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Regional Issues >> Israel and the Palestinians

Israel and the Palestinians

Support for Pressuring Parties

Majorities favor the US putting greater pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to end their conflict. To this end, strong majorities have supported the US saying that it would reduce the aid it provides to both the Palestinians and Israel and withhold spare parts for advanced weapon systems the US has given to Israel. If the Palestinians were to stop engaging in violence, and instead use nonviolent forms of protest, support for putting more pressure on Israel jumps from a modest majority to an overwhelming majority.

Numerous polls have found strong support for putting greater pressure on the Israelis and Palestinians to end their conflict. Asked by PIPA in September 2003 whether the US should place a higher or lower priority on several “approaches to solving the problem of terrorism,” a solid majority (60%) said the US should place a higher priority on “putting greater pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to reduce their level of conflict.” Twenty-two percent felt the current level of priority was about right and only 16% felt this should be a lower priority. Similarly, in November 2001 PIPA presented a list of possible approaches for trying to reduce the problem of terrorism; among these, 74% endorsed (49% strongly) the idea of "putting greater pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to reduce their level of conflict."

Following the initial success of the war in Iraq, a majority felt the US should build on that momentum to work on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem. An April 2003 Gallup poll asked,” As a result of the war with Iraq, do you think the United States should or should not use its position in the Middle East to pressure the Israelis and Palestinians to make a peace agreement requiring compromises by both sides?” A majority of 57% said yes it should, while 37% said it should not. [1]

Questions that ask only about putting pressure on the Israelis get more variable support. If the Bush administration decided to do so, 74% said they would support "apply[ing] economic and diplomatic pressure to Israelis to try to reach a peaceful solution" while 80% supported such pressure on the Palestinians (CNN/USA Today, March 2002). Asked in the May 2002 PIPA poll, "Overall, do you favor or oppose the US putting more pressure on Israel to make compromises with the Palestinians?" 56% said that they did. However, when asked again in May 2003, only 49% said that they were in favor, while 38% were opposed.[2]

During the most recent period of intense conflict in the occupied territories in 2002, majorities expressed a willingness to withhold aid to both sides as a way to get them to respond to the US call for a ceasefire and return to the negotiating table. In a May 2003 PIPA poll, strong majorities favored the US using economic pressure on both by reducing aid to both the Israelis (63%) and the Palestinians (74%). In a May 2002 PIPA poll, strong majorities favored the US saying that it will reduce aid to both the Israelis (61%) and the Palestinians (63%). [Half the sample in each case was also told the amount of the aid that goes to Israel (3 billion dollars) and to the Palestinians (80 million dollars). This information had no significant effect on the responses.] [3]

In April 2002 Time/CNN also found a 60% majority for either reducing (33%) or completely stopping (27%) "economic and military aid to Israel" if Israel did not comply with President Bush's message to Sharon "to withdraw Israeli troops from the Palestinian territories immediately." Less than a third (31%) chose to keep aid at existing levels. [4]

Interestingly, only a plurality supported reducing aid when this was described as a way of "penalizing" Israel. When told that "The United States has called on Israel to withdraw its forces from these Palestinian areas," only 47% thought the US should "penalize [Israel] by reducing US economic aid" if it did not comply. Another question that used the same language about military aid got nearly identical results (ABC/Washington Post, April 2002). [5]

Americans also show a readiness to put pressure on Israel by withholding various forms of military support. PIPA found in May 2003 a strong majority (65%) favoring pressuring Israel by reducing military aid. Furthermore, majorities (60% in 2003 and 64% in 2002) also favored the US applying pressure by saying that it would withhold spare parts for some of the advanced weapons the US has given Israel. [6] PIPA's May 2002 poll found 52% favored “telling Israel not to use US-provided battlefield weapons in these operations” if it does not “withdraw its troops from the towns it recently took over,”while 35% were opposed (don't know, 12%).[7]

