Posted on February 05, 2001 in Washington Watch

Unless Ehud Barak can perform a miracle, Ariel Sharon will be elected the Prime Minister of Israel on February 6, 2001. According to a February 1st Zogby International poll, Sharon was leading Barak by a margin of 60% to 34%.

The poll, commissioned by Abu Dhabi Television, interviewed 769 randomly selected Israeli voters and had a margin of error of +/- 3.3%.

The final numbers may get closer before the election, since the 60% to 34% margin only includes those who currently say they are voting, but other indicators make it clear that Barak has lost the confidence of Israeli voters across the political spectrum.

For example, when asked if they felt that Barak deserved to be reelected, only 28% agreed, while 61% said that Barak did not deserve another term. And when asked whether over-all Israel was being managed in the right or wrong direction, only 14% said the country was being managed correctly. A huge 72% said the country was being badly managed. It is important note that 80% of those who intend to cast a blank vote on election day come from the group that believes that Israeli has been badly managed under Barak’s leadership.

Another indication of the depth of Barak’s troubles is the fact that Sharon is winning 30% of those voters who supported Barak’s One Israel party in 1999. Meanwhile, Sharon is winning 96% of Likud supporters and almost 100% of those who say they identify with the Shas party.

In fact, the Zogby / Abu Dhabi Television poll shows that among One Israel voters only 46% agree that Barak deserves to be reelected, while a whopping 41.5% of his own party say that they feel he does not deserve reelection.

Interestingly, if former Prime Minister Shimon Peres were to have run, the Zogby / Abu Dhabi poll suggests a near tie with Sharon receiving 44.4% and Peres 42.3% of the vote, and this without Peres having engaged in any campaign activity.

Arab Voters

Barak won in 1999 with the near unanimous support of Israel’s Palestinian Arab voters. Comprising almost 12.5% of the total votes cast, this bloc has become an important constituency in deciding Israel’s elections. In this election, however, Barak can not count on Arab support. About 1/3 of Arab voters indicate that they intend to cast blank ballots on election day. Only about 1/3 of Arab voters will vote for Barak. Another 1/3 are either undecided or will vote for Sharon. Of those who currently say that they will vote on February 6, Barak wins 56.5% to Sharon’s 28%. On the other hand, if Peres were the candidate, he would have won 77% of the Arab vote while only 13% would have cast blank ballots. In that instance, less than 5% of Arab voters would have supported Sharon.

The Issues

When asked which candidate would better ensure Israel’s security, only 28% indicate Barak. 44% of the respondents to the Zogby / Abu Dhabi poll said that Sharon would be best for Israel’s security. Barak could not even win the support of voters who were asked “which candidate would offer the best chance for completing a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.” Only 34% of the respondents to this question answered Barak, while 36% answered Sharon.

What the Zogby International / Abu Dhabi Television poll shows is that Israel is a deeply divided country whose voters are not ready to make the tough choices required in a peace agreement with the Palestinians. While Israelis, by a margin of 51% to 41%, agree that there should be a Palestinian state, a closer examination of how sub-groups of Israelis look at this issue reveals a disturbing fact. One Israel voters, for example, support a Palestinian state by a 68.5% to 23% margin. On the other hand, Likud voters oppose a Palestinian state by 27% to 67.5%. Similarly, Shas voters reject a Palestinian state by a 13% to 82% margin (see Chart I).

Chart I: Should there be a Palestinian State?

All One Israel Likud Shas
Agree 51 68.5 27 13
Disagree 41 23 67.5 82

When asked about two of the more difficult “final status” issues – namely the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and the status of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Gaza – the gap between the attitudes of Israeli voters and the concerns of their Palestinian negotiating partners becomes even clearer.

For example, only 6.5% of all Israeli voters accept the notion that “Israel should acknowledge the Palestinians’ right to return.” 20% agree to a limited number of refugees returning to Israel, while 68.5% of Israeli voters say that “no Palestinians should be allowed to return.” An examination of the views of Israel’s Arab voters reveals a strikingly divergent view. 32% of Israeli-Arabs believe that Israel should acknowledge the “right to return,” while 44.5 believe that Israel should at least agree to allowing a limited number of Palestinians to return. Only 14% feel that no refugees should be allowed back.

A similar set of divergent views can be seen when examining attitudes toward a resolution of the settlement issue. When the Zogby / Abu Dhabi poll asked all Israeli voters how best to resolve the status of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, 46% said that all settlements should remain under Israel’s control. Another 30.5% said that most settlements should remain under Israeli control. Only 13.5% agreed that as part of a final peace agreement that many Israeli settlements could be in the areas under Palestinian control. On this question, too, there is deep disagreement among different Israeli voters, as is shown in the chart below:

Chart II: The Disposition of Israeli Settlements

All One Israel Likud Arab
All Settlements under Israeli Control 46 35 69 .2
The Bulk of Settlements under Israeli Control 30.5 40.5 20 20.5
Many Settlements in Palestinian Controlled Areas 13.5 15 4.5 44


In his short term in office, Barak succeeded in losing the confidence of a wide range of Israeli voters. While some Israeli commentators have complained that Barak’s poor showing was due to his low support among Arab voters, the Zogby / Abu Dhabi poll established that this is not the case.

With only 48% of his own party claiming that he deserves to be reelected, his defeat is practically assured. And with 72% of all Israeli voters stating that the country was being badly managed, Barak almost certainly should have seen the writing on the wall, stepped aside, and allowed another candidate to run against Sharon.

What the Zogby / Abu Dhabi poll also makes clear is that the Israeli voters are deeply divided on critical issues that must be addressed in the peace process. It appears that a majority of Israelis are clearly not ready to meet minimum Palestinian requirements on such issues as refugees and settlements.

Finally, it must be noted that despite his probable victory, even by a large margin, it will be difficult for Sharon to claim a mandate. The Zogby / Abu Dhabi poll shows that a large number of Israelis, both Arab and Jew, will either cast blank ballots or not vote at all. Overall, 13% of Israelis indicate that they may choose this option (10% of Jews and 33% of Arabs).

With a divided Knesset and a deeply divided country (Jews versus Arabs, religious versus secular, pro-peace versus anti-peace) whoever wins this election will have a difficult time governing.

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