Poll: Over a third of Americans back punitive measures against Israel over settlements

The survey shows a clear partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats over perceptions of whom is to blame for the impasse in the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations.

December 4, 2015 17:34
3 minute read.
A Palestinian woman holds a candle during a protest in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis

A Palestinian woman holds a candle during a protest in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)


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Just over a third of Americans support either imposing economic sanctions or "taking more serious action" against Israel for its policies in the West Bank, according to a new poll commissioned by a Washington think tank whose results were announced on Friday.

The Brookings Institution released the findings of the survey in anticipation of the Saban Forum, the annual event which brings together top policymakers from the United States and Israel to discuss developments in the Middle East. The forum is held every year at Brookings' Center for Middle East Policy.

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Titled “American Attitudes Toward the Middle East and Israel,” the survey shows a clear partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats over perceptions of whom is to blame for the impasse in the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations.

The poll was conducted with the aid of 1,738 American adult respondents, with nearly half of those surveyed “self-identified Evangelical or born-again Christians.” The margin of error is between three and four percent.

While Democrats and young people express unfavorable views of Israeli policy and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Republicans and older Americans are more likely to admire the premier and assign a greater portion of responsibility to Palestinian extremism.

When asked which “national or world leader you admire most,” Netanyahu garnered 16 percent of Evangelical Christian support, followed by Ronald Reagan (11%) and US President Barack Obama (10%). Meanwhile, just 1% of Democratic respondents picked Netanyahu as their most admired leader.

Democrats and Republicans are split in their view of Netanyahu. While 34% of Democrats dislike the premier – a 12% increase from a year ago – 51% of GOP supporters back him. Just 13% of Republican respondents said they did not like Netanyahu, according to the poll.

Another of the poll’s findings appears to bode ill for Israel and its supporters, with twice as many Americans (37%) saying that the government in Jerusalem has “too much influence” on US politics. In contrast, just 18% say Israel has too little influence. Once again, the breakdown of the finding runs along party lines, with nearly half of Democrats (49%) saying Israel wields too much influence and just one-quarter of Republicans agreeing. Fifty-two percent of Republicans say Israel’s level of influence is “at the right level.” Nearly 40% of Evangelicals say Israel has too little influence on US politics.

When asked who is to blame for the deterioration in the security situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, 31% said it was due to the absence of diplomacy, 26% said it was Israeli policies in the West Bank, and an equal number said it was because of Palestinian extremism.

Here, too, stark differences are evident according to party affiliation. Nearly four in 10 Democrats (37%) say that Israel’s expansion of settlements and security measures in the West Bank are to blame for the stalemate, compared to 35% of Democrats who say that a lack of diplomacy is to blame. Just 15% of Democrats attribute the instability to Palestinian extremism.

Among Republicans, 40% say the Palestinians are at fault and 27% believe that the absence of a serious peace process is to blame. Just 16% of Republicans said that Israeli policies were chiefly responsible.

When asked how Washington should react to Israel’s continued settlement activity beyond the Green Line, 31% said that the US should make do with critical statements and slightly more than one in four said that the US should do nothing.

Conversely, 27% recommended economic sanctions against Israel and another 10% said what was needed was “more serious action.” Among Democrats, the figures are substantially higher – 49% back either sanctions or more serious action, while 46% said opposition should be limited to rhetoric or that nothing should be done.

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