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72 percent of Israeli Jews say more military force should be used

By Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann

Ha'aretz, April 4, 2001

After about six months have passed since the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada, with an increasing number of victims claimed on both sides. Apparently a wide consensus has developed among the Jewish public for a tough and uncompromising policy against the Palestinians. Thus, a decisive majority supports the policy of closure or encirclement of Palestinian towns, deploying greater military force against Palestinians, and not engaging in negotiations with them as long as the violence continues. This mood is related to the general assessment of the intentions of the Palestinians and their leadership toward peace and the future of the state of Israel: A large majority believes that the Palestinian Authority does not really want to achieve peace with Israel and that the Palestinians in general have not accepted the existence of Israel. This lack of trust toward the Palestinians is so profound that only a minority believes that the Intifada is aimed at compelling Israel to sign an accord on Arafat's terms, while the majority feels that the Intifada's aim is to wage war against Israel, and not to reach an agreement. Against this background of suspicion and distrust, one can explain the fact that most Israelis reject the premise that evacuating isolated settlements like Netzarim and Hebron would lead to an end of the violence and create the atmosphere for resuming negotiations.

Nonetheless, there is considerable readiness among the public for compromises like these, if indeed this would bring about an end to the violence.

These are the principal findings of the Peace Index survey conducted during March 28 and 29, as a series of terrorist attacks occurred, including the murder of two young teenagers by a suicide bomber at the Mifgash Hashalom gas station and the sniper shooting of the 10-month-old baby in Hebron.

When asked "Do you support or oppose the policy of closure or encirclement of Palestinian cities and towns?" 71 percent of the Jewish respondents answered that they were very supportive (46 percent) or quite supportive (25 percent) of this policy, while 16 percent were opposed and 13 percent were unsure. Among those 29 percent who did not come out in support of this policy, 37 percent (or 11 percent of all respondents) explained their stance by saying that collective punishment is unethical and 30 percent (or 7.8 percent of all respondents) said that this policy is ineffective. Some 14 percent (or 4 percent of the total survey sample) cited both of these reasons for not supporting this policy.

Thus, all in all, only about 15 percent of those surveyed believe that ethical considerations take precedence over the security premise upon which the closure policy is based. Even when asked about extending economic assistance to the Palestinians to help alleviate their plight - without regard to the question of closure - only 33 percent were in favor, while 63 percent opposed this idea and 4 percent were undecided. In other words, the hostility felt for the Palestinians makes it difficult for the Israeli public to show empathy for them.

These emotions are also reflected in the firm support (79 percent) for the current policy of Sharon to refrain from resuming negotiations with the Palestinians as long as the violence continues. Moreover, despite the bloody toll the violence has taken so far, most of the public (67 percent) do not accept the assessment that Israel will eventually be forced to abandon this policy and return to the bargaining table if the violence continues, while 30 percent agree with this assessment. Against this background, it comes as no surprise that the common view is that more military force should be exercised against the Palestinians: 72 percent of the survey recipients espoused this view, 17 percent said that the current level of military force is enough, and only 17 percent advocate using a lower dose of military force. (The remaining respondents were undecided.)

Intentions questioned Beyond hardening the views of Israeli public opinion on the question of how to cope with the violence of the Intifada, the uprising has also significantly damaged the public's confidence in the peaceful intentions of the Palestinians. Thus, according to three-fourths of the Jewish public, the Palestinian Authority is not at all interested in attaining peace with Israel. A similar percentage (72 percent) believe that "Most Palestinians have not accepted the existence of the State of Israel and would destroy it if they were able." The public's skepticism regarding the intentions of the Palestinians is so great that only 41 percent believe that the Intifada was aimed to weaken Israel in order to force it to sign a peace treaty according to Arafat's conditions. The majority - 53 percent - believe that the Intifada erupted in order to hurt and wage war against Israel as an end in itself, and not as a means to arrive at an accord.

(The rest of the respondents were undecided.)

Against this background, one can understand why the public does not believe that a unilateral evacuation of Jewish settlements located in the heart of Palestinian population centers - like Netzarim and Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip, or the Jewish enclave in Hebron - would bring about an end to Palestinian violence and create an environment conducive to the renewal of negotiations on a peace treaty: 67 percent maintain this view, versus 28 percent who believe that dismantling of settlements would lead to a cessation of violence. However, this does not mean that there is widespread opposition to the evacuation of such settlements under any condition. When asked: "If the unilateral evacuation of settlements located in the heart of the Palestinian population would indeed lead to an end of violence, would you support or oppose the evacuation?" 47 percent said they would support the evacuation, while 44 percent were still opposed. That is, the consensus against evacuating settlements only exists as long as the public is convinced that such a step would not lead to a cessation of violence and resumption of negotiations.

The tough attitude reflected in the survey is also dominant among those who voted for Barak in the recent elections, though the trend is somewhat weaker than among Sharon voters. For example, 85 percent of those who voted for Sharon support the deployment of more military force against the Palestinians (versus 4 percent who oppose this), while 50 percent of Barak voters support a tougher military response (versus 14 percent who oppose this). The situation is similar in regard to the question of conditioning the resumption of peace talks on a cessation of Palestinian violence:

87 percent of Sharon voters support this policy, as do 65 percent of Barak voters. Again, the picture is similar on the closure issue: 80 percent of Sharon voters agree with this form of collective punishment (11 percent oppose it), while 53 percent of Barak voters support the closure policy (with 25 percent opposed).

However, when it comes to the question of humanitarian aid for the besieged Palestinian population, more substantial differences arise between these two groups of voters: While only 20 percent of Sharon voters support providing humanitarian assistance and 77 percent are opposed, 58 percent of Barak voters support this type of assistance and 36 percent are opposed.

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