Poll: Big drop in Israelis who see Obama as pro-Palestinian


The number of Israelis who view President Obama as pro-Palestinian dropped by 20 percent following his first presidential visit to Israel, according to a new poll.

In the poll, conducted Sunday by Smith Research for the Jerusalem Post, 27 percent of 500 Israeli respondents said they considered the Obama administration more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian, 16 percent said he was more pro-Palestinian, 39 percent were neutral and 18 percent did not an express an opinion.

In a pre-visit poll conducted March 17, 36 percent of respondents said they thought Obama was more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel, 26 percent said Obama was more pro-Israel and 12 percent expressed no opinion. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Palestinian disappointment with Obama’s positive messages about Israel and his failure to visit former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s grave was widely reported in the Hebrew press.

Among Labor voters who participated in the post-visit poll, 51 percent said Obama was pro-Israel. That figure was 29 percent among Yesh Atid voters; 27 percent for Likud-Beiteinu and Shas supporters, and 20 percent for those who supported the Jewish Home party.

The proportion considering the administration more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel was 40 percent among Shas voters, 20 percent for those who voted Jewish Home, 19 percent for Likud-Beiteinu, 11 percent among Yesh Atid supporters and 6 percent among Labor voters.

Obama will tell Israelis: take Arab opinion into account


President Obama plans to talk in Jerusalem about how Israel needs to do a better job of taking Arab public opinion into account, an Obama adviser said.

“Israel as it makes peace is going to have recognize the broader role of public opinion in peacemaking,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said Thursday in a briefing ahead of Obama's trip next week to israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Rhodes was answering a question about how the turmoil in the Arab world would play into Obama's message.

In the briefing, Rhodes confirmed that in addition to meeting with leaders and visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Obama will tour exhibits of the Dead Sea scrolls and Israeli technological innovations at the Israel Museum. Rhodes called the scrolls “a testament to the ancient Jewish connection to Israel.”

He said Obama would address Israeli youth in his single major address in Jerusalem because that traditionally has been his preference; he noted that Obama addressed a university audience when he spoke in Cairo in 2009.

Obama also will visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Rhodes said.

Obama will be in Israel March 20-22 and in Jordan on March 22-23.

Obama, Netanyahu talk ‘de-escalation’


President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed “de-escalation” of the Gaza conflict.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu called the President today to provide an update on the situation in Israel and Gaza,” said a White House statement released late Frdiay.  “The Prime Minister expressed his deep appreciation to the president and the American people for the United States’ investment in the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which has effectively defeated hundreds of incoming rockets from Gaza and saved countless Israeli lives.”

The statement continued: “The president reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives. The two leaders discussed options for de-escalating the situation.”

The reference to de-escalation came the same day that Netanyahu appeared ready to expand the operation into a ground war, as Palestinian rockets for the first time reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“With respect to the ongoing operation the prime minister said that the IDF is continuing to hit Hamas hard and is ready to expand the operation into Gaza,” said a statement from Netanyahu's office Friday, recounting his meeting with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres.

In a separate statement, the White House said Obama had spoken to the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, and also discussed de-escalation.

“The president commended Egypt’s efforts to de-escalate the situation and expressed his hope that these efforts would be successful,” the statement said.  “The president expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives, and underscored the importance of resolving the situation as quickly as possible to restore stability and prevent further loss of life.”

Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement is close to Hamas, has condemned the Israeli strikes and has called for a cease-fire.

Israel's Cabinet on Friday approved a call-up of 75,000 reservists, Haaretz reported.

The operation, launched Wednesday by Israel after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza, has claimed some 30 Palestinian lives, including a number of children; a top commander of the Hamas terrorist group, killed in the first minutes of attacks; and an alleged informant killed by Hamas.

A rocket killed three Israeli civilians in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi.

Israelis divided on U.S. role in peace process, survey finds


Israeli Jews have mixed feelings about the success of the role of the United States in the Middle East peace process, a survey found.

