Journalists, Pollsters Participate in Panel on "U.S.-Israeli Relations"

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JOURNALISTS, POLLSTERS PARTICIPATE IN PANEL ON "U.S.-ISRAELI RELATIONS"

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and State Department correspondent Steven Erlanger joined pollster John Zogby on June 5 at a program sponsored by the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine entitled "U.S.-Israeli relations, Real Crisis or Smoke and Mirrors?" The program was moderated by Georgetown University professor emeritus Dr. Hisham Sharabi, cofounder and chairman of the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development.

The opening speaker was John Zogby, brother of American Arab Institute President James Zogby, and the national pollster (for Reuters) who came closest to forecasting the correct results of the 1996 presidential elections. Zogby discussed his own polling data since 1995 that puts a very different perspective on a recent New York Times poll that, in Zogby's words, "showed apparent strong attachment by Americans to [Israel] and considerable strong support for Israel's positions in the Middle East peace process."

Drawing on his own extensive poll results, Zogby agreed that "Israel is more popular to U.S. voters than her Arab neighbors, but the favorability levels are hardly the stuff of which special relationships are made. Indeed a comparison of how U.S. voters regard Israel and other countries places that state somewhere in the range of Russia and much below European nations and Japan."

Zogby said that "U.S. voters are not keen about financial aid anywhere. Aid to Israel is no more supported than aid levels to Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, or loans to the IMF to bail out Mexico or Indonesia."

The pollster also said that "U.S. voters are not isolationist, especially regarding the Middle East region. There is equal support for the premise that it is in the best interests of the U.S. to protect the security of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.

"Middle East leaders perceived as moderate receive the highest favorable ratings," Zogby continued. "Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat are not included in this picture.

"In a significant shift, two in three U.S. voters now blame both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for the impasse in the peace process," Zogby said. "About as many voters blame the Palestinian Authority as they do Israel."

Zogby said that "a plurality of voters see the Clinton administration as steering a middle course in the peace process, though by 8 to 1 they see the administration as favoring Israel over the Palestinian Authority. A steadily growing majority -- now up to two out of three -- feel that the Clinton administration should steer a middle course. A similar percentage believe the administration should pressure both sides. And if the president were to apply pressure on both Netanyahu and Arafat, it would help him with U.S. voters."

The pollster said that "only one in four support a letter signed by 81 senators to President Clinton insisting he not publicly intervene by pressuring Israel, while a majority want the president to do whatever is required to secure peace in the region."

Finally, Zogby said, "support for an independent Palestinian state has increased dramatically" from 29 percent who agreed and 48 percent who disagreed in April 1995 to 41 percent who agreed and 25 percent who disagreed in May 1998.

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Friedman began his presentation by saying "there is going to be a second redeployment along the broad outlines of the Clinton plan -- somewhere between 13 and 15 percent. But the redeployment will be on Netanyahu's terms.

"The Arab world has never been weaker or more divided," Friedman continued. "There are two words that you never hear any more, and they are `Arab world.' It's a world of one superpower and one supermarket now.

"The Arab world has a black hole from Morocco to Pakistan regarding computers per capita," Friedman said. …