Posted on May 21, 2001 in Washington Watch

Months of sustained conflict have deepened the rift between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens and intensified the political malaise felt by Israelis in general.

These are some of the findings of a recent Zogby International (ZI) poll. The poll was conducted from May 6 to May 9 and was commissioned by Abu Dhabi TV (ADTV). The poll interviewed 600 Israeli voters and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. In order to obtain a more detailed assessment of the views of Israeli Arab voters, an additional sample of 220 Arabs was also conducted.

Israelis may have voted in Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister in February of 2001, but four months later they do not appear to be pleased by their choice.

I. Dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Sharon
Israeli voters do not give Sharon high marks on his overall performance as Prime Minister. His negative job performance rating is twice as high as his positive rating. (33.5 negative to 61.5 positive). Arab voters are almost unanimous in their rejection of the Prime Minister, one percent positive to 97.5 negative, but Jewish voters also give him low marks (only 39 percent positive to 55.5 percent negative). Only Likud voters give Sharon a slightly more positive the negative rating, and even these voters from the Prime Minister’s own party are almost evenly split in their assessment of his job performance (51 percent positive to 45 percent negative).

This dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister can also be seen in the low percentage of voters who indicate support for his reelection. When the percentage of support for a sitting elected official is lower than 50 percent it is usually a sign of public displeasure. A positive rating below 40 percent is an indication of a serious political problem. In the Zogby/ADTV poll only 36.5 percent of all Israeli voters say Sharon deserves reelection. This represents a significant decline from the support he received in February 2001. Among Jewish voters, Sharon has slipped over 10 percent. Arabs are almost unanimous in rejecting him, with 94 percent saying he does not deserve reelection.

Another indication of voter dissatisfaction can be found in their response to the question “is the country moving in the right or wrong direction?” While Sharon’s numbers are only slightly better than those received by Barak in February 2001, still today only 34.5 percent of Israeli voters believe that Sharon is leading the country in the right direction. Fifty percent of Israelis say the country is moving in the wrong direction.

And when asked whether or not Israel, under Prime Minister Sharon’s leadership, was moving closer to or further away from peace, voters indicate that the country has not moved toward peace. Only 15.5 percent of all Israelis say that Sharon is heading toward peace. This negative assessment holds true for Jews as well as Arabs. Among Jewish voters, only 18 percent say Sharon is leading toward peace, while 93 percent of Arab voters say that he is leading the country further away from peace.

II. Arab/Jewish Relations
Arab voters have grown increasingly alienated with successive Israeli governments. Many analysts believe that it was Arab disenchantment with then Prime Minister Peres resulting from his bombing of Lebanon that caused almost 100,000 Arabs to cast a blank ballot in the 1996 election. Arab anger grew more intense in 2000 after 13 Israeli Arab citizens were killed by Israeli soldiers during Arab demonstrations in support of the Palestinian Intifada. In the 2001 election, it appears that more than three-fourths of all Arab voters either cast a blank ballot or did not vote at all.

While, in the past, Israeli Arabs have been somewhat diverse in their political views, this Zogby/ADTV poll now shows this group to be remarkably unified.

When all voters were asked if, compared to one year ago, they were more or less optimistic about the future of Arab-Jewish relations in the state of Israel, their answers indicate a great degree of pessimism.

Table 1. Arab/Jewish relations: Optimistic or pessimistic compared to one year ago?

Total Jews Arabs
Optimistic 16.5 19 1.5
Pessimistic 59 55.5 90
Same 22 23 7.5

When they were asked how best to improve Arab-Jewish relations in the future, the deep rift between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel was clearly evident. While Arab voters overwhelmingly favor new policies that would guarantee its full equality and rights for Arab citizens, more conservative Jewish voters favor a continuation of existing policies.

Table 2. How to improve Arab/Jewish relations

Total All Jews Labor Likud Shas Arabs
Guarantee full equality/ rights for all Arabs 41 34.5 54.5 28.5 15.5 79
Continue current policies 25 29 14 35 50 0
Encourage Arabs to join a future Palestinian State 18 18 12.5 20 15.5 17

III. Issues Related to Peace
A slight majority of all Israelis are not optimistic that a comprehensive peace can be achieved during the next five years (44.5 percent optimistic to 52 percent pessimistic).

When asked for their attitudes toward two issues that could provide the keys to unwinding the current cycle of violence, Israeli voters show that they are deeply divided. For example, when asked whether settlements in the West Bank and Gaza improve, harm or make no difference to Israeli security, Israeli voters are deeply split on this sensitive issue.

Table 3. Settlements and security

Total All Jews Labor Likud Arab
Improve 28.5 33 16 52 2.5
Harm 46 37.5 58 20 86
No Difference 20 23.5 23.5 21 7

Finally, when asked whether the force used by Israel in response to the Palestinian Intifada is the “right amount, not enough or too much,” Israeli voters appear to demonstrate support for the existing approach (characterized as excessive and disproportionate by the U.S. State Department) used by their military.

Table 4. Israeli response to Palestinians

Total Jews Arabs
Just the right amount of force 24 27.5 1.5
Not enough force 47 54.5 2
Too much force 22.5 10 93

The many months of conflict have, it appears, moved Israelis and Palestinians further away from peace. This tragic period has taken a huge toll in Palestinian lives and caused the Palestinians enormous suffering. As the recent Zogby/ADTV poll demonstrates, it has had an impact on Israeli society, as well. It has unified Israel’s Arabs in opposition to the policies of the government and created dissatisfaction among Israel’s citizens. But is has not moved the situation any closer toward a restoration of the key issues that are at the core of the conflict.

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