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U.S. Jews Back Peace Process, Worry About Plo, Survey Shows

Most American Jews continue to support the Israeli-Arab peace process, but that support has declined in the past two years, according to a new national survey sponsored by the American Jewish Committee.

More than half of those interviewed for the survey by an independent research firm indicated that they mistrust the Arabs as peace partners, with the exception of the Jordanians.

Mistrust of the Palestine Liberation Organization runs especially deep, with 71 percent saying that it “cannot be relied upon to honor its agreements.”

Fully 62 percent of the respondents said Israel should not “compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction” in the “framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians.” The numbers are similar to those of previous years’ surveys.

Only 20 percent said they favor an immediate move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, however.

Meanwhile, almost 90 percent said they “see a need for a continuing U.S. role in the Middle East peace process.”

The results, released Tuesday, come at a time when public attacks against the peace process appear to be escalating, prompting expressions of concern by the Israeli government and peace process supporters here.

For them, the survey results were welcome.

“The clear message is that there is continued support by American Jews despite vigorous efforts by the enemies of the peace process to discredit it,” said Gary Rubin, executive director of Americans For Peace Now. “Clearly they have not succeeded.”

“It’s reassuring to see a strong majority of Jews backs our efforts to support the peace process,” said Martin Raffel, associate executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

At the same time, Raffel said he is not surprised by the erosion of support since the signing of the Declaration of Principles two years ago by Israel and the PLO. “It was incorrectly described as a peace treaty when it was merely a framework for messy and complicated negotiations,” he said.

People underestimated the difficulties that were to follow, especially “the acceleration of terrorism” and the numbers reflect their disappointment and frustration, he said.

These findings “demonstrate broad general support for the peace initiative under way in Israel and a sense that the process is likely to lead to regional peace,” said David Harris, AJCommittee’s executive director.

But “the growing level of distrust of the Arabs, in general, and the PLO, in particular,” underscores that the American Jewish community’s “optimism remains tempered with caution,” he said.

Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, singled out the mistrust factor in his reaction to the findings.

The results “reflect the fatigue and exhaustion that most Jews feel with respect to continued terrorism by Arabs against Jews,” he said.

“Most Jews clearly recognize the PLO continues to encourage terrorism by [PLO Chairman Yasser] Arafat’s calls for jihad and praised of terrorists as heroes. Thus, more American Jews now believe a real peace with the Arabs is becoming more elusive,” said Klein.

The survey was the third of a series initiated by the AJCommittee since the signing of the Declaration of Principles.

In the current survey, 1,000 people who identified themselves as Jews were interviewed by telephone during the second week in August.

When asked in general terms whether they “support” or “oppose” the “Israeli government’s current handling of the peace negotiations with the Arabs,” 68 percent said they “support” the process. That is down from 77 percent in August of last year and 84 percent in September of 1993.

A total of 15 percent said they “oppose” the process, which 17 percent said they are “not sure.”

And 66 percent said they believe that the past two years of negotiations between Israel and its Arab negotiating partners “increase the likelihood of peace with the Arabs,” while 18 percent said they believe that they “increase the likelihood of another war.”

But most respondents said they do not trust the Arabs’ motives in the talks.

Some 56 percent said they “agree” that the “goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel,” up from 51 percent in 1994 and 42 percent in 1993. But 37 percent said they “disagree” with this statement.

Although 74 percent believe that the Jordanians are interested “in a true and lasting peace with Israel,” only 38 percent believe this about the Syrians and 37 percent about the Palestinians.

Mistrust of the PLO runs deep, the surveys shows. A total of 71 percent said the PLO could not be “relied upon to honor its agreements and refrain from terrorist activity against Israel.” That is up from 65 percent last year and 42 percent in 1993.

An overwhelming 91 percent said the PLO is “not doing enough to control terrorist activity against Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian extremist groups.”

Respondents were asked about each track of negotiations. Some 64 percent said they support the handling of the talks with the Palestinians, down from 70 percent last year. Fully 61 percent support talks with the Syrians, about the same as last year, and 92 percent approve of the peace treaty Israel signed with Jordan in October 1994.

Support for a Palestinian state has dropped, the survey indicates. A total of 46 percent said they support its establishment, down from 53 percent last year and 57 percent the year before.

A majority of respondents said they oppose any significant return of the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace. Twenty-six percent said “some of it” should be returned, 33 percent said “none of it” and 28 percent said “only past of it.” Only 2 percent said the entire Golan should be returned.

Respondents were evenly divided over whether U.S. troops should be stationed on the Golan as part of a multinational monitoring force that might eventually do so.

The survey also explored the issue of dissent within the American Jewish community. About half the respondents, or 53 percent, said they agreed that American Jews “should support the policies of the duly elected government of Israel,” regardless of their individual views on the peace process. But 43 percent disagreed.

Most, however, reserved the right to publicly criticize Israeli government policy. Seventy-one percent said they disagreed with the statement that “American Jews should not publicly criticize the policies of the government of Israel.” A total of 26 percent agreed, while 4 percent said they were unsure.

All three AJCommittee surveys were conducted with the same methodology by Market Facts, Inc., a research organization. The current survey was demographically representative of the U.S. adult Jewish population in terms of age, income, gender and geographic region.

Eight percent of the respondents identified themselves as Orthodox, 36 percent as Conservative, 32 percent as Reform, 1 percent as Reconstructionist and 23 percent as “just Jewish.”

In addition, 55 percent said they belong to a synagogue or temple and 9 percent claimed an “excellent or good command” of Hebrew.

The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey also examined the depth and nature of the attachment of U.S. Jews to Israel.

Nearly 80 percent said that “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.” At the same time, nearly two-thirds said they have never been to Israel, while 22 percent said they have been once.

As a group, Orthodox respondents showed the closest attachment to Israel, according to the survey. At the same time, the survey found that a majority of them said they oppose the peace process.

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