Polls reveal low support for Barak, Arafat

NEW YORK, Aug. 6 (JTA) — Israeli and Palestinian support for their leaders’ positions in the peace process is low in the wake of the failed Camp David summit, according to recent Middle East polls.

In a joint Israeli-Palestinian survey, 57 percent of Israelis answered that Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s negotiating stance at Camp David represented “too much of a compromise,” with most Palestinians responding the same way about Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s positions.

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Research in Ramallah and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem jointly conducted this survey.

However, Yaacov Shamir, the Hebrew University professor who worked on this poll, said the results do not necessarily indicate opposition to the peace process.

“If you compare the results to the past, and understand that 40 percent at this point agree to some kind of division in Jerusalem, this is a very important, big step in terms of becoming more moderate,” he said.

In fact, nearly 75 percent of Israelis and Palestinians interviewed in his poll agreed that, “in the long run, a peace agreement will be reached and the breakdown of talks does not signal the end of negotiations.”

But fifty-seven percent of Palestinians said violence will help them “achieve greater political gains than in negotiations.”

Khalil Shikaki, who directed the Palestinian portion of the survey, said violence can result in peace gains — such as a violent September 1996 confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians over the opening of a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel near the Temple Mount that he believes helped lead to the subsequent transfer of Hebron to the Palestinians.

“Palestinians read that as a sign that violence is not counterproductive,”said Shikaki, the director of the Palestinian center, adding that the support for the violence came in a question that assumed peace talks will fail.

The results, Shamir said, “reflect the frustration of the Palestinians from the current situation.”

Nearly two-thirds of Israeli Jews in a monthly Peace Index poll conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research said they oppose allowing eastern Jerusalem to become the capital of a future Palestinian state even if it is the “last obstacle” to a peace agreement.

In this poll, 39 percent of Israeli Jews said they believe negotiations should be temporarily frozen if Arafat declares Palestinian statehood unilaterally, as he has threatened to do on Sept. 13.

According to this poll, there are Israeli Jews in the “anti-peace camp” who do not necessarily oppose an agreement, but are suspicious of the Palestinians’s commitment to peace.

Camp David only served to reinforce this group’s suspicions, said Ephraim Yuchtman-Ya’ar, director of the Steinmetz Center.

Looking at the joint poll results, Shamir said, “Both publics really are very willing to reconcile and have peace, but they are not willing to pay the price for it at this point in time.”

(JTA staff writer Sharon Samber in Washington contributed to this report.)

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