According to the seventh annual B’nai B’rith World Center Survey on Contemporary Israeli Attitudes Toward Diaspora Jewry, one-third of the respondents said the U.S. had impeded the peace process over the past few years and another third said it had promoted progress. The other third did not know whether the U.S. had impeded or promoted progress.

In addition to questions about the U.S. role in the peace process, the respondents—507 Israeli Jews aged 18 or older—were asked about other issues, including how to promote relations between Israel and the Diaspora, as well as whether American Jews should support a boycott of Israeli settlements.

The survey found that 76 percent of Israelis disagreed with a boycott of settlements, while 13 percent supported such a boycott. 

Some 56 percent of respondents support creating a “Jewish Parliament” that would represent Diaspora Jews, with 23 percent opposing the idea. Eighteen percent would give the body the right to propose legislation to the Knesset and 25 percent would give it mandatory consultative status, while 40 percent favor the body having only voluntary consultative status.

Some 63 percent of respondents said they opposed allowing Diaspora Jews to elect “a few” Knesset members to represent their interests, with 21 percent supporting the idea

Israelis also strongly opposed allowing citizens living outside of Israel to elect Knesset members: 51 percent were against the idea and 29 percent supported it.

B’nai B’rith World Center director Alan Schneider emphasized that the survey showed a connection between Israelis and Diaspora Jews.

“This survey has demonstrated the enduring connection between Israelis and Diaspora Jews,” Schneider said in a statement. “Clearly, Israelis are committed to finding a vehicle for including and expanding the opinions and participation of Diaspora Jews in Israel.”

The survey was conducted by KEEVOON Research on June 20; it has a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Hamas response to Obama speech: Still won’t recognize Israel


Hamas condemned President Obama’s AIPAC speech, saying it will not recognize Israel despite the United States president’s demand.

The Obama administration is “not a friend to the people of the region,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Ma’an Palestinian news service.

Abu Zuhri said Obama’s continued support of Israel showed that the U.S. is biased, and will “support the occupation at the expense of the freedom of the Palestinian people.”

“The US administration will fail, just as all others have in the past, in forcing Hamas to recognize the occupation,” Abu Zuhri said.

In his response to Obama’s speech, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told journalists in Jordan, where he is currently on a diplomatic visit, that “Hamas is part of Palestinian society, and will take part in the democratic game as opposition.”

He said the new Palestinian unity government, whose composition still has not been announced, will conduct future peace negotiations with Israel.

Poll: Most Palestinians support direct negotiations with Israel


A poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza conducted last month by a research firm for the Israel Project, a nonprofit education organization, found that a majority of Palestinians support direct peace negotiations with Israel and a two-state solution to the conflict.

Only 30 percent of those surveyed believe that the two-state solution should be permanent. Sixty percent said that establishing Jewish and Palestinian states side by side should be temporary, with the ultimate goal being the establishment of a single Palestinian state. Only one-fifth accepted that Israel has “a permanent right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people.”

The survey, conducted in early October by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a firm based in Washington, D.C., interviewed 854 people face-to-face in the West Bank and Gaza. Questions were asked in Arabic, and different formulations of similar questions often led to seemingly contradictory results. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they favored direct negotiations between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet 58 percent agreed with the statement “this is a time for armed struggle,” with only 36 percent choosing the other alternative, “this is the time for engagement with Israel.”

The mixed results present a nuanced picture of Palestinian public opinion. “It offers a special window into Palestinian thinking at this critical juncture.  There are some things to applaud, some to note and some things that are concerning,” Stan Greenberg, the research firm’s chairman and CEO, said in a press release.

When pollsters described what a peaceful resolution might entail—including land swaps and the division of Jerusalem as laid out by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000—respondents were less enthusiastic about the prospects of an agreement, with only 29 percent supporting such a solution.

But Palestinian support for “recognizing Israel as Jewish state” went up significantly—to 50 percent—when pollsters added in two preconditions: building up Palestinian institutions and moving toward an agreement on borders.

