New public opinion surveys conducted among "opinion elites" in Europe show that support for the Palestinians has fallen precipitously, according to a leading international pollster, Stan Greenberg, who has been briefing Israeli leaders on his findings in the past few days.
There has not necessarily been "a rush to Israel" but there has been a "crash" in backing for the Palestinians, he noted.
Greenberg, a key pollster for former US president Bill Clinton who also worked with former prime minister Ehud Barak, conducted the surveys for the Israel Project, a US-based non-profit organization devoted to educating the press and the public about Israel.
Greenberg told The Jerusalem Post that the shifts in attitudes reflected in the surveys were so dramatic that he "redid" some of the polls to ensure there had been no error.
He singled out France as the country where attitudes had changed most dramatically. Three years ago, 60 percent of French respondents said they took a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of that 60%, four out of five backed the Palestinians. Today, by contrast, 60% of French respondents did not take a side in the conflict, and support for the Palestinians had dropped by half among those who did express a preference, he said.
Greenberg said the figures were still being finalized, and so did not go into further details. But shifts such as these, he said, represented "an incredible pace of change" with significant consequences.
Until recently, he said, "it was hard for Israel to communicate its interests in its own name" in Europe. "It was hard for Israel to be heard. Nowadays, it is heard on its own interests, such as Iran and Hamas."
Much of the "old sense of hostility" had dissipated, he said.
At the root of the change, said Greenberg, was a fundamental remaking in Europe of the "framework" through which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed.
Three years ago, he said, the conflict was perceived "in a post-colonial framework." There was a sense "that Europe could cancel out its own colonial history by taking the 'right' side" - the Palestinian side. Yasser Arafat was viewed as "an anti-colonial, liberation leader."
The US was seen as a global imperial power, added Greenberg, and the fact that it was backing Israel only added to the "instinctive" sense of the Palestinians as victims.
France, with the largest Muslim population - moreover an entirely Arab Muslim population - direct experience of Algeria and the most anti-US positions, was most prey to this mind-set.
Today, by contrast, the Europeans "are focused on fundamentalist Islam and its impact on them," he said. The Europeans were now asking themselves, "Who is the moderate in this conflict, and who is the extremist? ... And suddenly it is the Palestinians who may be the extremists, or who are allied with extremists who threaten Europe's own society."
An increasing proportion of Europeans are concluding that "maybe the Palestinians are not the colonialist victims" after all.
Furthermore, the pollster said, the question of which side held "absolute," uncompromising positions had also shifted - to Israel's benefit.
The sea-change in attitudes, he said, had been accelerated by the fact that prime minister Ariel Sharon, who had been widely regarded as an ideological "absolutist," had surprised Europe with his disengagement initiative. And at about the same time, the Palestinians had chosen the "absolutists" of Hamas as their leadership.
An opinion poll conducted for the Israel Project among "opinion elites" in the US and released last month found that 80% believed that the US should not fund the Palestinian Authority until its Hamas-led government renounced violence, recognized Israel and ended terrorism; 93% said Palestinian leaders must end the culture of hate that encourages children to become suicide bombers; and 78% had a favorable view of Olmert's "realignment" plan.
Asked if they considered themselves supporters of Israel or supporters of the Palestinians, 58% in that survey said they backed Israel, while 10% said they supported the Palestinians. Another 33% said they supported neither side, were undecided or didn't know.