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Israel and the Palestinians

UN's Role in Israel-Palestinian Conflict

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.

A strong majority favors the UN playing a major role in trying to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. As discussed elsewhere, a plurality would actually like to see the UN take the lead in such efforts (see "Multilateral Approaches"). Also, if a future peacekeeping operation were to be organized to enforce an agreement, UN sponsorship for this operation would be among the key conditions for public support (see "Participation in Future Peacekeeping"). And when respondents hear about bold proposals for new approaches in which the UN would play a central part, strong majorities approve of them.

A key point of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been over areas of East Jerusalem which both parties want to control. This conflict was the key sticking point in the negotiations at Camp David and Taba and led to the breakdown of the peace process. Asked by PIPA in May 2003, "Are you more inclined to believe that Israel should have control, the Palestinians should have control, or that both sides should allow the UN to have control unless they later come to some other compromise?" 55% supported giving the UN interim control over the disputed areas, virtually unchanged from 57% in May 2002. Only 26% (in both 2002 and 2003) said Israel should have control and 6% said the Palestinians should have control (7% in May 2002).

In the November 2001 PIPA poll, respondents were also asked about a proposal that "Jerusalem become an international city that would be policed by an international police force, so that they can each have their capitals in different parts of the city." Fifty-one percent supported the idea, with 34% opposed. [1]

Americans also show support for other bold proposals for the UN to take a major role in resolving the conflict. Respondents were presented the following option in the May 2002 PIPA survey: "To resolve the conflict over the borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, the United Nations Security Council could hear both sides' arguments and then decide where the borders should be."Sixty-seven percent favored the idea, while 27% thought this was not a good idea. [2] In an even bolder proposal, respondents considered the idea of having the UN temporarily govern the Palestinian territories, rather like a UN trusteeship. Respondents were asked:

The UN could make an offer to Israel and the Palestinians, that if Israel withdraws from the Palestinian territories, the UN would then temporarily take over the governance of the territories, like the UN has in Kosovo, and gradually develop the structures of a Palestinian state. Do you think this would be a good idea or not a good idea?

Fifty-eight percent thought this was a good idea, while 34% said it was not. [3]

At the same time, there are limits to what a majority sees as a feasible UN role. A strong intervention by the UN Security Council is rejected by a plurality, and gets only about as much support as does a major, risky and unilateral diplomatic initiative by the United States.

In May 2003 PIPA asked respondents to imagine that in the future “the road map process makes no progress and the conflict continues just as before.” It then offered the idea that in this context, “the US should press the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to have the UN Security Council make the West Bank and Gaza a UN trusteeship,” run by “a well-armed international force.” Thirty-eight percent thought this was a good idea, while 48% thought it was not. In the same poll a unilateral US alternative was proposed “if it appears after a time that the road map process is failing.” In this situation, the US would “strongly take the initiative and formulate a detailed final plan that would specify future borders” and then “seek international consensus” on it. This idea also was seen as a good idea by only 38%; a 46% plurality disagreed. [3a]

Reaction to UN Steps During 2002 Israeli Offensive

During Israel's April 2002 offensive, an international controversy arose over a proposed UN fact-finding mission to Jenin in the West Bank. The mission's purpose was to establish the facts about what had happened in the struggle between the IDF and Palestinian militants in Jenin, and to evaluate rumors and reports of war crimes against civilians. Originally a suggestion of the Israeli Foreign Minister, the UN fact-finding mission was backed by the United States. After a few days, the Israeli government reversed course and refused cooperation with the fact-finding mission.

In PIPA's poll in the first week of May, an overwhelming majority of 76% said that Israel should allow the UN to investigate Israel's military operation in Jenin. Just 15% were opposed. (Support was equally high when a half-sample was told that Israel has not allowed the UN team to conduct the investigation.) [4]

On the same topic, over April 29-May 1, CNN/USA Today asked:

As you may know, the United Nations authorized sending investigators into the Palestinian refugee camp where much of Israel's recent military action took place. Israel refused the United Nations team entry into the camp until Israel's concerns were addressed. Which side do you tend to agree with more in this situation -- Israel or the United Nations?

A strong majority-62%--said they agreed more with the UN. A little over a quarter (28%) agreed more with Israel. [5]

On March 30-just before the increase in tempo of Israeli military action-the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1402, calling upon both parties to "move immediately to a meaningful ceasefire" and "for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah." CBS asked a question that referred, somewhat vaguely, to this resolution: "Do you approve or disapprove of the recent United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Israel to withdraw its troops from certain occupied territories?" A plurality (47%) said they approved, about a quarter (28%) disapproved, and 25% said they did not know (April 2002). [6]



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

[full report]
May 30, 2003