Most Jewish Israelis do not trust Obama to keep his promise to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons “at any cost,” according to a study released Thursday.
Of the Jewish Israelis surveyed in the latest Israel Democracy Institute Peace Index, 67 percent said they did not believe the president would keep his word, while 27% said they thought he would. Among Arab Israelis, 42% believed Obama would prevent a nuclear Iran, while 38% did not.
The majority of all Israelis think the US is projecting weakness on Middle East issues, as 63% said they thought US actions in regards to Syria projected weakness and 60% said the same regarding Iran.
In recent weeks, Iran has begun negotiating directly with the US over its nuclear program and severe sanctions imposed by Western powers. On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran is preparing to offer to limit its production of nuclear fuel in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. It is expected to make the offer at a meeting next week in Geneva. Later Wednesday, Israeli TV reported that the US and Iran were making significant progress toward a deal that would aim to keep Iran two to three years from a nuclear weapons capability.
Israeli officials have largely dismissed the idea of negotiating with Iran, insisting that the only acceptable solution to the standoff is for Iran to dismantle its program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned this week against a “bad deal.”
Jewish Israelis seem to share Netanyahu’s wariness, as 80% believed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s late-September speech before the UN General Assembly did not signal a change in policy but rather merely a change in rhetoric. Only 14% believed it was sincere. Meanwhile, 47% of Arab Israelis believed it marked a real change in Tehran’s policy, and 42% thought it was only rhetoric.
When it comes to Iran, Netanyahu enjoys widespread support among Jewish Israelis. Fully 77% said they thought Netanyahu was right to repeatedly warn the world of the danger Iran poses, while just 14% think Western leaders are right to meet with the Iranian president. Among Israeli Arabs, 56% agree with Western diplomatic steps and 20% support Netanyahu’s more skeptical line.
The study also polled Israelis on relations between Israel and the Palestinians, finding that 65% of all Israelis (61% of Jewish respondents and 88% of Arab respondents) were in favor of peace talks between the sides, compared to 29% (34% of Jewish respondents; 8% of Arab respondents) who opposed such talks.
However, most Israelis surveyed were not optimistic about the negotiations, as 78% of Israelis (81% of the Jewish public; 64% of the Arab public) thought the chances are low that the current round of negotiations will lead to a significant agreement, while just 15% (14% of the Jewish public; 20% of the Arab public) thought the chances are high.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority resumed American-brokered bilateral peace talks on July 29. In an effort to jumpstart the talks, Israel has agreed to release over 104 Palestinian prisoners in four phases, the first of which has gone ahead. Late last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly that Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to intensify peace talks aimed at reaching a final status agreement.
The survey also showed that Jewish and Arab Israelis disagree over a right of return for Palestinian refugees, one of the key points of contention between Israel and the Palestinians. Among Jewish Israelis, 81% do not think Israel should accept the return of even a limited number of Palestinian refugees to Israel, while 80% of Arab Israelis support such a right.
The survey was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University between September 30 and October 1. It included 601 respondents who constitute a representative sample of the adult population of Israel, with a margin of error of 4.5%.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this story.