Poll shows Palestinian gain in U.S. public opinion


WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (JTA) — Jewish leaders are questioning the validity of a new poll that shows American public opinion swinging toward the Palestinians in the current Middle East conflict.

The Zogby International poll, taken of 1,012 likely American voters, found that 63.5 percent support a Palestinian state and 57 percent do not support moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It also found that voters want President-elect George W. Bush to steer a middle road in the peace process, with 71.5 percent saying they want Bush to pursue a policy that does not favor either side.

While the poll showed that Americans continue to favor Israel in the conflict — with 30 percent supporting the Israelis and 11 percent supporting the Palestinians — the Arab American Institute, which commissioned the poll, said it represents a leveling of American attitude toward the Middle East combatants.

“There is a growing sense that people want a balanced approach,” said James Zogby, AAI president. “The trend is striking. It’s a significant change from the 70s and 80s.”

The results differ drastically from a Gallup poll taken two months earlier, which showed 41 percent of Americans supporting Israel in the Middle East situation, and 11 percent siding with the Palestinians.

Kenneth Bricker, director of communications for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said the Gallup poll was more reliable.

“Any poll can be made to say anything the sponsor would like it to,” Bricker said. “In this case, Mr. Zogby has a vested interest in the outcome.”

Zogby’s brother, John Zogby, conducted the poll.

But AAI President Jim Zogby said the difference may be that the Gallup survey used the word “Arabs” in differentiating between the sides in the Middle East conflict, while the Zogby poll referred simply to “Palestinians.”

American Jewish Committee spokesman Kenneth Bandler said he thought the 30 percent figure in Zogby’s poll was low, but he still found the numbers encouraging.

“The American public is sympathizing with Israel, and this is after three months of violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank,” Bandler said. “You have a majority of Americans supporting the Clinton administration approach to the peace process and wanting to continue that in the next administration.”

About half of the respondents said they believed Clinton was “steering a middle course,” while 29.5 percent said Clinton leaned towards Israel and five percent said he leaned toward the Palestinians.

Bandler also said he was encouraged that only 32 percent of respondents said they felt Israel had used excessive force in the recent conflict. About one quarter of the respondents said the use of force was the “right amount” and 12 percent suggested it was not enough.

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