Clinton's Tilt Toward Israel Losing Public Opinion Support
When President Bill Clinton twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions in March calling on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to begin work on the Har Homa Jewish settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim in the West Bank, Clinton was not responding to U.S. public opinion, an April 7-10 public opinion poll has revealed. The poll of 1,008 likely voters was conducted for the Arab American Institute and the London Arabic newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat by Zogby International, whose 1996 U.S. national election polls for the Reuters news agency were the most accurate in the United States.
When the Har Homa issue came to a vote in the U.N. General Assembly, where there is no veto, the U.S. and Israel were isolated by a 130 to 2 vote. Popular sentiment in the U.S. was more evenly divided, with 35.5 percent of Americans supporting the U.S. vetoes in the Security Council, 31.4 percent opposing them, and 33.1 percent not sure or with no opinion. However, since the U.S. vetoes risked commercial retaliation against American products and forced American military and diplomatic installations into a state of high security alert in the Middle East, in addition to being enormously unpopular in the world at large, it is not clear why the president took such a potentially costly action.
Other results from the same poll also showed increased contradictions between administration Middle East policies and trends in U.S. public opinion. Asked what should be the final disposition of Jerusalem, U.S. respondents said it should be:
For Israel alone 20.3%
Under Israeli & Palestinian control 24.1%
Not sure/no opinion 38.1%
Asked if they supported or opposed the Palestinian right to statehood, 47.2 percent of Americans supported it, 13.3 percent opposed it, and 39.5 percent had no opinion. Interestingly, although Americans supported Palestinian statehood by well over three to one, the Clinton administration takes no position on the issue.
Asked how the Clinton administration should pursue Middle East peace, respondents said:
1. Lean toward Israel 15.1%
2. Lean toward Palestinians 2.8 %
3. Steer a middle course & be balanced 55.6 %
4. Not sure/no opinion 26.4 %
Asked, however, how they thought the Clinton administration actually is pursuing peace in the Middle East, respondents said it is:
1. Leaning toward Israel 24.1%
2. Leaning toward the Palestinians 3.4%
3. Steering a middle course and is balanced 38.6 %
4. Not sure/no opinion 33.9 %
Thus, while only 15 percent of Americans want the U.S. to lean toward Israel and 55.6 percent think the U.S. should be balanced, almost a quarter of Americans think the Clinton administration actually is leaning toward Israel, and only 38.6 percent of Americans think it actually is balanced. This is an astonishing gap between what Americans want the Clinton administration to do in the Middle East, and what they think the administration actually is doing.
In the current poll, respondents were asked to rate the commitment to peace of four Middle East leaders on a scale of 1 (not committed) to 5 (very committed). The leaders were rated as follows:
Committed Neutral Committed Sure
(5&4) 3 1 & 2 6
HUSSEIN 26.8 22.8 25.7 24.7
MUBARAK 21.2 22.7 10.4 45.7
NETANYAHU 21.3 20.9 24.7 32.9
ARAFAT 16.3 20.5 40.5 22.8
The results show the American public with an overall more favorable opinion of King Hussein and of President Hosni Mubarak than of Netanyahu, with only Yasser Arafat ranking lower.
In interpreting the poll, AAI president James Zogby (brother of pollster John Zogby) noted the results "closely track other recent national polls which show a strong decline in U.S. [public] support for Israel since the election of Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu." He said a Hams poll of 1,006 Americans conducted during the last week in March showed the American public blamed Israel and the Palestinians evenly for current problems in the peace process, and considered Netanyahu and Arafat equally responsible for breaking previous peace agreements.
The same Harris poll showed an even split concerning the U.S. vetoes of U.N. Security Council condemnation of Netanyahu's Har Homa settlement plans, with 43 percent of respondents favoring the veto and 43 percent opposed.
Significantly, James Zogby pointed out that since the AAI/Sharq Al Awsat poll was taken during Netanyahu's visit to Washington to address the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the public was exposed to a televised pandering speech by Vice President Al Gore at the convention, and a televised fawning frenzy by members of Congress and media friends of Israel. "None of those appeared to help the Israeli leader's standing in the U.S. polls," Zogby said.
