April 17, 2001 No.

Shift in Israeli Attitudes Towards Peace

Dr. Mina Tzemach of the Dahaf Institute conducted a special public opinion poll on the political positions of the Israeli public regarding the Palestinians and the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The poll showed an acute shift in the way the Israeli public in general, and the Israeli left in particular, view the Palestinians and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

According to the poll, 58% of Israelis said that their opinion of the Palestinians has changed for the worse since the beginning of the Intifada. Even among Meretz supporters, 58% now have a worse opinion of the Palestinian leader. Also according to this poll, Israeli public opinion regarding the Israeli Arabs has also become worse, with about 55% reporting a change for the worse.

This shift also influenced the political opinion of many Israelis. 37% of those polled reported that the Intifada caused them to adopt more hawkish opinions (vs. 13% that said they had become more dovish.) In addition, 63% said that it was impossible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The majority of Israelis (51%) believed that the Intifada reduced the chances for peace.

This change in Israeli public opinion was also reflected in the means that Israelis were now willing to adopt as the appropriate response to the Intifada. A very large majority, (71%) supported the assassination of Palestinian leaders who are connected to terrorist acts. A slightly larger number (73%) supported economic sanctions against the Palestinians. Nevertheless, 56% supported the evacuation of far away settlements.

The results of the poll, including a commentary by Sever Plotzker, Editor at large for economic affairs and commentator, were published in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot on March 30, 2001. Following are excerpts from the poll's results and from Plotzker's commentary:

"The Intifada produced a dramatic change in Jewish public opinion regarding the Arabs in general, the Palestinians in particular and especially regarding Yaser Arafat. This change encompasses both the left and the right..."

"Six months after the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, 44% of Israeli Jews said that their opinion regarding the Arab world in general has shifted and is now more negative. 58% [of the Jewish Israeli population] have changed their mind for the worst regarding the Palestinians and 66% [of the Jewish Israeli population] changed their mind for the worse regarding Arafat. Arafat is the chief political casualty of his own behavior during the Intifada war " he has completely lost his status as a man of peace even among Meretz [the most prominent Israeli peace camp party] voters and supporters. The Israeli left has disengaged itself from Arafat."

"There is also a change for the worst in the way the Israeli public views Israeli Arabs. As a result of what happened in the past six months, 50% of Israeli Jews formed a negative view of the Arab minority living in Israel. This is a grave blow to the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel. The healing process might take years."

"Concluding from the answers given to this poll by Israel's Jewish citizens, the Al-Aqsa Intifada turned 37% of them more hawkish and turned only 13% of them more dovish. 45% of the poll's participants admitted that the recent events diminished their beliefs in the prospects for peace. The center of gravity in Israel's political map has shifted to the right, and the margin of this shift is very wide. Such a sharp turn to the right within Israeli public opinion did not take place even during the peak of terror attacks in the winter that followed Yitzhak Rabin's assassination."

"The peace stocks plummeted in a similar fashion to the technology stocks. The 'permanent agreement' bubble burst the same way as the NASDAQ bubble did. It is not too hard to find the reasons for this phenomenon. The Palestinians have let the Israelis down. Not only did they reject Barak's proposals, but they also chose the alternative of violent conflict. They used the pronoun 'Al-Aqsa' to term their war, namely a religious Jihad. The anti-Israeli incitement took the form of radical Jewish hatred. During the summer of 1967, the broadcaster of the Egyptian radio station 'Voice of Thunder' threatened to exterminate 'Moshe Dayan's army of unemployed.' During the fall of 2000, the Arab street, which is looking for a new cohesive glue, was voicing a similar frenzied tone. A tone calling to forcefully deny Israel's right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East."

"Many Israelis have asked themselves during the past six months whether there is a difference between the burning of a model of an Israeli settlement during Palestinian rage marches and an actual burning of it; whether there is a difference between the lynching of two reserve soldier in Ramallah and an existential threat to Israeli cities. Many have concluded that it seems that there is no difference."

"The results of this poll clearly manifest this conclusion. Today, only 38% of Israel's citizens and 36% of its Jewish citizens believe that it is possible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. A compelling majority of 61% to 63% has given up on the idea of peace all together. This is a historic shift."

"The Oslo agreements transformed the Palestinians from an enemy to a neighbor, to a partner. The Al-Aqsa Intifada reversed this notion and transformed the Palestinians back from neighbor to enemy, to the one on the other side of the battle field..."

Meretz Supporters vs. The Settlers

"The poll also sampled two opposing camps of the Israeli society separately: Meretz supporters and the [West Bank and Gaza Strip] settlers. How did they react?"

"As expected, 62% of settlers said they are more hawkish than they were six months ago...only 10% of Meretz supporters said they are more hawkish and 23% of them said they are more dovish than they were six months ago. These seem to be opposing reactions to the events of the Intifada. However, the enhanced (formal) dovish position of Meretz supporters evaporates when they are asked to react on the way they see Arafat, the Palestinians, the Arab world in general and the chances for peace. They have also given up: just like the settlers and the rest of the Israeli public, they too believe that the chances for peace have diminished. Their opinion regarding the Palestinians, Arafat, and also Israeli Arabs has become more negative. Their attitude regarding Israeli Arabs has also become more negative " although the intensity of this attitude is not as acute as within Israel's general Jewish population. The hawkish erosion swept Meretz supporters as well, although they hesitate to admit to it..."

What is the solution?

"With both process of and hope for peace lacking there is sweeping support in Israeli public opinion for [what Israel terms] a 'unilateral separation:' 70% of the Israeli public support it [71% of Meretz supporters and 80% of settlers support it]..."

"Nevertheless, these numbers are misleading. About half of those who support unilateral separation know and are convinced that it is impossible to carry out. 42% of the Israelis believe that... Separation is just another slogan."

"The dim light at the end of this catastrophic tunnel is that maybe now the Palestinians will begin to realize their mistake " after six months of the senseless Intifada which has not given them Al-Aqsa nor a grain of territory, or any Israeli concessions, but only dead and wounded."