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Survey Shows Most U.S. Jews Back Netanyahu’s Peace Policy

September 3, 1996
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A new survey shows that most American Jews have confidence in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his commitment to the peace process.

At the same time, the survey points to some skepticism, with only half saying that they believe that “things in the State of Israel” are “headed in the right direction” now.

More than half said they would have voted for then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Netanyahu’s opponent in the last Israeli election, while more than half also said they approve of the election results.

These apparent contradictions, say observers, reflect the traditional respect American Jews accord the decisions of the Israeli electorate.

The survey of 1,260 Jews was released Tuesday by the Israel Policy Forum, an organization established in 1993 to promote the peace process then led by the Labor government.

It was conducted over a two-month period, with partial results released in July.

Conducted by Penn & Schoen Associates, the 74-question survey was designed to measure U.S. Jewish sentiment after the election of a new Israeli government. It had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Respondents exhibited strong support — 81 percent — for the peace process and the conviction — 85 percent — that it would continue under Netanyahu, albeit at a slower rate.

Fully half indicated that they approve of this slower rate by saying that Netanyahu’s Labor predecessors “gave up too much to the Arabs,” while a majority said they support his stance that land on the Golan Heights should not be traded for peace with Syria.

Eighty-nine percent said they believe that Netanyahu will live up to all, most or some of the agreements made with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu repeatedly has pledged to honor the commitments already made under the Oslo accords if the Palestinians honor theirs.

For Jonathan Jacoby, IPF executive vice president, the poll shows American Jews view Netanyahu as “more conservative” than his predecessor, but “not radically different. They view him as a moderate.”

His support comes “largely because they believe he will continue the peace process, albeit at a slower rate, combined with a general tendency to support the government of Israel,” he said.

“The high numbers are not for Likud policy,” added Jacoby, who enjoys close personal ties to Labor Party figures, “but are an indication of their faith in the prime minister’s ability to lead Israel in the direction that is best for Israel.”

For Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, there was “nothing surprising” about the survey results.

American Jews “support the government of Israel,” he said. “Netanyahu is the prime minister and has conveyed a message about being strong on security issues while living up to his commitment to pursuing the peace process.”

Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, president of the Orthodox Union, also said the support for Netanyahu reflected the community’s readiness to “honor democracy.”

“They see Netanyahu as a strong figure and are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise,” he added.

While 84 percent of respondents said they followed the elections closely or very closely, 5 percent said they did not know who won the election, while another 5 percent said they thought Labor Party head Shimon Peres was re- elected.

Fifty-six percent said they approved of the “results of the recent election,” 31 percent said they disapproved and 14 percent said they did not know whether they approved or disapproved. Fifty-seven percent said they would have cast their ballots for Peres and 32 percent for Netanyahu.

Of those who approved of the results, personal security for Israelis was cited as the top reason and of those who disapproved, concern about the peace process slowing down was the reason most cited.

On the contentious question of settlement policy, respondents were divided. Forty-nine percent opposed building new Jewish settlements in the territories, while 41 supported it. A full 59 percent said they believe that Netanyahu will “expand and establish new settlements.”

Meanwhile, many of the survey’s findings show solid support for the peace process:

Eighty-one percent approved or strongly approved of “the peace process initiated by Yitzhak Rabin and continued by Shimon Peres.”

Eighty-seven percent supported continuing the pursuit of peace with the Syrians.

Seventy percent supported the Oslo accords, the set of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

Sixty-seven percent said they wanted the United States to continue providing aid to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza.

But some of the other findings related to the peace process reflect a mixed view.

Despite the endorsement of efforts to seek peace with Syria, 68 percent have an unfavorable opinion about Syrian President Hafez Assad and 68 percent do not believe “that Assad is committed to peace with Israel.”

While 54 percent oppose giving up all or part of the Golan Heights for peace, 48 percent said they do not think it is possible to achieve peace with Syria without giving up some or all of the Golan.

While 51 percent believe Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is committed to peace with Israel, only 5 percent believe that he is doing “a lot” to prevent terror attacks and 59 percent think that he is doing “not much” or “nothing.”

At the same time, nearly two-thirds — 63 percent — support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, while they are almost evenly divided about the commitment to peace by average Palestinians; fully 47 percent believe they are “committed to peace with Israel,” while 42 percent do not believe this.

According to Jacoby, the numbers show a “recognition that it’s in Israel’s interests that the Palestinians succeed in creating their own entity, that Palestinians and Israelis need to solve their conflict by separating from each other.”

For his part, Ganchrow was reluctant to draw such hard and fast conclusions. He said the questions might have been vague or otherwise worded in such a way as “to color answers.”

“Were they asked whether they would favor continuing aid if the Palestinians were not living up to the Oslo accords?” he said. Or, “what does statehood mean? Does it include having an army?” Meanwhile, respondents expressed general optimism about Netanyahu.

Seventy-eight percent said they believed he would do an excellent or good job “keeping Israelis secure from terrorism.”

Eighty-three percent said he would do an excellent or good job “maintaining strong relations with the United States.”

An overwhelming 94 percent said they believe that “the continuation of the peace is important to United States’ interests and to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Turning to the issue of religion, 66 percent of those surveyed said they were “concerned” about the “new influence of the religious parties in Israel.” Twenty-four percent said it made them “hopeful.”

The elections gave religious parties an unprecedented 24 seats in the Knesset.

Fifty-eight percent, however, said they expected Netanyahu to do a good or excellent job “maintaining relationships with Jews of different denominations living in Israel.”

A full 74 percent said he would do a good or excellent job maintaining strong relations with Jews living outside Israel.

Forty-two percent of the respondents identified themselves as Reform, 34 percent as Conservative and 8 percent as Orthodox. Seventy percent said they contribute to Jewish organizations “like the UJA (United Jewish Appeal),” and 43 percent said they otherwise volunteer or participate in Jewish organizations.

Forty-eight percent said they were 50 or older.

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