uploaded : Sunday 8th Dec 2002 at 15:54
by : James Zogby and Debra DeLee
For too long, some Arab-American and Jewish-American groups with an interest in trying to avoid a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have worked hard to drive a wedge between our two communities.
More significantly, they have worked to convince elected officials that, just as conflict is inevitable in the Middle East, it is impossible to find common ground among ourselves closer to home. As a result, public debate within the
Arab-American and Jewish-American communities has become polarized, harsh and unrepresentative of what Arabs and Jews in this country really think.
Fortunately, a new poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute and Americans for Peace Now sheds some much-needed light on Arab-American and
Jewish-American opinion, revealing two sides that are more moderate and closer to each other in their thinking than some would have believed. The
survey provides some optimism about the potential for our two communities to work on a shared agenda to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The percentages are for respondents from each community, with 500 people polled in each and a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.
Both communities consider themselves well informed about the situation in the Middle East, with 93 percent of Arab-Americans and 96 percent of Jewish-Americans indicating that they either "very closely" or "somewhat closely" follow developments in the region.
They also hold, to different degrees, a similar outlook on how they think the Bush administration should pursue peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Although 65 percent of Arab-Americans believe that the administration is leaning toward Israel and only 38 percent of Jewish-Americans see it that way, both sides express a preference for the White House to steer a middle course in the conflict. Sixty-six percent of Arab-Americans and 45 percent of Jewish-Americans hold that view.
The similarities grow stronger when respondents were asked about specific issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Eighty-five percent of Jewish-Americans and 96 percent of Arab-Americans agree that Palestinians have a right to live in a secure and independent
state of their own. Similarly, 95 percent of Arab-Americans and 97 percent of Jewish-Americans agree that Israelis also have that right.
Our two communities also agree about whom they generally blame for the breakdown of the Middle East peace process, with 42 percent of Jewish
Americans and 50 percent of Arab Americans blaming both sides.
There is a remarkable level of agreement about support for a peace proposal crafted along the lines of where Israelis and Palestinians left their direct negotiations at Taba, Egypt, in January 2001.
We asked survey participants if they would support a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that included the establishment of an independent, secure Palestinian state alongside an independent, secure Israeli state, the evacuation of most settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of a border roughly along the June 4, 1967 line, a Palestinian right of return only to inside a new Palestinian state and the establishment of
Jerusalem as the shared capital of both countries.
Seventy-nine percent of Arab-Americans and 52 percent of Jewish-Americans said they could support such a plan.
Obviously, there are differences in degree regarding levels of support for some of the questions raised in our survey. But majorities in our communities -- 94 percent of Arab-Americans and 87 percent of Jewish-Americans -- think that it's "very important" or "somewhat important" to work with each other to achieve a peace in which Palestinians and Israelis have the right to live in their own states.
Unfortunately, our study also found that both communities have misconceptions about each other's thinking.
While 50 percent of Arab-Americans agreed that a majority of Jewish-Americans think that Palestinians have a right to live in a secure and independent state of their own, the actual level of Jewish-American support for this position is 85 percent. Similarly, only 34 percent of Jewish-Americans agree and 41 percent disagree that a majority of Arab-Americans think that Israelis
have a right to live in their own state, even though 95 percent of Arab-Americans hold this position.
It's time to put aside such misunderstandings. If there is to be peace in the Middle East, American decision-makers must recognize that there is a
constituency for it among Arab-Americans and Jewish-Americans. The joint survey shows that we share common ground in supporting a two-state solution and a shared future for Israelis and Palestinians. It's up to us to work together to get that message out and help pave the path to peace.
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James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute.
Debra DeLee is president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now.
Source: The Baltimore Sun, November 22, 2002.
Visit the Baltimore Sun at http://www.sunspot.com
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