A majority also supported the idea of pressuring Israel by refusing to continue defending its treatment of the Palestinians in the UN Security Council. In May 2003 PIPA found 53 percent were in favor of the option of President Bush telling Israel “that the US will no longer veto UN Security Council resolutions” criticizing Israeli treatment of Palestinians, while only 32% were opposed. [8]

Polls have also found support for withholding aid to the Palestinians. Asked in a June 2003 German Marshall Fund poll, 72% agreed with the statement, “the US and Europeans should stop economic aid to the Palestinians to end their suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.” Only 23% disagreed. In PIPA’s May 2003 study, a strong majority (62%) was in favor of the option of the President pressuring other countries to stop giving aid to the Palestinians. [8a]

Using pressure on the Palestinian leadership still receives majority support, but is more lukewarm than other proposals like reducing aid to exert pressure. A slight majority (53%) favored the option of President Bush telling the Palestinian leadership he would no longer deal with them in May 2003. Since the Hamas government took power in January 2006, American attitudes about dealing with the Palestinian leadership have become more hard-line.[8b] (See "Dealing with the Palestinian Leadership")

Evidently, Americans strongly feel that this pressure be applied to both parties. In March 2002 Newsweek offered four choices:

Once the violence between Israel and the Palestinians has lessened, which of the following do you think the US should do? Put more pressure on Israel to negotiate over basic differences with the Palestinians, put more pressure on the Palestinians to negotiate over basic differences with Israel, put more pressure on both sides, put more pressure on neither side?

A strong 60% majority chose to "put more pressure on both sides." Extremely small minorities picked one side as the target of US pressure: only 7% picked the Israelis and only 9% picked the Palestinians. About a fifth (19%) said to "put more pressure on neither side." In December 2004, PIPA asked a similar question and found a plurality wanting to pressure both sides (45%). Again, only small percentages wanted to pressure one side or the other: 7% only the Palestinians and 3% only the Israelis. Perhaps because the intense violence of the prior years had subsided, 41% wanted the US to pressure neither side. [9]

In May 2003, PIPA asked whether the President Bush should pressure certain parties in the conflict to be more compromising on key issues that would need to be resolved at the end of the road map process. In each case, a plurality favored pressuring both sides, while small minorities favored pressuring just one side; a significant minority favored pressuring neither side. On whether Palestinian refugees who fled Israel in the 1948 and 1967 wars should have the “right of return” to their homes in Israel now occupied by Israelis, 46% felt that both sides should be pressured to be more compromising, while only 10% though Palestinians should be pressured and just 7% said Israel (pressure neither side 28%). A plurality of 46% thought that both sides should be pressured on the issue of the division of Jerusalem. And a plurality of 41% favored pressuring both sides on the issue of using 1967 boundaries as the basis for borders between Israel and new Palestinian state, while 28% felt that neither side should be pressured.[9a]

When Americans are asked to evaluate whether the US has put enough or too little pressure on one or both parties, the levels of support for added pressure appear lower. Some Americans may be uncomfortable with criticizing US efforts, but still favor increasing pressure on the parties. For instance, in April 2002 46% said "the United States has applied enough pressure on Israel to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians" while 43% said the US should apply more pressure (ABC/Washington Post). However, PIPA's May 2002 poll found 56% in favor of a simpler proposition, "putting more pressure on Israel to make compromises with the Palestinians," with 35% opposed. [10]

Many Americans do feel that, in the context of the war on terrorism, Israel should be expected to make an extra effort. The November 2001 PIPA poll asked, "Given America's current struggle with terrorism, do you think it is reasonable or not reasonable for the US to expect Israel to make a special effort to reduce its level of conflict with the Palestinians?" Sixty-four percent said that it is reasonable and 25% said that it is not. [11] A September 2001 Harris Interactive poll also found that 77% felt it was important for Israel to keep a low profile to make it easier for Arab and Muslim governments to support the US effort, "even if it means reaching out to Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians." [12]

Americans have also shown strong support for pressuring Arab states to take actions to help resolve the conflicts, a key sign that Americans see the conflict as larger regional issue. When asked in May 2003 if President Bush should apply pressure on Arab states if they refuse to take key steps in the road map, such as establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, 60% believed that pressure should be applied. This majority hardly wavered even when the suggestion was made that states providing oil to the US, such as Saudi Arabia, would need to be pressured, 56% (of the full sample) still said pressure should be applied.[13]

Would Bush Follow Through with Applying Pressure?

