Poll: Three quarters of Israeli Jews would accept peace deal

More than 50% define themselves as right wing and don’t trust the Palestinians, yet would vote for a new Netanyahu-led centrist party

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

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promotes the Arab Peace Initiative during a speech at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan, May 26, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Jim Young)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promotes the Arab Peace Initiative during a speech at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan, May 26, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Jim Young)

Three quarters of Hebrew-speaking Israelis would support a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on the Arab Peace Initiative, and more than half would vote for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he were to leave the Likud and create a new party, according to a new poll published Thursday.

The survey, commissioned by the non-profit Israeli Peace Initiative, was conducted earlier this month among a representative sample of 500 Hebrew-speaking Israelis. The poll’s sponsors said it indicated that a large majority of the country’s Jews hold hawkish views regarding the peace process but would be willing to accept a deal if they understood what Israel stands to gain from an accord normalizing diplomatic and trade relations with the entire Arab world.

According to the survey, 76 percent of respondents said they are “sure” or “think” that they would be willing to support an agreement after they were told about nine different elements of the deal, all based on the Arab Peace Initiative, presented to them in a way that made them seem beneficial to Israel. More than 60 percent of respondents said they would likely support a regional peace treaty even before any components of it were discussed.

“This represents a statistically significant increase over the findings in other surveys conducted over the past few months,” according to the authors of the survey.

“The significance of this poll shows that a) Israelis indeed hold right-wing views, b) they don’t believe the Palestinians, c) they will accept a far-reaching deal based on the Arab Peace Initiative if presented properly to them and d), that they will support Bibi Netanyahu if he does make such a heroic decision,” said IPI’s Koby Huberman, during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

“If [Israelis] understand the underlying logic of involving the Arab states in the equation and moving toward the end of the Israeli-Arab conflict, then they would be willing to accept a package deal that is far-more reaching than if it was a just a bilateral agreement.”

More than half of the poll’s respondents said they consider themselves either “extreme right wing” (28 percent) or “soft right” (24 percent). About 30 percent define their political position as centrist and 16 percent as either “soft left” or “extreme left.”

First adopted by the Arab League in 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative promises Israel “full diplomatic and normal relations” with 57 Arab and Muslim states, in exchange for a “comprehensive peace agreement” with the Palestinians. Israelis leaders have so far reacted mostly coldly to the initiative, unhappy about some of its terms.

This week’s poll presented respondents with what Huberman called a “legitimate interpretation” of the Arab Peace Initiative, though not with its exact wording. Some of the terms presented to the respondents included the creation of a demilitarized Palestine, settlements remaining under Israeli sovereignty with only “minor territorial exchanges,” East Jerusalem as capital, no right of return for Palestinian refugees (with the with the exception of “a symbolic number”), security arrangements to protect against Iran and terror, and the promise that economic access to “300 million consumers and a billion residents [in the Arab and Muslim world] will improve the situation of Israeli citizens.”

Some 70 percent of respondents indicated a willingness to support these parameters. Only two of the nine components — the future of the holy sites, which would not be under any specific sovereignty but managed separately by each religious group, and the division of Jerusalem — received the support of slightly less than 50 percent.

Seventy-two percent of respondents believed that Israelis are interested in signing a peace treaty to end the conflict. However, 77 percent are convinced that the Palestinians are not interested in reaching such an agreement.

Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that any possible peace agreement would have to be submitted to a referendum. “It is important that every citizen have a direct vote on fateful decisions such as these that will determine the future of the state,” he said in July, when the ongoing US-brokered peace negotiations resumed last summer.

According to the poll, conducted by Israeli research institute New Wave Research, 73 percent of the Israeli public would support the prime minister if he were to present a peace treaty based on the nine components. Fifty-six percent said they would vote for him if he broke away from the Likud — most of whose senior members are opposed to a two-state deal with the Palestinians — and were to create a new centrist party.

“In summarizing the demographic variables, it is important to note that previous surveys reveal that younger respondents and women tended towards weak support for the principle of a regional agreement to end the conflict,” the poll’s authors noted. “This time, it is clear that support for peace agreements and willingness to support the components of the agreement among these two population groups is now similar to that what they are among the rest of the population.”

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