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Shift in Israeli Attitudes Towards Peace

MEMRI Special Dispatch - Israel April 6, 2001 No. 204

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.”

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