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Poll: Many Democrats want more US support for Palestinians

Overall, 29% of Americans say the US is too supportive of the Israelis, 30% say it’s not supportive enough and 36% say it’s about right

Demonstrators march to the Israeli Consulate during a protest against Israel and in support of Palestinians on May 15, 2021, in the Westwood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Demonstrators march to the Israeli Consulate during a protest against Israel and in support of Palestinians on May 15, 2021, in the Westwood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new poll on American attitudes toward a core conflict in the Middle East finds about half of Democrats want the US to do more to support the Palestinians, showing that a growing rift among Democratic lawmakers is also reflected in the party’s base.

The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, released on Wednesday, finds differences within both the Democratic and the Republican parties on the US approach toward Israel and the Palestinians, with liberal Democrats wanting more support for the Palestinians and conservative Republicans seeking even greater support for the Israelis.

The survey also examined Americans’ opinions on the Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The survey was conducted about three weeks into a ceasefire following an 11-day war last month between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The poll shows Americans overall are divided over US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. It also shows more Americans disapprove of President Joe Biden’s approach to the conflict than approve of it.

Among Democrats, 51% say the US is not supportive enough of the Palestinians. The sentiment jumps to 62% among Democrats who describe themselves as liberal. On the other hand, 49% of Republicans say the US is not supportive enough of the Israelis, a number that rises to 61% among those who say they’re conservative.

Paul Spelce, a 26-year-old Democratic-leaning independent voter and supporter of Palestinian statehood, is a member of a heavily religious Texas Republican family whose support for Israel is ingrained with their Christian faith. Spelce, of Austin, says he followed news of last month’s Gaza war and the US response closely on the radio as he helped deliver mail.

Supporters of Israel face off with pro-Palestinian protesters and police in Times Square on May 20, 2021 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images via AFP)

“I started paying a lot more attention,” said Spelce, who said he disapproved of Biden’s handling of the conflict and thinks the United States is too supportive of Israelis and not supportive enough of the Palestinians.

“I don’t think Biden’s word was that strong,” Spelce said. “And I don’t think, you know, this administration… can actually do anything” regarding the conflict.

Overall, the poll shows that 29% of Americans say the US is too supportive of the Israelis, 30% say it’s not supportive enough and 36% say it’s about right. In its approach toward the Palestinians, 25% say the US is too supportive, 32% say it’s not supportive enough and 37% say it’s about right.

Biden refrained from publicly criticizing Israel over civilian deaths and waited until the last days of fighting last month to openly press Israel to wind down its airstrikes on Gaza as Hamas shot thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers.

The war highlighted differences among Democratic lawmakers and between some Democratic lawmakers and Biden on Israel policy. Dozens of Democrats in Congress called for Israel and Hamas to cease fire immediately, days before Biden openly did. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a progressive Vermont independent, urged the US to be more even-handed in its approach to the conflict.

The poll found 56% of Americans disapprove of the way Biden is handling the conflict, compared with 40% who approve. While 75% of Republicans disapprove of how Biden is handling the conflict, so do 35% of Democrats.

Protesters walk after a rally that was held in solidarity with Palestinians on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Joshua Housing)

“The new administration’s policies, its posture toward Israel, it’s totally different” to president Donald Trump’s, said Christina Elliott, a 57-year-old Republican in the northeast Texas town of Atlanta. She said she disapproves of Biden’s approach to the conflict and thinks the US should be more supportive of Israelis and less of Palestinians.

“The Palestinians need to put just as much effort as Israel is” into peaceful relations, Elliott said, and added of Israel: “My God, they’re surrounded by enemies.”

Forty-two percent of liberal Democrats say they disapprove of how Biden is handling the conflict, compared with 31% of moderate and conservative ones.

That’s compared with just 9% of Democrats who disapproved of how Biden is handling his job in general. Overall, Biden’s job approval rating stands at 55%.

Some of the respondents in the survey, both Democratic and Republican, cited the comparatively limited timespan of the war — in comparison, 50 days of fighting in 2014 killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 people on the Israeli side — in saying they approved of Biden’s handling of the conflict.

The poll also shows just 19% of Americans think the US should play a major role in finding a solution to the conflict, while 50% say it should play a minor role and 28% say it should play no role. Democrats and Republicans are largely in agreement on the size of the US role in the conflict.

A majority of Americans, 57%, say they think there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, compared with 39% who say there is not a way. About 2 out of 3 Democrats think there is a way. Republicans are closely divided, with 50% saying there is and 45% saying there is not.

Patrick Diehl, another Democratic-leaning independent, cited US offers to help rebuild Gaza buildings leveled by Israeli airstrikes, “so, I guess, they can be destroyed again. This seems to me kind of hapless.”

“You know, we need a stronger position taken by the administration — pushing for actual change rather than continuation of this wretched situation,” said Diehl, 74, of Tucson, Arizona.

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