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Israel and the Palestinians

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

While a strong majority of Americans view Israel as at least a friend of the US, only a minority, albeit a substantial one, views it as a close ally. In an August 2005 Harris survey, 41% believed Israel to be a "close ally" of the US, and another 31% felt Israel is "friendly but not a close ally," thus making 72% saying that Israel is at least a friend. Thirteen percent said Israel was "not friendly but not an enemy," and just 6% felt Israel is an enemy of the US. The percentage saying Israel is an ally or close friend has hovered around the 70% mark since 2003. The percentage calling Israel an ally has risen above the 40% mark in recent years, after registering in the low 30’s in the years prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks., Throughout the 1990s Harris and Gallup found that about three in five Americans considered Israel to be at least "friendly" to the United States, but only three in ten regarded Israel as an "ally" or "close ally." Not surprisingly, more Americans name Israel as the closest US ally in the Middle East region than name any other country. When asked in a May 2002 Fabrizio-McLaughlin survey, 33% offered Israel as America's "best or greatest ally in the Middle East." Saudi Arabia was second with just 8%; 41% said they did not know. [1]

The American public has been divided on the use of U.S. troops should the Arab countries invade Israel. Most recently, a June 2004 CCFR poll asked about the "circumstances that might justify using US troops in other parts of the world." In that survey, 43% favored "the use of US troops if Arab forces invaded Israel," but 52% opposed the idea. This was the first time in 15 years that a majority has been opposed, perhaps due to the perception that the US military had its hands full in Iraq. Attitudes were more closely divided over the course of the 1990s, particularly during times of relative calm. Only in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, in March 1991, and after the 9/11 attacks did a clear plurality or majority favor the use of U.S. troops should an invasion occur.[2]

Americans show moderately warm feelings toward Israel in general. In February 2006 a Gallup poll found 66% with a favorable view of Israel, while only 25% had an unfavorable view. Almost all polls from all sources over the last few years have found fairly solid majorities with at least a somewhat favorable view of Israel - around 3 in 5 respondents usually hold this view.[3]

In recent years, Americans have also been asked to rate Israel on a “thermometer,” using different scales to show warm/friendly or cool/unfriendly feelings. Ratings over the past decade have been moderately warm when asked about Israel in general (53-60 degrees), Several CCFR polls in recent years have asked respondents to rate Israel on such a thermometer (with less than 50 degrees being on the cool side, more than 50 degrees being on the warm side, and 50 degrees being neutral), with the mean response for Israel ranging between 53 and 55 degrees. A June 2003 German Marshall Fund poll using a similar scale found a mean rating of 60 degrees.[4]

Other thermometer scales have asked more about relations between Israel and the US rather than Israel as an object. In February 2006, Quinnipiac University asked Americans to rate their feelings on a scale of 0-100 about “how much a friend or foe” Israel is to the US, with the higher the number meaning Israel is warmer or friendlier to the US. By this measure Americans think that Israel is fairly friendly to the US, with an average rating of 62 degrees.[4a]

It appears that the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center have not reduced public support for Israel and, if anything, have produced a slight increase in support. This is true even though Americans see a link between the attacks and its Middle East policy (see Importance of the Middle East to the US). An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken just after the attacks found three in four saying the attacks made them think US "relations toward Israel" should be either closer (33%) or stay the same (42%). Just 16% felt US-Israeli relations should become more distant.[5] A Newsweek poll found only one-third (32%) agreed that "the US should reduce its ties to Israel in order to lessen the acts of terrorism against us." Fifty percent disagreed and 18% were not sure.[6] As will be shown below, numerous other polls also found a modest warming toward Israel in the wake of September 11th, including a greater reluctance to criticize Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

View of Palestinians

When asked about the Palestinian people, Americans' views are somewhat less warm than for the Israelis. In a March 2002 Zogby poll, for example, 50% said they had a favorable view of Palestinians (compared to 59% for Israelis-see above) while 30% had an unfavorable view (24% for Israelis); 20% either were not familiar enough to say or were not sure. In February 2002, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 44% had either favorable (7%) or mixed (37%) views of the Palestinians, while just 30% had an unfavorable opinion and another 23% said they had not heard enough to know.

German Marshall Fund polls in 2003 and 2004 used a thermometer scale like the one discussed above. In 2004 attitudes overall were divided, with 46% giving a warm or mixed rating (50-100) and 47% giving a cool rating (0-49). The mean tilted toward the bottom of the scale, however, with the 2003 survey recording a mean rating of 39. [7]

Though attitudes towards Palestinians are lukewarm, views of the Palestinian Authority, however, are quite unfavorable. A February 2005 Gallup poll found 27% with a favorable view and 62% with an unfavorable view. And this is the most favorable rating ever recorded - perhaps a result of new Palestinian leadership in the wake of Yasser Arafat's death in 2004. Favorable views between 9/11 and that poll were 15% or under. American attitudes toward the PA grew increasingly negative in Gallup polls from 2000 to 2004, rising from a bare majority of 52% to an overwhelming majority of 76%.[8]

US polls have not yet recorded any ratings for Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas. Yet his ascension has been met with optimism by Americans (again, perhaps accounting for the slightly improved view of the Palestinian Authority in 2005). A January 2005 Fox News poll found a plurality of 43% expressing the view that Abbas’ election as president was more likely to bring about peace than continued violence. Thirty-three percent felt it would mean more violence, and 24% said it would be mixed or weren’t sure.[9]

Lukewarm attitudes about the Palestinians are consistent with Americans' perceptions of their support for terrorism. In April 2002, CBS News asked how many Palestinians "share the views of the suicide bombers who want to kill Jews and other Israelis." A slim majority of 53% said that "only a few" shared those views, while only 33% felt "most" Palestinians did.[10a]This is true despite media images of Palestinians cheering the events of September 11. When asked in a Time/CNN survey days after the attacks, 41% reported feeling less favorable toward Palestinians as a result of 9/11, and just 3% felt more favorable. Still, a majority of 53% said their view of Palestinians was not affected.[10b] Unfortunately there is no trend line data on this question.



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