WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (JTA) — A majority of U.S. Jews rate President Bush’s leadership on the Middle East as fair or poor, according to a new poll. These results sharply contradict what has been perceived as strong support among American Jews for President Bush’s handling of the Middle East conflict. The new study, funded jointly by American for Peace Now and the Arab American Institute, also found that large proportions of both the Jewish and Arab communities in the United States would like the Bush administration to steer a middle course in the peace process, with 45 percent of Jews and 66 percent of Arabs choosing that option over policies that favor either Israel or the Palestinians. Only 5 percent of Jews surveyed rated Bush’s handling of the Middle East as excellent, with 23 percent saying it was good, 38 percent calling it fair and 31 percent describing it as poor. The poll was produced in late October, and has a 4.5 percent margin of error. The poll was taken by Zogby International, headed by John Zogby, “I think the view was validated that a majority of American Jews want the U.S. government to be engaged in the process and move forward with a policy that would bring about peace in the Middle East,” said Debra DeLee, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now. Despite the new results, many Jewish leaders have said that Bush’s June 24 speech, in which he called for Palestinians to find new leadership and implement reforms before the creation of a Palestinian state, has made him one of the most pro-Israel presidents of the last half-century. These leaders say they feel the survey’s results do not match with what they are hearing from the Jewish community. “It’s not reflective of the general population and what other polls have shown,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. A poll taken a year ago by the Republican Jewish Coalition found that two-thirds of American Jews approve of President Bush’s handling of U.S.-Israeli relations. That poll of 400 American Jews, taken by Luntz Research Companies, had a 5 percent margin of error. The latest survey found that a majority of both Arab and Jewish Americans would support a peace agreement between Israelis and the Palestinians that would include most of the parameters that were placed on the table at the Camp David talks in 2000 — including a Palestinian state, the evacuation of most Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a limited right of return for Palestinians who lost their homes during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, a border close to the 1967 border and a shared Jerusalem. More than 51 percent of Jews supported that plan, with 30 percent opposing it. Almost 80 percent of the Arab Americans backed it as well, with roughly 11 percent opposing. “Not only do both of these communities here accept what the ultimate outcome will be, but they support it,” DeLee said. Among the 500 Jews surveyed, 85 percent said they believed that Palestinians had the right to a secure and independent state, and 96 percent said that Israelis had the same right. The poll also found that 42 percent of American Jews blame both Israel and the Palestinians for the breakdown of the Middle East peace process in 2000, with 41 percent blaming the Palestinians solely and almost 10 percent saying it was mostly the Palestinians. Half of those Arab Americans surveyed said they believed both sides contributed to the end of the peace process, with 31 percent blaming the Israelis solely and 6 percent blaming Palestinians. “If we would have done this survey in 2000, we would have expected these results,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. “But we didn’t know that two years into this horrific violence, we would have gotten the same results.” Jewish respondents also supported a mixture of force and political negotiations for dealing with attacks by Palestinians, with 72 percent choosing that option, compared with 8 percent suggesting just force and 17 percent suggesting just negotiations. Almost 68 percent of Jews surveyed said they supported some Israeli settlement evacuations in the context of a peace agreement.