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The recent bellicose declarations by Syrian President Bashar Assad were heard much more loudly by the Israeli Jewish ear than his statements calling for peace, according to the September 2006 Peace Index poll published by professors Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann of Tel Aviv University.
The warlike statements are apparently what caused a further decline in the already low support for giving the Golan to Syria, even in exchange for full peace, and also in the small number of those who believe such a peace is possible in the foreseeable future.
The Golan heresy - better than peace
Also very low is the proportion of Jews who see a chance that Israel will reach peace with the Palestinians and with Lebanon in the next five years.
The prevailing assessment is that these three regional actors - the Palestinians, Syria, and Lebanon - are not interested in an agreement with Israel, even though a majority of the Israeli Jewish public views achieving peace, particularly with the Palestinians and with Lebanon, as a vital interest.
A majority thinks, nevertheless, that it is worth holding meetings between Israeli and Arab leaders like the one reported between Prime Minister Olmert and a senior Saudi figure, even though most do not pin much hope on such meetings bringing Israel and Arab states significantly closer.
The perception of ongoing conflict goes hand in hand, not surprisingly, with a high level of patriotism. An overwhelming majority say they are proud to be citizens of Israel, though there is also a strong tendency to self-criticism, as reflected in the widespread view that some things about today's Israel are cause for shame.
One of the sources of that shame appears to be the public service, with a sharp decline reported in assessments of its commitment to serve the public. This seems linked to the widespread impression, which has also grown in recent years, that there is extensive corruption in the public sector.
At the same time, the Jewish public finds reasons to take pride in Israel. These include scientific and technological achievements, as well as the security forces and economic achievements, with the social welfare system apparently being a focus of shame.
Those are the main findings of the Peace Index survey that was carried out on October 3 and 4.
The prevailing view (48%) is that of the two kinds of messages heard recently from Assad, the real ones are the warlike ones, with only 19% assessing that his peace messages are genuine (the rest cannot decide which message is real). Not surprisingly, then, three-fourths of the Jewish public rate the chances of achieving peace with Syria peace in the next five years as very low or low (55% and 22%, respectively), 18% as medium, and only 5% as high or very high. That helps explain the negligible proportion of those who favor signing a full peace treaty with Syria in return for a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights - only 16% (70% oppose it and the rest do not have a clear opinion).
The Jewish public's level of support for a peace settlement with Syria in exchange for the Golan was higher in the past - about a third in most of the measurements, although opposition to this formula has always been in a majority.
Syria, it turns out, is not the only regional actor with which Israelis see very little hope for peace. Only 10% think there is a high chance of an agreement with the Palestinians in the next five years, with about two-thirds (64%) viewing the chances as low or very low. This applies to Lebanon as well: 18% see the chances as high or very high, and 56% as low or very low.
These expectations apparently derive from the widespread belief that none of the three actors is interested in peace. Only 23% think the Palestinians are very interested or interested in peace, a similar rate holds that view of Lebanon, and even fewer - 17% -see Syria as interested or very interested in peace.
Nevertheless, a majority believes that achieving peace with the Palestinians and with Lebanon is vital for Israel: 61% say so about the Palestinians and 54% about Lebanon. The picture regarding Syria is somewhat different, with less than half - 48% - viewing peace with it as vital. Presumably this outlook contributes to the sweeping opposition to trading the Golan for a peace treaty with Syria. This recognition of the essentialness of peace apparently bolsters the view that meetings between Israeli and Arab leaders should continue to be held, with 73% in favor of meetings like the one that - according to media reports - took between Olmert and a senior Saudi personality. Only 38%, however, think such meetings are likely to lead significantly toward Arab-Israeli conciliation.
Apparently the belief that peace is not attainable, and that the Arab world is not seeking peace but rather war, strengthens Israeli Jewish patriotism. Some 88.5% of respondents agree or emphatically agree that they prefer to be citizens of Israel than of any other country (10% disagree and the rest do not have a clear opinion). This rate is higher than the same measurement in 2003, when the rates of agreement and disagreement came to 79.4% and 16.4%, respectively.
Nevertheless, 57% say that some things about Israel cause feelings of shame. What are the sources of pride in Israel and what are the sources of shame? At the top of the sources of pride are achievements in science and technology - 87%. Next come the security forces - 61%, and economic achievements, which give pride to 55%. However the social welfare system is a source of pride for just 20.5%, while 75% are not very proud or not proud of it at all.
Another major cause of dissatisfaction is the public service: about three-fourths of the public - 73% - think many or almost all social service workers are involved in corruption. This pessimistic atmosphere apparently affects the public's view of the functioning of Israeli democracy. On a scale of 0 (very poor) to 10 (very good), Israeli democracy gets an average grade of 5.7, whereas the Jewish public today gives a 6.7 to its functioning 10 years ago.
The findings for the Arab public are interesting in this context. Here too an overwhelming majority, albeit smaller than in the Jewish public - 73% - agree that it is better to be an Israeli citizen than a citizen of any other country. However the rate of those saying that some things about Israel cause them shame is clearly higher -71%.
n especially interesting finding is the average grade the Arab sector gives to Israeli democracy today - 5.0, compared to 4.7 for its functioning 10 years ago. In other words, perhaps as expected, while the Arab sector indeed gives Israeli democracy a lower grade than the Jewish public, the Jewish public sees a decline over time whereas the Arabs view the situation as the same or perhaps even slightly better than in the past.
As for relations with the Arab world, a majority of Israeli Arabs think the Palestinians (71%), the Syrians (67%), and the Lebanese (52%) are interested in reaching a settlement with Israel. A higher proportion of Arabs than Jews believe that reaching a peace agreement with each of these three actors is a vital Israeli interest. Some 86.5% think that about the Palestinians (vs. 61% of Jews); for Syria and Lebanon the rates are 71.9% (vs. 47.6%) and 78.2% (vs. 44.2%), respectively.
These gaps probably explain why the Arab public tends to be less pessimistic than the Jewish public about the chances of reaching a peace agreement in the next five years with each of the three actors, although the Arab public is still quite pessimistic. Some 22.7% of Arabs, compared to 5.4% of Jews, see a very high or moderately high chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The figures regarding Syria are 25.8% and 5.4%, respectively, and 25.9% and 17.7% for Lebanon.
The Peace Index Project is conducted at the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution of Tel Aviv University, headed by Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Prof. Tamar Hermann. The telephone interviews were conducted by the university's B.I. Cohen Institute on October 3 and 4, and included 614 interviewees representing the adult Jewish and Arab population. The margin of error is some 4.5%.