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Israel and the Palestinians

Importance of the Middle East to the US

A very large majority of Americans see the resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict as an important foreign policy goal and as crucial to winning the war against terrorism. Most Americans think that US policy toward Israel is a reason for negative feelings toward the US, but are divided as to whether this is a major or minor reason. In the wake of September 11 numerous polls found that a majority believed US policy in the Middle East was a factor prompting the September 11th attacks, but the public was divided about whether this means that US Mideast policy should be reevaluated.

Views of Israel and Palestinians

A strong majority views Israel as a friend of the United States, but only a substantial minority views it as an ally, and Americans are divided over sending US troops to defend Israel in the event it is attacked. A majority of Americans has a positive view of Israel in general. In the wake of September 11th, views toward Israel grew marginally warmer, even though Americans see a link between the attacks and US support for Israel. A plurality has a favorable or mixed view of the Palestinian people while views of the Palestinian Authority are quite negative.

View of Israel-Palestinian Conflict

A plurality to solid majority takes an even-handed view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, blaming both sides equally and expressing equal levels of sympathy, though a larger minority takes a more favorable view of Israel than of the Palestinians. A substantial majority feels neither side has made enough effort to seek peace, and a majority questions each side's fundamental commitment to peace. Americans see the conflict more as a struggle over land than as part of the war on terrorism. An overwhelming majority rejects the idea that Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians are a legitimate means of resisting Israeli occupation. Pluralities to modest majorities see Israel's military actions as justified in light of Palestinian terrorism, but a majority is critical of how Israel has conducted its recent military actions in the West Bank, and a strong majority supports President Bush's call for Israeli withdrawal. The majority is pessimistic about the potential for resolving the conflict.

US Role in General

The majority of Americans want the US to play an active, but not a domineering, role in the Middle East peace process. A very strong majority of Americans wants the US to play an even-handed role in this process, but a majority feels that in fact the US favors Israel. This support for an even-handed approach extends to the idea of equalizing the level of aid between Israeli and the Palestinians in the event of a peace agreement, and a slight majority favors the idea of the parties sharing Jerusalem as an international city.

  • 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.

  • Dealing With the Palestinian Leadership

    The January 2006 election of the Hamas party to leadership has posed a dilemma for Americans: a clear consensus does not exist as to whether the US should engage Hamas diplomatically. In the wake of the death of Yasser Arafat only a plurality expressed optimism that this increased the likelihood of peace but a large majority nonetheless favored a renewed effort. In the past, the public has expressed substantial doubt as to whether post-Arafat Palestinian leaders would be any better than Arafat himself.

  • Foreign Aid to Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinians

    Over the last few years support for the current level of US aid to Israel has been a plurality to a modest majority. At the same time, only a small minority has positive feelings about aid to Israel. In 2006 a majority opposes giving aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, but in the past a majority has shown a readiness to give substantial aid to the Palestinians if they would make peace with Israel.

Multilateral Approaches

A very strong majority favors a multilateral approach to trying to resolve the Israel-Palestinain conflict--either through the UN (preferred by a plurality), or a group of leading nations—over the United States taking the lead. An overwhelming majority favors convening an international conference. A modest majority favors the Road Map plan, rising to a large majority when given more information. Two out of three would support contributing US troops to a multilateral peacekeeping force to monitor and enforce the agreement.

  • Support for Major UN Role

    A strong majority favors the UN playing a major role in trying to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. If the parties are not able to resolve the dispute over East Jerusalem, a robust majority favors giving the UN interim control over the disputed areas. Strong majorities also favor bold proposals for having the UN determine where the boundary should be between Israel and a new Palestinian state, and for the UN to step in and effectively make the territories a UN trusteeship. During the the period of intense conflict in 2002, a strong majority supported the UN's effort to conduct a fact finding mission in Jenin and a plurality approved the UN Security Council calling for Israel to withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities.

  • Support for Future Peacekeeping

    Only if a number of conditions are met would there be strong majority support for the US participating in a peacekeeping operation in the Palestinian territories. Strong majority support is almost always contingent on such an operation being UN-sponsored, clearly multilateral, and preceded by a peace agreement endorsed by both Israelis and Palestinians.

  • Response to Arab League Proposal

    A modest majority looks favorably on the formula proposed by the Arab League in 2002, in which the Arab countries would fully normalize relations with Israel, if Israel would withdraw to its pre-1967 borders.

Support for a Palestinian State

A majority of Americans supports an independent Palestinian state, with support becoming overwhelming when told that President Bush favors it.

Israeli Settlements

A modest majority believes that Israel should not build settlements in the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza. This is true both before and after respondents hear Israeli and Palestinian arguments on the issue.



Report Contents

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

[full report]
May 30, 2003


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