uploaded : Sunday 17th Aug 2003 at 23:42
by : James Zogby
AS READERS of this column no doubt know, I love to write about polling. Polling opens a window on opinion and gives us a picture of people's thoughts on issues. Over time, polling can also help us understand how views change and what factors contribute to that change.
It was with this in mind that, together with an American Jewish organisation ?Americans for Peace Now? (APN), we undertook a second poll of Arab Americans and American Jews in an effort to learn how both groups viewed President Bush's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Middle East ?roadmap? and the requirements for a comprehensive peace settlement.
As in our earlier poll of October 2002 we found that both communities shared somewhat similar views and would both support a two-state solution based on the formula that was being negotiated before the election of Ariel Sharon in January 2001.
These results should not be viewed as surprising given the characteristics of the two communities. While each side may include some hardline elements and while, at least on the Jewish side, their hardliners have formed a powerful lobby that has pressed US officials to oppose most Palestinian concerns ? in fact, the views of the overwhelming majority of Arab Americans and American Jews are moderate and supportive of a balanced solution that recognises the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Two separate polls were conducted in late June and early July 2003. The Jewish American poll was commissioned by APN and included 503 randomly selected respondents representing a cross-section of the American Jewish community. The Arab American poll was commissioned by the Arab American Institute and included 500 randomly selected Arab Americans representing all segments of that community. Zogby International of New York conducted both polls. The polls' primary findings are as follows:
Both communities expressed strong support for the right of Palestinians to live in a secure and independent state of their own. Among Jewish Americans, 82% either strongly or somewhat agree with the notion of such a state. In the Arab American community, 93% either strongly or somewhat agree with the right of Palestinians to a state.
When asked if Israelis have a right to live in a secure and independent state of their own, Jewish Americans almost unanimously (99.5%) either strongly or somewhat agree with the proposition, as do almost all Arab Americans (95%).
Jewish Americans and Arab Americans both voiced strong support for the roadmap to Middle East peace as laid out by the Bush administration. Seventy-one per cent of American Jews either strongly or somewhat support the roadmap, just as 74% of Arab Americans either strongly or somewhat support the roadmap. Only 16.5% of American Jews expressed some level of opposition. Similarly, just 11% of Arab Americans said they somewhat or strongly oppose the roadmap.
The survey asked respondents what needs to be done first in order to ensure the success of the peace plan: ?Israelis need to start dismantling settlements and outposts in the West Bank and Gaza and freeze settlement expansion; Palestinians need to declare a ceasefire and stop the suicide bombings; or both Israelis and Palestinians need to take these steps at the same time.? A majority of Jewish Americans (57%) said that both sides need to take these steps at the same time; the second-most selected answer was that the Palestinians need to first declare a ceasefire and stop the suicide bombings (37.5%). Among Arab Americans, 73% said that both sides need to take these steps at the same time; the second-most popular answer was that Israelis must first dismantle settlements and freeze expansion (18.5%).
Respondents were asked their level of support or opposition to a freeze on all Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and Gaza. A significant majority of Jewish Americans (70.5%) either strongly or somewhat supports a settlement expansion freeze, with a plurality (46%) strongly backing such a freeze. Only 21% somewhat or strongly oppose a settlement freeze. Arab Americans also strongly or somewhat support a settlement freeze (80%).
Ending Israeli occupation:
When asked their level of support or opposition to Israel ending its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, a majority of American Jews (58.5%) said they either strongly or somewhat support an end to the occupation, 29% said they either strongly or somewhat oppose ending it. In the Arab American community, the majority of those polled (83.5%) said they either strongly or somewhat support ending Israeli occupation.
Final status agreement:
The survey asked respondents about their support or opposition to a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, roughly along the lines of where the parties ended their last formal negotiations in Taba, Egypt: ?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 border, a Palestinian right of return only to inside a new Palestinian state, and establishing Jerusalem as the shared capital of both countries.? Among Jewish Americans, 59% expressed support for such an arrangement, 31% did not support it, and 10% are not sure. Among Arab Americans, 85% said they support this kind of plan, while six per cent do not support it.
The US and the Middle East:
When asked how confident they are in the Bush administration's commitment to achieve a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a majority of Jewish Americans (55.5%) are either very or somewhat confident. One-half of Arab Americans polled (50%) expressed confidence in the Bush administration's commitment. A similar percentage of Jewish Americans (41%) and Arab Americans (45%) said they are not confident in the president's commitment.
Finally, respondents were asked how they would rate President Bush's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East. The president earned ?excellent? or ?good? ratings from 29% of Jewish Americans and from 39% of Arab Americans. However, President Bush earned a net negative rating from both Arab (56%) and Jewish Americans (69%).
I have long believed that winning the support of Arab Americans and American Jews need not be an either/or proposition. Our recent poll establishes that a ?constituency for peace,? in fact, exists and includes vast majorities of both groups.
If politicians could but put away their misconceptions about Arab Americans and American Jews and their unfounded fears of a mythical bloc vote, they would realise that a strong base of support for peace exists into which they could tap.
All of this does not, of course, negate the reality that there is in the United States a strong extremist anti-peace current that consists of some hardline pro-Likud elements in the Jewish community, a substantial grouping of right-leaning fundamentalist Christians and other conservative anti-Arab hawks. For at least the past decade, these are the groups that have been driving the congressional debate against peace, pressing American administrations to be more pro-Israel and dominating the media discussion on a range of Middle East issues.
Thus, when political leaders in either of the two parties cower from taking tough stands for peace and pander in support of Israeli policy, it is to these anti-peace forces and not to the American Jewish community, as a whole, that they are responding. As our polls have established a decisive majority of American Jews, like Arab Americans, want peace based on a balanced formulation that stops settlements, ends the occupation and provides rights for both Israelis and Palestinians.
James Zogby is President of the Washington, DC based Arab American Institute.
First published in The Jordan Times.
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