Trust in gov't falls; Support rises for int'l peacekeepers in PA areas

The index also found that a majority of the public views negatively Barak's decision to evactuate Lebanon.

Olmert Katsav 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert Katsav 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The recent Lebanon war brought a sharp intensification of the Israeli Jewish public's severe criticism of the political and defense establishment. Large parts of the public do not believe in the competence and integrity of the country's principal institutions, including the IDF, the government, the Knesset, the High Court of Justice and the media, according to the August Peace Index carried out on Monday and Tuesday, 4-5 September. This distrust explains why the majority does not think the government and the IDF can be relied on to carry out the appropriate investigations and draw the necessary conclusions on the problems that caused the war in Lebanon to end as it did. The prevailing view is that the government is responsible for weakening Israel's deterrence vis- -vis the Arab world, and this explains the broad support for increasing the defense budget - so long as it does not entail reducing the social and welfare budgets or raising taxes. The index also found that today a majority of the public views the Barak government's decision in 2000 to unilaterally evacuate southern Lebanon without an agreement with the Syrian and Lebanese governments negatively. At the same time, the majority does not believe the Israeli government, by showing greater flexibility in the past in negotiating over the Golan Heights with Syria, could have prevented the recent war and the strengthening of Hizbullah. Moreover, despite the weakening of deterrence, today the public opposes a peace agreement with Syria in return for a full withdrawal from the Golan even more than in the past. As we saw last month, a majority of the public accepts the idea of stationing an international peacekeeping force. Indeed, today a majority continues to support such a solution in the Israeli-Palestinian context despite still viewing the United Nations along with the European countries - but not the United States - as pro-Arab bodies according to their positions in the recent war. On a scale of assessing efficiency, in which 0 means "not efficient at all" and 100 means "very efficient," the IDF received a grade of 63, compared to 81 in the previous measurement in December 2001. After it came the High Court of Justice at 48 (vs. 62.5 in the past), the media at 40 (vs. 48 in the past), the government at 28 (vs. 38 in the past), and the Knesset at 27 (vs. 30 in 2001). That is, the public's assessment of each of these bodies declined significantly, with the IDF and the High Court of Justice falling the most. Note, however, that the marks for the government and the Knesset were already extremely low in the past and did not have much space to sink further. A similar picture emerged regarding the extent of corruption in each of these bodies. With 100 representing "no corruption at all" and 0 indicating a great deal of corruption, the IDF received a grade of 61, the High Court of Justice 59, the media 51, and the government and the Knesset lagged far behind at only 25. Because a similar question was asked in the past but with slightly different wording, comparing the results is difficult. Generally, though, despite the fact that the order of the institutions remained the same as that found in the efficiency scale, the rate of those charging these bodies with corruption rose considerably. It is easy, then, to understand why about two-thirds (65 percent) think there is no alternative to an investigative committee on the events in Lebanon, since the army and the government cannot be trusted to investigate themselves suitably and reveal why the war ended as it did (though 27% think an external committee is not required because the government and IDF can be trusted to arrive at the truth by themselves). The common assessment - 68% - is that the war ended with a certain or a great weakening of Israel's deterrence vis- -vis the Arab world, with only one-quarter (23%) saying that deterrence was strengthened or greatly strengthened. Despite the critical attitude toward the IDF, there is apparently a large majority that supports considerably increasing the defense budget: 68.5% favor this, compared to only 25% who oppose raising the budget in light of the lessons of the war. However, close to half (46%) of those who support a defense budget increase say it must not come at the expense of social objectives or higher taxation. Adding this group to those who oppose increasing the defense budget in the first place, it turns out that only a minority is currently prepared to accept higher tax rates or sacrifice resources intended for social purposes like education, welfare and health in order to support a substantial hike in the defense budget. Unlike in the past, when there was wide support for the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon that then-prime minister Ehud Barak initiated, today less than one-third (31%) think in retrospect that it served Israel's security interests and 51% say it did not serve them. Yet a large majority - 68.5% - believes the war was unavoidable and that Hizbullah would have gained strength even if Israel had shown greater flexibility in negotiating with Syria on a full peace agreement in return for a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. In other words, most of the public does not blame the government for causing the war by being too rigid. Moreover, today only 14% favor a full withdrawal from the Heights for a full peace, 71% oppose it, and the rest do not have a clear position on the issue. The last time we asked this, in October 2002, 25% favored a full withdrawal for peace, 58% were against it, and the rest had no clear opinion. A segmentation by political parties revealed that the opposition to a full withdrawal from the Golan for a peace treaty with Syria is shared by a majority of the voters for all the Jewish parties except Meretz. As we saw last month, a majority (71%) supports a solution to the security problem in southern Lebanon that would be based on stationing a multinational peacekeeping force there. Apparently there has been an erosion in the Israeli public's "traditional" opposition to international involvement in resolving the regional conflict. In this survey, 51% expressed support for adopting a similar solution in the conflict with the Palestinians and readiness for an IDF withdrawal from that conflict with the stationing of an international force, while 39.5% expressed opposition. One should not rush to conclude, however, that the image of the relevant international players has undergone a basic change. As always, the dominant view (77.5%) is that in this war, too, the United States took pro-Israeli positions, with 16% saying its policy was balanced and only a small minority claiming it was pro-Arab. Only 15.5%, however, think the European countries took a pro-Israeli stance, 31% believe their policy was balanced, and the rest - 47% - define their position as pro-Arab. Similar numbers appeared for the United Nations: only 8% assess its position in the recent war as pro-Israeli, 27% see it as balanced, and 59% characterize the UN's stance as moderately or very pro-Arab. In other words, the general feeling is that (almost) the whole world is against us. Presumably, this pessimistic atmosphere is intensifying in light of the common assessment of the whole Jewish public - about 80% - that there is a real threat to Israel's existence from Iran. The effects of identity on the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel are evident in the different and even opposed positions the two groups take on central aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Whereas only 14% of the Jewish public supports a peace agreement with Syria for full withdrawal from the Golan, the parallel rate among the Arab public comes to 77%. A similar gap emerges when assessing the United Nations' and the European countries' positions during the recent war in Lebanon. Regarding the UN, 62% of the Arab sector think its stance was pro-Israeli, and 59% of the Arab sector hold the same assessment of the European countries' attitude. Only concerning the pro-Israeli policy of the United States was there agreement between the two groups. The major institutions receive low scores in terms of effectiveness among the Arab sector as well, similar to those given by the Jewish public, but with a few small differences. For example, among the Arabs, the IDF obtains a lower score whereas the Supreme Court and the media receive higher scores. As for increasing the defense budget, while 68.5% of the Jewish public support doing so - either with or without reservations - the parallel rate among the Arabs stands at 21%. Finally, even on the Iranian issue there are considerable divergences, with 42% of the Arabs compared to 79% of the Jews saying there exists a real threat to Israel's existence from Iran. Negotiation index: total sample - 46.3; Jews - 41.8. 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 B. I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University on 4-5 September 2006, and included 594 interviewees who represent the adult Jewish and Arab population of Israel (including the territories and the kibbutzim). The sampling error for a sample of this size is about 4.5% in each direction.