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Poll: Majority of American Jews Support Pressing Arafat, Netanyahu

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For months, the Israel Policy Forum has tried to convince Washington’s policy-makers that the American Jewish community would support increased U.S. pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Now a group that supports the Middle East peace process has armed itself with an extensive poll of 1,198 American Jews that supports their argument.

By margins that surprised the poll’s sponsors, 84 percent of the respondents said the Clinton administration should “pressure Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat to act more constructively and be more forthcoming.”

Respondents also overwhelmingly favored, 79 percent to 17 percent, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s call for a “timeout” in settlement expansion.

The telephone poll, which was conducted last month in the days after Albright’s Middle East visit, aims to shatter some of the organized American Jewish community’s core principles on Israel.

Respondents even hinted at support for a Palestinian state.

Through newspaper advertisements, meetings with key administration officials and lobbying visits to Capitol Hill, Policy Forum activists have worked to provide the Clinton administration with political cover as they stepped up their criticisms of Netanyahu’s policies.

The group, which was founded to support the Labor government’s peace policies but has moved toward the political center, is also seeking to stir the organized Jewish community to more aggressively support the peace process.

The group recently appointed hired Marshall Breger, apolitical adviser to IPF.

As part of this effort, the group released the poll, which was conducted by President Clinton’s pollsters, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates.

“It’s important for the administration to recognize there is a lot of support for the approach that they’ve been taking,” said Tom Smerling, the IPF’s Washington director.

“There was some grumbling from some quarters when Albright called for a timeout. That’s not supported by the poll,” he said.

Among the poll’s key findings:

74 percent of the respondents said “Israel should declare at least a temporary six-month moratorium on settlement expansion”;

91 percent said it is in Israel’s interest for the United States to facilitate the peace process even if it results in disagreements between the U.S. and Israel;

82 percent said it is important to reassure each side that in the end the United States will support their major goals. For the Palestinians that means statehood, for Israel a united Jerusalem and security.

89 percent said the United States “must be even-handed when facilitating the negotiations.”

50 percent said Israel is headed in the wrong direction;

Expressing surprise at the results of the poll, Martin Raffel, associate executive vice chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella Jewish organization, said: “It’s been one of the cardinal principles of the community that we do not want U.S. pressure on Israel.”

If the poll is an “accurate reading of the American Jewish sentiment, then the position of the mainstream Jewish organizations does not reflect that.”

Cautioning that it is “dangerous to formulate public policy on the basis of polls,” he also said he believed he would have heard from the grass roots if “there were to be a groundswell in support of these positions.”

At the same time, Raffel said, “maybe there is something happening out here that is reflected in the polls that has not yet shown up on the organizational radar screen.”

It is this conclusion that the IPF hopes takes hold.

“I certainly hope that the poll will help create a greater understanding in the community about where American Jews are,” said Jonathan Jacoby, the group’s executive director.

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