Poll finds slim majority of Israelis back Bennett meeting Palestinian leader Abbas

In survey from dovish Geneva Initiative, 51% support a summit, including 40% of voters from PM’s right-wing Yamina party; 49% of respondents favor direct talks with Hamas

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 19, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/pool)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 19, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/pool)

A majority of Israelis are in favor of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and nearly half back direct talks with the Hamas terror group, according to a poll released Wednesday by the left-wing Geneva Initiative group.

Results of the combined online and telephone survey, conducted last week, showed that 51 percent back a Bennett-Abbas summit. A minority of 39% said they didn’t support the idea and 10% were undecided.

Regarding Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip and rivals to the West Bank-based PA led by Abbas, 49% were in favor of direct, open talks, while 40% were against and 11% said they didn’t know, the Geneva Initiative said in a statement.

Bennett has repeatedly ruled out meeting with Abbas, though a number of ministers in the diverse coalition he leads have visited the Palestinian leader. Earlier this month, Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej indicated that Defense Minister Benny Gantz could hold a second meeting with Abbas in the near future, the first having been held at the end of August.

The survey, which sampled 504 respondents and was conducted by the Midgam group, found that overall, 75% of voters for parties in the government coalition support a meeting between Bennett and Abbas, while 25% don’t.

Among voters for Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, 40% back a meeting, while 82% of voters for Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party support talks. Under a rotation agreement with Bennett, Lapid is to become prime minister in August 2023.

There was almost unanimous support for talks among Gantz’s Blue and White voters, with 93% behind the idea.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference in Carthage, near Tunis, Tunisia,Dec. 8, 2021. (Slim Abid/Tunisian Presidency via AP)

Half of Israelis (50%) think that whoever replaces the 86-year-old Abbas will be worse for Israel, while a small minority, 16%, think the next Palestinian leader will be better. The remaining 34% said they didn’t know what will happen.

A minority of people (43%) said that advancing a diplomatic process with the Palestinians would increase their support of the government, while 38% said it would shrink their support. The rest said they didn’t know how it would influence them.

However, among Yesh Atid voters, 77% said it would increase their support, as did 75% of Blue and White. Among voters of the left-leaning Labor party, 92% said it would up their support for the government.

Gadi Baltiansky, director-general of the Geneva Initiative, said in a statement that the public “is not buying the government’s policy of managing the conflict and is more realistic than its leaders.”

He urged Bennett and Lapid to “listen to the public” and immediately launch talks with the Palestinian leadership.

There is also significant interest among Israelis in knowing more about what is going on in Palestinian society, with 57% saying they want to know more and 43% saying they don’t, the survey found.

Over two-thirds of respondents, 67%, said they believes former-US president Donald Trump who was recently quoted as saying that previous prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not interested in a peace deal with the Palestinians. Among the rest, 22% said they didn’t believe it, and an equal percentage said they didn’t know if it is true.

Following Gantz’s trip to Ramallah to meet with Abbas, Bennett reiterated that he wouldn’t follow suit, citing the PA’s pursuit of war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court and continued payment of monthly stipends to security prisoners, including those convicted of killing Israelis.

The PA leader rarely met with Israeli ministers for several years during the previous administration of Netanyahu, which saw ties with the Palestinians grow increasingly strained.

Israel and the PA historically maintain security cooperation in the West Bank that both see as vital. However, security ties were downgraded amid a flurry of moves by the Trump administration that appeared to favor the Israeli position. Abbas said that the ties would reinstated after US President Joe Biden took office in January. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been moribund since 2014.

Bennett was able to form a coalition of left-wing, centrist, and right-wing parties, along with the Islamist Ra’am, largely through their common goal of ousting Netanyahu from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Geneva Initiative is a non-binding model for a permanent-status agreement that was crafted in 2003 based on past international resolutions. Among its architects were former Israeli minister and negotiator Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. The draft garnered significant international support, but was never ratified by either the Israelis or the Palestinians.

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