Most Americans don’t know what the Bush administration’s “road map” entails, but they believe it can lead to a Middle East peace.
That’s the thread running through two new public opinion surveys dealing with the road map, which is the topic of discussion at two summits President Bush is attending in the Mideast this week.
The first poll, released May 29 by a bipartisan effort called the Israel Project and a non-profit group called Israel 21C, measured attitudes of 600 “opinion elites,” defined as those who earn at least $75,000 annually, have attained a college or advanced degree and regularly read at least one national newspaper, watch national TV news or read a major news magazine.
Even among that rarified crowd, only 7 percent in the poll, conducted April 15-19, were familiar with the road map, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of the Israel Project, said.
“People don’t know what’s inside the road map, but what they do want is a solution to the conflict and that they can have peace as soon as possible,” she said.
Americans may want peace now, but not without some conditions, she added.
The survey, conducted for the Israel Project by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg’s Public Opinion Strategies, found that 66 percent said the United States should pressure the Palestinians to institute democratic reforms before any Palestinian state can exist — and 69 percent agree that the United States should not back a Palestinian state until the Palestinians halt terror attacks.
Meanwhile, 68 percent said a Palestinian state that encourages terrorism should not be established, especially since the United States just waged a war on terror in Iraq; and 61 percent said it is “easy” to understand Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians take concrete action against terrorism and can “no longer rely on empty promises.”
A more recent Israel Project poll completed May 31 of 800 registered voters found that Americans remain skeptical about Palestinian pronouncements, because there “is talk of peace, but the terror attacks continue,” Laszlo Mizrahi said.
Though Americans sympathize with Israeli security needs, they also hold “simplistic” views about how smoothly the road map to peace can be built, she added, in the wake of the quick allied military victory in Iraq.
“In 21 days, we went from shock and awe to the fall of statues of Saddam Hussein in public squares, so there’s a profound misunderstanding of how we can defeat Saddam in 21 days and we can’t create a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis.”
Meanwhile, the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes and the Knowledge Networks conducted a poll of 1,265 people nationwide May 14-18 measuring attitudes about the road map.
According to that survey, 55 percent of Americans who are not well-informed about the road map hold positive views about it, and when they learned details of the plan that support rose to 74 percent.
Most Americans — 58 percent — see the road map as an “opportunity” for Bush to foster Mideast peace because the Iraq war bolstered U.S. standing in the region.
Steven Kull, director of the study and of the PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll series, said Americans want Bush to intensify pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to achieve the road map’s aims.
While only 49 percent of Americans said the administration should generally pressure Israel, more than 60 percent backed tougher pressure on Israel when that “is embedded in the concept of the road map,” Kull said.
The pressure ranged from the withholding of U.S. military and economic aid to threats to withhold its U.N. vetoes of anti-Israel resolutions.
At the same time, a majority said Bush should threaten the Palestinians with holding back foreign aid if the Palestinians do not meet the road map’s conditions.
A clear majority — 73 percent — said the United States should not take sides in the conflict, echoing a longtime public support for “evenhandedness” in the Mideast, Kull said.
While many Americans may back the road map, a CNN/Gallup poll May 30-June 1 found that Americans remain pessimistic about the chances it will work.
Of 1,019 people of voting age polled, half were asked if the road map summit specifically would produce peace, while others were asked if overall Bush administration efforts would lead to peace.
As for the road map, 59 percent said it would not work, while 63 percent said overall efforts would fail.
But a fourth poll, conducted May 21 by John McLaughlin & Associates for the Zionist Organization of America, found a very different American public.
According to the ZOA poll of 1,000 Americans, few oppose Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories — even though the road map envisions the dismantling of the settlements.
Only 10 percent said settlements remain an obstacle to peace; 61 percent say Jewish construction in the territories should continue; 64 percent oppose removing Jews from the settlements; 61.5 percent said both Jews and Arabs should be allowed to build in the territories; and 61 percent said Jews should be allowed to live there.
By a 2-1 margin, Americans also said Jews have a stronger historical claim to the West Bank and Gaza Strip than do the Palestinians.
ZOA President Morton Klein, who said he was ready to throw the poll’s results out had they revealed the opposite, said the overwhelming public support for the settlements surprised him.
“For a decade any poll that says ‘negotiations for peace’ — who wouldn’t support that? But when you give the specifics of Palestinian statehood, saying Jews can’t live there, Americans recognize that as a racist statement,” Klein said.
“When you ask Americans about the outcome of the road map, which is a Palestinian state, Americans are against it,” he added.
A new ZOA poll specifically dealing with the road map is due in about two weeks, he said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.