by Dan Leon
Opinion polls conducted on a scientific basis, while not infallible, can pro¬vide reliable information on trends in public opinion. Israeli attitudes to the Oslo accords and the Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles (DOP) are illustrated by the polls, published in Yediot Achronot, of the Dahaf Research Institute, which is directed by Dr. Mina Zemach. They show that, after the agreement was first publicized in September, 1993, it won increas¬ing support for eight months, until April, 1994.
With the publication of the accords, support reached 53%, with 45% opposed. That support rose to 61% (31 % opposed) after the actual signing of the agreement. Two months later (19-11-93), with an increase in terrorist activities, support was down to 48% and it fell even lower, on 25-6-94, to 35% in support, 63% against, after Yasser Arafat's "Jihad" speech in Johannesburg and the killing of two Israeli soldiers in Gaza.
It should be noted that between 2% and 6% of those surveyed fail to reply to the questions. The surveys on which these numbers are based poll a representative sample of 450-550 people and have a margin of error of 4-4.5%. In the polls cited here, only Jewish citizens were polled, though in many polls Arab citizens are also included.
While in March, 1994, 48% had thought it was possible, and 48% impos¬sible, to reach agreement with the Palestinians, in May, 1994 (after the Afula and Hadera vehicle bombings in which nine people were killed), 65% said the Government should stop the negotiations over autonomy, while 35% supported their continuation.
When asked in May about the influence of Arafat's recent declarations on their views, 57% denied any influence, 27% said they were influenced toward opposing the peace process and 13% said his words had reduced their support. This shows that some 40% moved, under Arafat's influence, toward less support for the peace process.
In a poll taken in August, 1994, no less than 70% agreed that the con¬summation of the peace process depended on the degree to which the PLO controlled terrorist activity by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Two months later, 71 % favored the IDF's entering the Gaza Strip in order to strike at terrorists, and 85% supported an extension of the closure of the Gaza Strip. When the Government decided to lift the closure, 60% of those polled in November, 1994 were opposed. In February, 1995, shortly after the killing of an Israeli security guard in a Gaza ambush, 77% opposed the easing of the closure, which was causing grave economic hardship in the OPT. These numbers clearly illustrate the influence of the terrorism factor, as well as Arafat's statements, in swaying public opinion over the peace process. It is interesting to note that in February 1994, 64% expressed their belief that the peace process would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state; 34% thought otherwise.
At the end of October, 1994, a poll asked how the Government was functioning in various areas. With reference to the peace process, 66% replied that the Government was doing very well or well; 33% said not well or def¬initely not well. However, on internal security (how people feel about the threat of terror), only 36% spoke of very well or well, while 63% replied negatively.
The end of 1994 (before the Oizengoff suicide attack) still saw 60% sup¬port for Oslo. Following the Beit Lid attack January, 1995), support for the peace process went down to 35%. However, after about a month of closure and without terrorist attacks, it rose to 56%.
Yitzhak Rabin remarked that continuing the talks depended on "Palestinian measures which answer Israeli security needs," and said the closure had "improved public feeling and increased public support for the peace process." Another Ma'ariv poll taken after Beit Lid had Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, whose popularity had been growing for several months at Rabin's expense, leading the Prime Minister by 50% to 28%, with 10% favoring neither candidate. About a month later, Mina Zemach report¬ed 41 % for Rabin, 33% for Netanyahu (and 14% for Rafael Eitan, leader of the rightist Tsomet party), perhaps, again, due to the calming effects of the closure.
Important information is provided by the Research Institute of the Modi'in Ezrachi, directed by Tel Aviv University Professors Arieh Nadler and Ephraim Ya'ar, and Dr. Tamar Herman, all from the Steinmetz Center. In September, 1994, it asked about the credibility of Arab leaders: 75% thought Jordan's King Hussein was credible, while 7.5% ascribed that quality to Arafat (42% said they were frightened by him). Some 48.5% saw Hussein as honest, 0.9% Arafat.
The October poll had 86.5% support for the general peace process, 48% for the Oslo accords. 30% believed the Palestinians were failing to carry out their obligations under the Oslo accords. Two-thirds thought that the PLO leadership was not trying or was hardly trying to prevent terrorism against Israel, while 31 % said they thought the Palestinian leadership was making an effort. Only 7.2% thought terrorism would stop with peace, 40.9% thought it would decrease and 47.5% thought it would remain at its pre¬sent level. However, 59.1 % rejected stopping the peace process because of the problem of terrorism, 40.5% advocated speeding up the negotiations, 36.7% opposed doing so.
Asked in December, 1994 what they thought of the view that "most Palestinians oppose the peace process and there is no difference between the PLO and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad," 37.4% agreed, 41.3% disagreed and 25.6% did not know. Among supporters of Oslo, 52.9% saw a differ¬ence, 26.6% did not. Among Oslo opponents, the figures were 56.9% and 25.7%. On the question of whether "most Palestinians have not accepted the existence of Israel and would destroy it if possible, even if the PLO leadership is negotiating with it," 64.9% agreed, 21% disagreed and 14.1% did not know. Among opponents of Oslo, 86.3% agreed, 11.2% disagreed.
49.8% of Oslo supporters agreed, 28.1% opposed. These figures seem to show that most of those supporting peace also saw themselves as realists rather than idealists.
At the beginning of 1995, 49% were "disappointed" or "very disappoint¬ed" with the peace process, in spite of the Nobel Prize. This tallies with the results of other polls. 47.7% thought Israel's security position had deterio¬rated since the start of the peace process, 25% thought it had improved, 24.9% saw no change. 47% thought the Palestinians gained more from the Oslo accords, but about half thought that Israel's security interests can include the establishment of a Palestinian state.
While part of the data emerging from the polls is hard to explain, the over¬all trends look clear. Most of the Israeli public wants peace but is equally concerned with "internal" and "personal" security - the threat of terror¬ism. A (surprisingly) small majority differentiates between the PLO and Hamas. Arafat's reactions and statements are a key factor, though he enjoys little credibility, unlike Hussein and the peace treaty with Jordan.
To the extent that one can rely on the polls, Israeli support for the peace process largely depends on what is seen as Arafat's ability "to deliver the goods." Israeli opinion pays attention to what Arafat says, but is still very suspicious of real Palestinian intentions. (There is a symmetry here because the Palestinians react similarly to the Israeli leadership on questions like settlement, redeployment, elections, prisoner release and Jerusalem). The factors of lack of mutual confidence and a continuing degree of demoniza¬tion work on both sides. At any rate Israeli public opinion, including that of those generally supportive of the peace process, is greatly influenced by changing degrees of satisfaction or disappointment with the Palestinian leadership in general, and in particular with its ability or inability to deal with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.