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Survey Reveals Arab Americans Divided over Aid to Palestinians

Only two-thirds of Arab Americans favor continued U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, according to a new poll.

At the same time, two-thirds of those surveyed express support for the Clinton administration’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The survey released this week was conducted for the Arab American Institute by the John Zogby Group International.

And of a Palestinian subset of those surveyed, 72.9 percent said they believed that Israel has a right to exist. About the same number – 79.5 percent – favor the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Among the 405 Arab Americans surveyed, 59 identified themselves as Palestinians.

There are misconceptions that the Arab American community is either a “one- issue or myopic kind of constituency” that opposes a Jewish state, when in fact “a significant percentage of them feel that Israel has a right to exist,” said John Zogby, president of the Zogby Group.

John Zogby’s brother, James, is president of the American Arab Institute.

The findings regarding aid to Palestinians were not surprising to Khalil Jahshan, president of the National Association of Arab Americans.

The poll found that 49.6 percent of Arab Americans want the $75 million in annual U.S. aid to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip maintained or increased, while 33.6 percent say it should be decreased or eliminated.

The numbers reflect those who stand against foreign aid in general, a sentiment that Jahshan said runs strong among Republicans in the Arab American community.

Some 22 percent of those surveyed were identified as registered Republicans.

In addition, some Arab Americans believed that U.S. aid has traditionally been “too skewed toward Israel” and want aid pared down across the board for the sake of consistency, Jahshan said.

The poll found that the most Arab Americans want to see the $3 million Israel receives in U.S. foreign aid either decreased or eliminated.

One-third of those polled think that the U.S. aid to Israel should be eliminated, while 28.3 percent said it should be decreased.

Only a small minority – 3.3 percent – said U.S. aid to Israel should be increased, while 18.5 percent want it maintained at current levels.

A significant numbers of Arab Americans – 14.4 percent – also favor cutting or eliminating the $2.1 billion in U.S. foreign aid to Egypt, while 39.2 percent would favor increasing the aid or maintaining it at its current level.

With the 1996 presidential election campaigns beginning to get under way, contenders may find the answer to one question particularly useful.

The poll found that many Arab Americans, a presidential candidate’s position on the Middle East is a critical factor in deciding how to vote. Some 70.2 percent of those surveyed said a candidate’s position would be very important or somewhat in making that decision.

In assessing the poll’s findings, Zogby said he was struck by the extent to which Arab Americans maintain links and interests in the Middle East.

The poll found that seven in 10 Arab Americans born in the United States have traveled to the Middle East at some point, while three out of four have friends or family members in the Middle East.

The poll found that seven in 10 Arab Americans born in the United States have traveled to the Middle East at some point, while three out of four have friends or family members in the Middle East.

In addition, more than 82 percent of respondents said they follow Middle East news “very closely” or “somewhat closely.”

Although the polling agency did not ask respondents whether they support the Middle East peace process, it did ask them whether they felt that the Clinton administration is doing a good job in keeping the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on track.

Two out of three said they strongly or somewhat support Clinton’s handling of the negotiations, while 17.5 percent expressed dissatisfaction.

The poll, conducted Oct. 26-30, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.