Clinton's Tilt toward Israel Losing Public Opinion Support

By Holden, Kurt | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 31, 1997 | Go to article overview

Clinton's Tilt toward Israel Losing Public Opinion Support


Holden, Kurt, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


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%

Other 17.5%

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:

Not Not

Committed Neutral Committed Sure

(5&4) 3 1 & 2 6

JORDANIAN KING

HUSSEIN 26.8 22.8 25.7 24.7

EGYPTIAN PRES.

MUBARAK 21.2 22.7 10.4 45.7

ISRAELI P.M.

NETANYAHU 21.3 20.9 24.7 32.9

PALESTINIAN PRES.

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. …

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