should the US government get tough with Israel?"--a slight plurality agreed. And when we posed whether "US support for Israel makes the US more or less respected in the world," 44 percent responded "less respected", as opposed to only 13 percent who felt that support for Israel made the US "more respected".

What should the president and administration do about Israel's settlement policies? Half said "get tough with Israel and attempt to stop the expansion," while only 19 percent said that the US should "do nothing and allow the settlements to continue". (The remaining 31 percent were not sure.)

Similarly, in a separate poll of American Jews and Arabs, 80 percent of those surveyed in both communities agree with the finding of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group that "the United States will not be able to achieve goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict." In addition, 70 percent of American Jews and 82 percent of Arab-Americans voiced support for the Arab Peace Initiative as the "basis for negotiations".

While there were some areas of bipartisan agreement, on most critical issues we have seen a deep partisan divide. This divide has serious consequences for US policy and explains in many ways why President Barack Obama's recent speech on renewing the Middle East peace process will help his re-election efforts in 2012. In 2008, Obama won the presidency with an historic coalition of key demographic groups--young voters, African Americans, Hispanics and moderate suburbanites. These groups, all growing in numbers within the electorate, tend to favor a more balanced view of the conflict and the peace process.

Americans support Israel. But, are the interests of the two countries identical, and does its support for Israel strengthen or weaken the US? Three-quarters of voters who supported Republican candidate John McCain's election in 2008 believe that the interests of the US and Israel are identical. Nearly as many believe that the US is strengthened by its support of Israel.

Obama voters, however, strongly disagree with both propositions, with more than one half disagreeing that the interests of the two countries are the same. Similarly, half of Obama voters believe the US is weakened by its support for Israel, with only one in five seeing the US as strengthened. Do you believe that US support for Israel strengthens the US? Overall, 45 percent said it strengthens it and 32 percent said it weakens the US. But Democrats split between 24 percent strengthens, 45 percent weakens, while 72 percent of Republicans said US support for Israel strengthens the US and only 14 percent said it weakens it. Young voters split 29 percent to 40 percent.

When asked which is more important to the US--relations with Israel, the Arabs, or both--only seven percent of Obama voters say Israel, 17 percent say the Arabs, and 68 percent say both. On the other hand, 46 percent of McCain voters say that the US relationship with Israel is most important, only three percent emphasize relations with the Arabs, while 48 percent say both.

Predictably, McCain voters saw former President George W. Bush as an honest broker (by an 84 percent-eight percent margin). Obama voters disagreed by an equally overwhelming margin. But what should President Obama do? When asked, 73 percent of those who voted for President Obama said he should "steer a middle course", with only ten percent saying he should support Israel and six percent saying support the Palestinians. Wildly different responses came from the McCain voters, 60 percent of whom say the current president should support Israel! Only 22 percent of McCain supporters say the president should be balanced in his approach to the conflict.

Engage with Hamas? By a 67 percent-16 percent margin Obama voters said yes, while 79 percent of McCain voters say no. And should the US get tough with Israel? Eighty percent of Obama voters offered that it is time to get tough, with 73 percent of McCain voters disagreeing--including 66 percent of Democrats saying time to get tough and 74 percent of Republicans disagreeing.

On final status issues: do Palestinians have the right of return? Obama voters agreed they do by a margin of 61 percent-13 percent, while McCain voters disagreed, 21 percent-51 percent. On Jerusalem, Obama voters prefer the "divided" and "two capitals" option with McCain voters overwhelmingly supporting Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

Similarly, a majority of Obama voters believe Israel should be made to remove its settlements from occupied Palestinian lands, while a majority of McCain voters believe the settlements should stay.

The depth of this partisan divide is instructive on many levels. In fact, as the two parties have evolved over the past 30 years, and as the issue itself has evolved--since the Oslo agreements--the two parties have moved in different directions.

By a margin of 40 percent-34 percent, Americans say Israel's settlements in occupied territories are wrong. By a margin of 40 percent-26 percent, Americans say the president should get tough with Israel to stop settlements. And, 51 percent worry that when the US is unable to stop Israeli settlements it weakens the stature of the US in the world.

While these numbers show both Democrats and independents in support of a tougher US stance, two observations must be made.

First, there is the presence here of a deep partisan divide, with two-thirds of Democrats opposed to Israeli policies compared to two-thirds of Republicans in support of whatever Israel does. The partisan split is not merely a function of leadership, it is also demographics. The pro-Israel bent of the Republican side is largely due to the preponderance of Christian fundamentalists in its coalition, while the Democratic side is increasingly made up of young voters (America's "First Global Citizens"), women and minorities (African Americans, Hispanics and Asians-who together form about one-third of the US electorate). They are also more inclined to consider a broader view of international issues.-Published 1/6/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

John Zogby, an independent pollster, is chairman and chief insights officer of Zogby International Research, and author of "The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream" (Random House).

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