In May 2003, PIPA found a large majority that expected that the President would apply pressure on Israel and a majority (though a more modest one) believed that he would do so even in the face of opposition from pro-Israeli lobbies opposed to the road map plan. Asked, “If Israel does not take the steps specified in the road map, do you think President Bush will… pressure on them to do so?” 68% said they thought he would. When those that said he would were asked, “What if Israel refuses to take the steps specified in the road map, and some pro-Israel groups that oppose the road map lobby President Bush to not put pressure on Israel,” 57% (of the full sample) still thought he would apply pressure.[14]

Also, 61% thought that President Bush would be willing to take actions similar to when “in 1991 then-President George H.W. Bush pressured the Israelis to stop building settlements in the Palestinian territories by threatening to withhold $10 billion worth of loan guarantees.”[15]

A majority also assumed that he would put pressure on the Arab states, with a more modest majority saying that this would also apply to Arab states providing oil to the US. Respondents were presented the following question: “As you may know, the road map also calls for Arab states to take a number of key steps that these states have so far refused to take, such as establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. If the Arab states do not take the steps specified in the road map, do you think President Bush will… put pressure on them to do so?” A strong 69% said they thought he would. When those that said he would were asked, “What about Arab states that provide oil to the US, such as Saudi Arabia?” 58% (of the full sample) still thought he would do so. [16]

Regardless of whether pressure will be put on Israel and the Palestinians, most Americans are not very sanguine about the prospects that pressure will succeed, though those who first heard about options for applying pressure were somewhat more optimistic. Half of the respondents in the PIPA May 2003 poll were asked if they thought President Bush could succeed if he was “ready to use all his available options to apply pressure.” Only 45% thought he would succeed with Israel (47% said he would not) in ending the building of new settlements, while a majority (57%) thought he would not succeed with pressuring the Palestinians into building a strong enough police force to stop terrorist activities. However, a separate sample was first asked to assess the options for applying pressure, and was then presented the same set of questions. Responses were considerably more optimistic. A plurality of 48% said that the President could get Israel to stop building settlements, with 39% saying he could not. The response for the Palestinians was divided with 42% saying he could get the Palestinians to build an effective police force and 46% saying that he could not. [17]

While Israel’s September 2005 pullout from the Gaza strip does not necessarily indicate that Israel has given into pressure from the US and President Bush, Americans may be more willing now to believe that pressuring Israel on the settlement issue could succeed.

If Palestinians Used Nonviolent Action

If the Palestinians turned to nonviolent forms of protest rather than terrorism, support for putting greater pressure on Israel jumps from a modest majority to an overwhelming majority. In the May 2003 PIPA poll nearly half (49%) favored the US putting more pressure on Israel. Those who opposed doing so were told, "I'd like you to imagine that the Palestinians stopped engaging in all forms of terrorism, including suicide bombing, and instead used nonviolent forms of protest such as demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts. Would you then favor or oppose putting more pressure on Israel to make compromises with the Palestinians?" In that case, an overwhelming 79% would favor applying more US pressure. Similar levels of support were found when the question was asked in May 2002, where initially a 56% supported applying pressure on Israel, and soaring to 84% when given the condition of Palestinians ceasing terrorist tactics.[18]



Report Contents

View PIPA/Knowledge Networks study [pdf files]
Americans on the Middle East Road Map

[full report]
May 30, 2003