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Correlates of the Israeli Public's Support for a Peace Accord

February 7, 2011

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By Alvin Richman and David B. Nolle1

Shortly after President Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. renewed its commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. This renewed commitment raises a number of issues, not the least of which are the Israeli public's views and concerns regarding a peace accord.

A New America Foundation (NAF) survey of Israelis in November, 2009 sheds important light on the public opinion context regarding a hypothetical U.S.-proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. This survey includes a number of demographic and opinion measures which permit assessments of the various correlates of support or opposition to this plan. Two sets of findings stand out: The contrasts among different attitudinal correlates of support for the peace plan and the polarization of Israeli society over this issue.

Attitudinal correlates of support for a peace accord. Seven groups of opinion variables reflecting different themes or concerns are identified as possible correlates of support for a peace plan:

•  Concerns about Israel's domestic economic and social needs have the highest correlations with support for a hypothetical Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, followed by attitudes toward President Obama, concerns about an accord's ramifications for Israel's security, and the plan's potential to reduce Israel's international isolation.

•  Because of the long history of U.S. support and peace promotion efforts involving Israel, attitudes toward the United States were expected to be closely related to Israelis' positions on the hypothetical U.S.-proposed peace accord. The NAF survey itself shows most Israelis have a favorable image of the United States, regard U.S. support of Israel as essential, and believe the U.S. would reduce this support if Israel were to reject a U.S. peace proposal. Nevertheless, none of these attitudes regarding the U.S. shows a meaningful correlation with Israeli support of a U.S.-proposed peace plan. At a minimum, this unexpected set of findings indicates that views of the United States and its ability to pressure Israel have little bearing on Israeli support for a peace accord compared to the other attitudes examined. Possible explanations for these unexpected findings are explored in Section III.

Polarizing factors. The survey findings also show that Israeli society is highly polarized over the issue of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord -- in terms of ideology, political affiliation and ethno-religious identification. For example:

•  In eleven of Israel's twelve main political parties, majorities identify with a single ethno-religious group, and most of these groups take a definite position on the U.S.-proposed peace plan: Secular Jews and Israeli Arabs mainly support the peace accord, Orthodox Jews and Russians mainly oppose it, while Traditional Jews are divided.

•  All six of the political parties whose members mainly identify themselves as right-wing oppose the peace accord by large margins, while all four of the parties whose members mainly identify themselves as left-wing support the peace accord by large margins.

This public opinion survey of 1,000 Israelis examined in detail below was commissioned by the New America Foundation and conducted November 8-15, 2009. The questionnaire was designed by Gerstein/Agne Strategic Communications which contracted the Israeli-based research company TNS Teleseker to administer the survey by telephone interviews in Hebrew, Russian and Arabic.2

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1Alvin Richman served for thirty-six years as a senior analyst in the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Information Agency reporting on American and foreign public opinion and now works as a private public opinion analyst and consultant. David B. Nolle is an independent consultant and part-time contractor for the Office of Opinion Research in the US Department of State. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Department of State or the US Government.

2The Hebrew and Arabic speaking populations were called randomly among adults 18 years of age and older; the Russian speaking population was called randomly using TNS Teleseker's database of Russian speakers 18 years of age and older which has been developed over several years through other surveys conducted by random calling. According to the data providers, the survey has a margin of error of +/-3.1 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

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