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(photo credit: AP)
The frequent reports about the upcoming US-sponsored Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, have not changed Israeli Jews' expectations about it, according to the October 2007 Peace Index poll published by Tel Aviv University.
The limited interest in the conference does not stem from public apathy about the need to renew the diplomatic process. The prevailing assessment is that the Palestinians now constitute a serious security threat to Israel; many perceive a peace agreement as a means to reduce the threat.
Today, as in the past, a large majority of Israeli Jews believes that most Palestinians have not accepted Israel's existence and would destroy the state if they could. This public climate may well also explain the wide support for the government's decision to respond to the continued Kassam rocket fire with measures that also harm Gaza's civilian population, such as cutting off electricity and limiting the supply of fuel.
The prevailing view is that to reach a peace agreement, Israel would have to make larger concessions than the Palestinians - which may explain the disagreements about the renewal of the diplomatic process.
As for choosing between possible Israeli concessions, the Jewish public clearly favors maintaining a Jewish majority and achieving a peace agreement over preserving the Greater Land of Israel. And in the choice between maintaining the Jewish nature of the state and its democratic character, democracy is clearly preferred, although the gap is smaller than in the past, or for the two previous choices.
Those are the main conclusions that emerge from the Peace Index survey carried out on October 29-30.
Forty percent of the Jewish public thinks the Annapolis conference could yield a basic clarification of the disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, while 50% do not think so and the rest do not know. A similar distribution of responses emerged over the question of whether the conference could significantly advance the chances of reaching a permanent peace agreement: 40% responded that it could while 51% answered in the negative.
These findings are very similar to those for the same questions in September; time has not brought a rise in expectations for the approaching conference. The public's interest in the preparations for the conference also remains quite low, though it increased slightly over the previous month. At present, 27% follow the reports about the conference steadily, 47% only sometimes, 23% not at all, and the rest had never heard of the conference or did not answer (the corresponding rates last month were 20%, 48%, and 29%, respectively).
Sixty-eight percent of Israeli Jews think the Palestinians constitute a serious security threat (29% do not think so). And a connection was found between viewing the Palestinian threat as high and viewing a peace agreement as vital for Israel. Among those who think the Palestinians constitute a threat, the rates of those viewing peace as more important to Israel and as more important to the Palestinians are equal - 33%.
But among those who do not think the Palestinians constitute a threat, the rate of those viewing peace as more important to the Palestinians (49%) is much higher than the rate of those who consider it more important to Israel (20%).
There is, at the same time, wide agreement in the Jewish public (65%) that, "Most of the Palestinians have not accepted Israel's existence and would destroy it if they could."
Note that this finding is not exceptional; similar rates of agreement have been found in the Jewish public since the mid-1990s. The widespread fears of the Palestinian threat combined with the ongoing Kassam attacks may well explain the wide support for the government's decision to respond to the attacks with measures that also harm the civilian population, such as cutting off electricity and limiting the supply of fuel: 71% support such measures while only 12% oppose them. Among the opponents, a slightly higher proportion base their position on a humanitarian concern (harming the civilian population) than on a utilitarian reason (these measures will not bring a halt to the Kassam fire). Note that among the voters for all the parties, only a majority of Meretz voters opposed the government's decision. Most of the Jewish public (58%) thinks that if the diplomatic process is renewed, Israel will have to make larger concessions than the Palestinians, with only 20.5% saying the Palestinians will have to concede more. In any case, the public appears to have clear orders of preference about what is more or less important to concede. Between preserving the Greater Land of Israel and preserving a Jewish majority in the country, 56% prefer the first objective, 27% the second, and 11% see them as equally important (2% think neither is important and the rest do not know). Similarly, when the choice is between preserving the Greater Land of Israel and signing peace agreements with Arab states and the Palestinians, 54% prefer the latter alternative and 31.5% the former (9% view them as equally important, 1.5% ascribe importance to neither, and the rest do not know). However, between maintaining the Jewish character of the state and maintaining its democratic character, 48% prefer the second and 34% the first (14.5% see them as equally important and the rest do not know).
The Peace Index Project is conducted by 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 B.I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University and included 599 interviewees who represent the adult Jewish and Arab population of Israel (including Judea, Samaria and the kibbutzim). The sampling error was 4.5 percent.