Poll: Israelis care more about peace process and EU than Iran

Only 12% of Israelis think that dealing with nuclear threat should be Jerusalem’s top foreign policy priority, new survey finds

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set out his 'red line' for Iran on a cartoon-bomb drawing during a  speech to the UN General Assembly, on September 27, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set out his 'red line' for Iran on a cartoon-bomb drawing during a speech to the UN General Assembly, on September 27, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Israelis see advancing the peace process with the Palestinians as more important than confronting the Iranian nuclear threat, according to a poll published this week. Indeed, the survey shows, the public is more interested in the Israeli government promoting better ties with moderate Arab states and the European Union than in dealing with Tehran’s nuclear program.

The survey, commissioned by Mitvim — The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, a left-leaning Israeli think tank, also showed that most Israelis view their nation’s standing in the world as very poor and are deeply dissatisfied with the way their leaders are steering the country’s foreign policy.

Asked which issue should be Israel’s top foreign policy priority for the coming six months, 34 percent of respondents named the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (30% of Jewish and 71% of Arab respondents). In contrast, only 12% mentioned dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue (13% of Jews and 4% of Arabs.)

“The Iranian issue is losing traction in the Israeli public discourse, and that’s interesting,” said Mitvim chairman Nimrod Goren. In a society dominated by discussions of national security, one would have expected the Iranian nuclear threat to be listed first, he said.

The poll was conducted between September 9 and 11.

Thirty-six percent of respondents said promoting ties with the United States should be the chief Israeli foreign policy goal. Nearly a third wished their government would primarily focus on improving public diplomacy (“hasbara”) in general. Perhaps surprisingly, 22% said they wanted Jerusalem to expand ties with moderate states in the Middle East (21% of Jews and 27% of Arabs). Sixteen percent named improving ties with the EU, and 9% ties with East Asian countries such as China and Japan, as Israel’s most important foreign policy goal.

Most Israelis (61%) said they agreed with the proposition that improving Israel’s standing in the world was linked to progress in the peace talks (59% of Jews and 83% of Arabs). More than two-thirds of Israelis said that regional cooperation with Middle Eastern countries was “possible,” while 23% disagreed with that assessment.

“The poll shows that the peace process is a central issue for the Israeli public — a condition for improving Israel’s foreign relations and a key foreign policy priority,” Goren stated.

Founded in 2011, Mitvim is supported financially by several left-wing organizations, such as the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which is affiliated with the Social Democratic Party, and the New Israel Fund.

The annual foreign policy index, based on interviews with 500 Israeli adults, also showed that nearly one in two Israelis (45%) said that Operation Protective Edge damaged Israel’s foreign relations. Only 13% said that Israel’s standing in the world at present is “good,” while 35% said it was “not good.”

A third of respondents said they were “not satisfied” with the government’s foreign policy, while 20% said they are. Asked about the Foreign Ministry, the picture is even bleaker: only 12% are happy with the way in which the ministry fulfills its mission, compared to 41% who said the opposite.

Only 16% of respondents said Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was the best person for the job. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) was named by 27% as the most suitable candidate to head Israel’s foreign policy apparatus; opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) was listed by 19% and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) by 13%.

Avigdor Liberman and Tzipi Livni shaking hands on Thursday. (photo credit: Flash90)
Avigdor Liberman and Tzipi Livni shaking hands in January 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

The poll, conducted for Mitvim by the Rafi Smith Institute, also sought to establish which three countries Israelis consider most important for Israel. A whopping 95% named the United States, although respondents evaluated the current level of Israel-US relations as less than stellar, ranking it at 6.1 out of 10.

A third of respondents named Russia (33%), making it the second-most important country for Israelis, followed by Germany (32%) and Great Britain (27%). Surprisingly, 27% of respondents named Egypt (25% of Jews and 49% of Arabs). Only 4% named the Palestinian Authority.

“Turkey is seen as a non-actor now by Israel. It’s totally sidelined,” said Goren, Mitvim’s chairman, explaining why only 2% named the state led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, formerly a close ally of Israel.

At a press conference in Jerusalem Wednesday, Goren explained that the survey’s timing likely had a significant influence on the poll, and especially on the question of which countries were important for Israel. Russia, for instance, is presently seen as a powerful nation due to its role in the Ukraine crisis, while Israelis consider Egypt an important country after its critical role in brokering a ceasefire during Operation Protective Edge.

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