Israelis give government good grades for response to Gaza situation

50% support negotiating with Hamas for release of captured soldier.

The government's conduct in the situation created by the kidnapping of the soldier Gilad Shalit currently wins quite good grades from most of the public, according to a new poll published by professors Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann of Tel Aviv University. Nevertheless, the majority identifies with the statement that it is unfair that the kidnapping drew such a severe response, whereas Israel's reaction to the ongoing Kassam fire on Sderot has been relatively restrained. Furthermore, in contrast to the decision-makers' stated refusal to hold direct negotiations with Hamas on freeing the kidnapped soldier, the prevailing view in the public is that Israel should indeed negotiate for his release. This apparently reflects the overriding importance the public in general ascribes to the principle of redeeming captives, since when it comes to direct political negotiations with Hamas, the public is almost evenly split in its positions with a slight advantage for those opposing such talks. As for the personal functioning of the prime minister and the defense minister so far, a different picture emerges. A majority, albeit small, evaluates Olmert's functioning positively, while a larger majority views Peretz's functioning negatively. In any case, neither leader is viewed especially flatteringly. Finally, apparently on the background of the recent deterioration in the security situation, today - unlike in the past - a small majority of the public believes that the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip was not the right step and that the prime minister's realignment plan is also counter to Israel's national interest. This may also explain why a clear majority assesses the national mood as bad. Those are the main findings of the Peace Index survey that was carried out on July 3-4. Slightly over half the public (52 percent) sees the government as acting properly in the situation created by the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, while one-third views it as failing the test (This one-third is made up, as would be expected, of voters for the opposition parties from the Right - Likud, National Union/National Religious Party and Israel Beiteinu.) Yet, at the same time, a 54% majority identifies with the claim that it is unfair that Israel reacted to the kidnapping with such severity, including the arrests of Palestinian members of parliament from Hamas, while responding with more restrained measures to the ongoing Kassam fire on Sderot. That does not mean the public lacks empathy for the efforts to free the kidnapped soldier. On the contrary, the prevailing view (48%) is that Israel must always remain committed to the principle of redeeming captives, with only a third saying that sometimes security and national interests are more important. On this question, a pronounced gap was found between men and women. Among the former, there was an even split on this question; among the latter, the rate of those endorsing the supreme obligation to redeem captives - 57 - was much higher than the rate of those saying there are sometimes more important considerations - 27%. The Israeli leadership makes repeated declarations that it will not negotiate directly with Hamas because the organization does not recognize Israel's right to exist and supports terror against it. The data show, however, that 50% of the public support negotiating with Hamas in the case of the kidnapped soldier, with 42% opposing it. The strongest support for negotiations in this context comes from Labor, the Gil Pensioners Party and Meretz voters, and the lowest from Israel Beiteinu and United Torah Judaism voters. On political negotiations, however, the public is divided - 47% in favor and 49% against, with the opposition concentrated among voters for Israel Beiteinu, UTJ, NU/NRP and Likud. In both cases, though, the public as a whole is more open than the leadership to the possibility of dialogue with Hamas, a finding the Peace Index surveys have pointed to consistently in recent months. At the same time, a majority of the public accepts the narrative of the political and military leadership that the Palestinian attack on the tank constituted an "act of terror" and not a military (and thus more legitimate) act. Sixty-one percent concur, with only 32% defining the act as military. Amid the criticism leveled at the security forces in the media and by various analysts, the survey checked to what extent the public accepted the view that the event at Kerem Shalom was a military failure or instead believed, like the political and military leadership, that such incidents could not always be avoided under the pressures in which the defense establishment operated. Forty-seven percent agree that it is impossible to prevent such events totally under the pressure of circumstances, whereas 40% think there was a foul-up. Note that only among Likud voters is there a majority for those who see a failure (49% compared to only 36% who view the event as an unavoidable mishap). In other words, even among the voters for the rest of the opposition parties, the majority accepts the establishment's position. The deteriorating security situation and the recent incidents have apparently caused a change in the public's positions on policy toward the Palestinians both in the past and the future. The majority that supported the unilateral disengagement from Gaza seems to have disappeared, with only 46% now saying it was the right move, while 50% view it as having been unwise. The realignment plan, which was less popular from the start than the disengagement, is now supported by only 39% with 47% opposed. This also seems to explain the majority's assessment of the "national mood" as negative: 62% define it as moderately bad or very bad and only 30% as very good or moderately good, with voters for the right-wing parties, as expected, making the gloomiest evaluations.