Zack Colman
The Jerusalem Post
July 24, 2009 - 12:00am

A new poll, conducted during a week of heightened tensions between Israel and the US over settlement construction and stymied diplomatic negotiations, reveals in stark terms just how wary Israeli Jews are regarding the Palestinian leadership, and how distrustful they are about international assurances for the country's long-term security.

The poll, carried out by the Maagar Mohot Survey Institute and made available to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, showed that 64 percent of Israeli Jews believe Israel would not be able to trust international pledges for its security in return for settlement withdrawals in the West Bank, while only 9% said it would.

The survey also found that a whopping 71% were adamant the government must insist that the Palestinians freeze all West Bank construction if a similar freeze were forced upon Israel, in order to prevent problematic "new facts on the ground." Only 20% said the government should not make that demand.

Especially prominent were the figures revealing the degree of suspicion toward the Palestinian Authority leadership, and in particular its president Mahmoud Abbas.

When asked what they believe the ultimate intention of Abbas and other leaders is when striving for a Palestinian state, 62% said the PA leaders want to establish a state instead of Israel, while only 27 said Palestinian leaders want the two nations to live side-by-side.

In total, 58% said they believe any pledge from Abbas would not bind future Palestinian leaders, while 18% gave it a "so-so" chance, and only 12% thought it would bind them.

The survey also pointed to widespread worry over the "demographic problem," referring to the view of many experts that the Arab population will outgrow the Jewish one in the not-distant future.

Some 72% of respondents said the issue should be an important factor for Israeli leaders in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only 17 it should be "marginal."

When asked what solution to the conflict would best serve Israel's interests, 70% chose "autonomy," in which the Palestinians rule over their day-to-day lives, with their borders and air space under Israel's control. Only 15% expressed support for a sovereign Palestinian state.

However, respondents were not asked their opinion of the demilitarized Palestinian state envisioned by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Furthermore, 48% said they think it is more important to build new Jewish communities in the Galilee and the Negev, while only 8% think the emphasis should be placed on Judea and Samaria, and 37% think both are equally important.

Moshe Maoz, professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University, said the idea of autonomy as a viable solution is "a joke" to Palestinians. Whether Israelis want to hear it or not, autonomy wouldn't seem too different from the current situation, he said.

"No, never. By no means," Maoz said of Palestinians accepting autonomy. "They want independence. They have been under Israeli occupation for 40 years and all they want is autonomy? It's in the mind of Israelis that they know what is best for Arabs."

"For conflict resolution there needs to be some faith in sovereignty and not just some sort of autonomy," he said, noting that the international community has already committed to a two-state solution - as, indeed, has Netanyahu.

David Newman, professor in the Department of Politics & Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said the results of the poll could be misleading because of unfamiliarity with the exact definitions of "sovereignty" and "autonomy."

He said poll questions could be asked in various ways and yield diverse results.

Some experts said Palestinian social, political and economic conditions must improve before sovereignty can be seriously discussed.

"The main issue is what is the nature of this country, can they control themselves, and the relationship between the groups in there," said Yohanan Tzoreff, an expert in Palestinian affairs. "Then you can talk about the ability of the country, what kind of security forces it can get and what's the nature of the forces."

Dr. Aaron Lerner, director of the Independent Media Review and Analysis organization, which commissioned the poll, said it is best to think of autonomy as a starting point to eventual sovereignty, although how eventual that sovereignty might be is uncertain. If Palestinians are able to prove they can operate society in a peaceful manner, a future sovereign state could be possible, he said.

Establishing effective Palestinian police forces, which would be allowed in autonomy, would express the efforts being made to stabilize the area, Lerner said.

The poll was conducted from Sunday through Tuesday this week, among a representative sample of 526 adult Israeli Jews, with a survey error of +/- 4.5 percentage points.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017