Most Israelis Favour a Nuclear-Free Middle East, Poll Shows

  • by Mitchell Plitnick (washington)
  • Inter Press Service

This was the most surprising result to come out of a pair of polls conducted separately on Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel. The polls, conducted in November by Professor Shibley Telhami and presented Thursday at the Brookings Institution, covered a range of topics, from the Arab Spring to perceptions of the United States and hopes for the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

While 90 percent of Israeli Jews believe Iran will develop a nuclear weapon, 63 percent prefer that neither country possess nuclear weaponry, while only 19 percent would prefer they both do, if those are the only two choices.

By a narrow margin of 43 to 41 percent, Israeli Jews support the idea of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Sixty-eight percent of Arab Israelis oppose such an attack, with only four percent saying they support it.

The poll also revealed that most Israeli Jews believe that the Arab Spring will negatively impact their own country, largely because they do not believe it will bring democracy to the Arab world.

When asked how the Arab Spring will affect Israel, 51 percent responded 'mostly for the worse', with only 15 percent saying it would change things for the better. Twenty-one percent said it would make no difference.

Yet, when asked 'If the Arab Spring does, in fact, lead to more democracy in the Arab world…' 44 percent thought this would be better for Israel, with only 22 percent saying it would be worse and 28 percent saying it would make no difference.

Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea, responding to the presentation of Telhami's polls, noted that, 'The Israeli people are made more fearful of the Arab Spring' by government and media warnings that it will increase hostility toward Israel.

The poll of Palestinian citizens of Israel revealed some sharp changes on key issues from only a year ago.

When asked if they would 'accept the transfer of some Arab/Palestinian towns currently in Israel to a new Palestinian state', 78 percent responded that they would not accept such a transfer, with only 17 percent saying they would. That is a clear shift from 2010, when 58 percent said they would oppose such a transfer while 36 percent would accept it.

There was also a strong shift toward compromise on the question of Palestinian refugees' right to return to the lands from which they were exiled. In 2010, 57 percent of Arab Israelis said the right of return 'could not be compromised away', while 28 percent said it was 'important, but a compromise should be found' and 11 percent said it was 'not too important'.

In the current poll, the plurality shifted and now 57 percent are in favour of compromise, 34 percent say it cannot be compromised and only five percent say it is not too important.

Telhami was unsure about the reasons for the drastic shift in opinion on this issue. He did say, however that, 'Those who had refugees in their families were much more inclined not to compromise than those who did not.'

The polls also showed a stark contrast between Arab and Jewish citizens in the perceptions of the status of Arabs in Israel. While majorities in both groups (52 percent of Jews, 57 percent of Arabs) believe that, 'There is legal equality but institutional and societal discrimination' against the Arab minority, 36 percent of Arabs believe that the relationship between Jews and Arab in Israel 'is an apartheid relationship'.

While only seven percent of Jews subscribe to that view, 33 percent of Jews believe there is 'full equality between Arab and Jewish citizens' in Israel, but a mere three percent of Arabs share that view.

Jewish Israelis hold little hope for a resolution of the conflict in the near future, with only six percent saying it will be resolved in the next five years. Forty-nine percent believe it will never be resolved, while 42 percent say that it eventually will be, but it will take more than five years.

There is a widespread consensus among Israeli Jews that Israel must be recognised as a Jewish state, something the Palestinian Authority has adamantly refused to do. Thirty-nine percent insist such recognition must be a precondition of negotiations or a settlement freeze, while 40 percent are willing to accept that recognition as part of a final peace agreement. Only 17 percent do not support the demand for recognition as a Jewish state.

But when asked if they would accept defining Israel as 'the homeland of the Jewish people and all its citizens', 71 percent of Israeli Jews said they would support such a formulation, while only 25 percent oppose it.

By a 66 percent to 31 percent margin, Israeli Jews said they believe their government should be doing more to 'promote comprehensive peace with the Arabs based on the 1967 borders with agreed modifications', indicating dissatisfaction with the way the Netanyahu government has handled this issue.

Yet 47 percent of Israeli Jews also believe that if the two-state solution collapses, 'the status quo will continue with little change.' Thirty-four percent believe it will lead to intense, long- term conflict.

Telhami pointed out that, 'In the Arab world, most believe that the collapse of the two-state solution will lead to intense conflict for years to come.'

The polls found that Arab citizens of Israel were generally well in line with the rest of the Arab world in their attitudes toward the Arab Spring and in seeing Turkish Prime Minister Tercep Erdogan as the model for new leadership.

The one stark difference between Arabs in Israel and in the Arab countries surveyed in an earlier poll was in the view of the United States' role in the Arab world in recent months. When asked which two outside countries played the most productive roles in the Arab world in recent months, the United States ranked third in the Arab countries, being named by 24 percent of respondents, but ranked first at 45 percent among Arabs in Israel.

As the United States' presidential election draws nearer, Barack Obama might take heart that his positive rating among Israeli Jews is up to 54 percent from 41 percent last year. But faith in his policies remains low, as only 22 percent say their attitude about them is 'hopeful' while 39 percent describe their feelings as 'discouraged'.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service