Most Israelis say economy top priority

Over 60% feel financial crisis most important issue facing new gov't, ahead of Iran and Palestinians.

unemployment 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
unemployment 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For a clear majority of the public, the economic crisis is the most important issue facing the new government, according to the March 2009 Peace Index poll published by Tel Aviv University. Sixty-two percent put the the economic crisis in first or second place in the poll conducted by Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Prof. Tamar Hermann. Trailing far behind were security and political issues - the Iranian threat at 39% and the negotiations with the Palestinians at 27%. Domestic problems were also accorded secondary importance - economic gaps (31%), corruption (19%), and improving the system of governance (16%). A majority of the Jews (53%), but not of Arab Israelis (33%), believe Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's declaration that his government will strive for peace with the Palestinians. However, a majority of both sectors supports Netanyahu's view that the key to achieving stability and quiet is "economic peace" based on advancing the economic condition of the Palestinians. In contrast, however, to Netanyahu's refusal to commit himself to the formula of two states for two peoples, a majority of both sectors (56% of the Jews and 78% of the Arabs) currently favors working toward this solution. That is, the Israeli public thinks "economic peace" is a good idea but not enough to achieve ongoing quiet and stability. The support for the two-state solution is especially evident when comparing it to two other possibilities: continuing the existing situation or establishing a binational state. Among Jewish Israelis, 51% now back the two-state formula, 28% favor maintaining the status quo, and 7% support setting up a binational state. For the Arabs, the figures are 66% for the two-state formula, 8% for continuing the existing situation, and 17% for binationalism. In other words, the Arabs, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly oppose the status quo; at the same time a large majority opposes a binational state and supports, like the Jewish public, a two-state solution. About three-quarters of both groups disagrees with the claim that unless the two-state idea is realized soon, the result will be the rise of a binational state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. A majority of Israelis, both Arab (59%) and Jewish (54%), believe that despite the new government's right-wing composition it will maintain a good relationship with the Obama administration when it comes to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace. However, while a majority of the Jewish public (55%) expects Obama to pressure Israel harshly if it does not cooperate in advancing negotiations, a majority of the Arab public (51%) sees the chances of US pressure on Israel as low. These different assessments presumably stem from the fact that the Arabs, more than the Jews, believe in the basic American sympathy for Israel and in the power of the American Jewish lobby's influence on US policy in the region. With the publication of claims by soldiers who took part in Operation Cast Lead that IDF forces harmed, on orders, civilians and structures beyond what was required by the fighting, the pollsters checked the public's degree of trust in these testimonies and its positions on the question of what to do if the IDF's investigation verified them. (In the event, the probe found the claims were false and based on hearsay.) The survey found, as expected, large gaps between Jews and Arabs. A majority of the Jewish public (64%) discounted the allegations and said that even if the IDF investigation verified them, neither the soldiers nor the commanders should be put on trial, with greater leniency toward the soldiers who carried out the orders - 74% saying they should not be put on trial, while 58% say so regarding the commanders. A clear majority of the Arab public (61%), however, believed the claims of deliberate abuses and said the soldiers and commanders should be charged. Similar to the Jewish public, however, the Arabs distinguished between commanders and soldiers, with a clear tendency to be stricter toward those who give the orders (78% said the commanders should stand trial compared to 58% who favored charging the soldiers). The telephone interviews were conducted by the B.I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University on March 30-31, and included 595 interviewees who represent the adult population of Israel (including the settlements and the kibbutzim). The sampling error was 4.5%.