Minority of Israelis Favored Immediate Construction at Har Homa
That Netanyahu's decision to go ahead with construction at Jabal Abu Ghneim, which brought the peace process to a halt and is creating serious problems for the U.S. in the Middle East, was motivated by the need to hold his right-wing coalition government together and not by overwhelming Israeli popular demand was underlined by a Feb. 25 poll by Yediot Ahronot, Israel's largest daily newspaper. It showed 55 percent of Israelis in favor of "waiting for the right timing" to build the Har Homa settlement or not beginning construction there at all. Only 38 percent of the respondents favored starting construction immediately.
Support for Peace Process Dropping Among Palestinians
According to a poll conducted among 470 adults by Dr. Nabil Kukali of the Beit Sahour-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, support for the peace process among Palestinians in Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem is at an all-time low. The poll, published April 5, showed 30 percent favor more negotiations, 37 percent want to abandon the process, and 19 percent want to continue it with new delegates. On the other hand, support for suicide bombings reached an all-time high, with 40 percent of respondents supporting the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on March 21 in which three Israeli women and the presumed Palestinian bomber died. The poll also showed 26.6 percent support for Fatah, 18 percent for Hamas in local elections, and 13 percent for Islamic independents.
U.S. Jews Supported Hebron Pact
A February poll of American Jews found 64 percent supported the Netanyahu-Arafat agreement under which Israeli forces withdrew from 80 percent of Hebron in the Palestinian West Bank, 14 percent opposed it, and 23 percent had no opinion. By sect, 72 percent of Reform Jews supported the deal, as did 63 percent of Reconstructionist Jews, 62 percent of Conservative Jews, and 52 percent of Orthodox Jews.
Israelis Supported More Withdrawals
A January poll of Israelis by the Dahaf Institute found 67 percent "satisfied with the Hebron agreement and 25 percent not satisfied." The same poll showed 56 percent of Israelis saying Israel needs to "continue to withdraw from territories in Judea and Samaria" and 41 percent saying Israel does not. Only 20 percent of Israelis said they had visited Hebron within the past five years.
Israelis Support Palestinian State
A poll conducted by Tel Aviv University and published in the Jerusalem Post on April 3 found that 51.3 percent of Israelis supported the establishment of a Palestinian state if this removes the main obstacle to real peace, 44.2 percent opposed it, and 4.5 percent were not sure. In the same poll 59 percent of Israeli respondents said chances of an Arab-Israeli war were high and 36 percent did not believe in a strong probability of conflict. The poll also showed 74 percent of Israelis said they were worried that they or their families could be victims of anti-Israeli attacks.
Arafat Slate Wins at Birzeit
In elections for 51 student council seats at Birzeit University near Ramallah in Palestine's West Bank, candidates linked to President Arafat's Fatah movement took 22 seats, candidates linked to the Islamist Hamas took 20, the extremist Islamic Jihad took 1 and the left-wing Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine took 8 seats. The elections were held during the first week in February.
Some Likudniks Support Palestine
A poll taken last December by the Smith Research Center in Israel showed 24 percent of Likud voters willing to accept a Palestinian state under certain conditions. This represented a surprising shift among members of a party dedicated to keeping all of the land upon which such a state presumably would be situated.
A Question of Loyalties
According to Matthew Doff of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, who was writing in February about the federal investigation of David Tenenbaum, a U.S. Army civilian employee in Detroit who told investigators he had "inadvertently" shared classified documents with Israeli military officials over the past 10 years, polls over the past 30 years consistently show that about onethird of Americans believe American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States. Another one-third of Americans say they do not know where Jews' loyalties lie. Doff cited the figures from a study of"Anti-Semitism in America" prepared by the American Jewish Committee.
Tiny Voice of Reason on Kashmir
A third of Indians believe Pakistan should keep the portion of disputed Kashmir it controls and that India should grant the portion of Kashmir it occupies more autonomy. The poll, published in India's Outlook newsmagazine as India and Kashmir opened four days of talks over Kashmir in March, also showed 72 percent of Indian respondents opposing any "minor adjustments" by India on the Kashmir border.
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