“The hostility and misconception towards Israel and Jews among our neighbors shows the urgent need of direct communication between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Marcus Sheff, Israel director of The Israel Project, the non-profit educational organization that sponsored the survey. “In order to change the perceptions we must work with the Palestinian and Arabic media.”

Meeting again with Jewish leaders, Abbas broaches substance


For Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Jewish leaders, their second date featured a little more substance and a little less flirtation. And this time the Palestinian Authority president brought a wing man.

Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, met separately Tuesday evening with Jewish leaders in New York —a sign of understanding on the Palestinian side of the importance of Jewish sensibilities, in Israel and the Diaspora, to advancing the peace process.

Abbas at the meeting seemed ready to move forward on some substantive issues, which took place during the launch of the U.N. General Assembly session.

In the first meeting, in June, Abbas had frustrated Jewish leaders by dodging issues of substance—returning to direct talks and incitement—but set a tone unprecedented in Palestinian-Jewish relations by recognizing a Jewish historical presence in the land of Israel.

When a group of Palestinian intellectuals challenged Abbas on the issue a month later, instead of backtracking—typical of the one step forward, two steps back peace process tradition—his envoy in Washington, Ma’en Areikat, repeated and reaffirmed the comments.

In the interim, direct talks have been launched, and Abbas was prepared to move forward on some substantive issues at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I would like for us to engage in a dialogue where we listen to each other and where I can respond to your questions because I trust we have one mutual objective—to achieve peace,” he said, according to notes provided by the Center for Middle East Peace.

The center, a dovish group founded by diet magnate Daniel Abraham, sponsored the Abbas meeting, as it did in June. The Fayyad meeting was sponsored by The Israel Project, which tracks support for Israel in the United States and throughout the world.

Making his clearest statement to date on the matter, Abbas said he would not walk away from negotiations should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to extend a partial 10-month moratorium on settlement building set to lapse next week. The PA leader suggested that a way out might be if Netanyahu does not make a public issue of the end of the moratorium.

“I cannot say I will leave the negotiations, but it’s very difficult for me to resume talks if Prime Minister Netanyahu declares that he will continue his activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” Abbas said.

Netanyahu is under pressure from the settlement movement not only to end the moratorium, but to resume building at levels unprecedented in his prime ministership. The Israeli leader also is heedful, however, of Obama administration demands that the parties not go out of their way to outrage each other.

Among the Jewish leaders at the Abbas meeting were Malcolm Hoenlein and Alan Solow, the executive vice chairman and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director; and leaders of umbrella groups such as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federations of North America.

Also on hand were Clinton administration foreign policy mavens such as Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright and Daniel Kurtzer, who maintain close ties with Obama’s foreign policy team.

Abbas also showed that he was attempting to bridge a gap on what until now seemed an intractable issue.

The Palestinians have long accepted the inevitability of a demilitarized state, but they reject a continued Israeli military presence. Netanyahu told Jewish leaders in a conference call Monday that he would trust no one but Israeli troops to preserve Israel’s security on the West Bank’s eastern border. At the meeting, Abbas floated the idea of a non-Israeli force that would include Jewish soldiers.

On other issues, Abbas was less prepared to come forward.

Israel wants a clear commitment from the Palestinians that any discussion of the refugee issue would clearly preclude a flooding of Israel with descendants of refugees of the 1948 war, which Israelis say is a recipe for the peaceful eradication of Israel. Behind closed doors, the Palestinians have said they are ready to provide Israel the assurances it needs, but Abbas said at the meeting only that it is a final-status issue.

Another issue could yet scuttle the talks now that the parties seem ready to put the settlement moratorium behind them.

Netanyahu, having extracted what seems to be an irreversible Palestinian recognition of Israel during his previous turn in the job, in 1998, now wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state—a result of the emergence of movements that seek to strip Israel of its Jewish character.

Abbas has resisted, in part because he sees such recognition as cutting off the 20 percent of Israel that is Arab, but also because he seems baffled by the demand. He argues that states are free to define themselves and should not need the approbation of others.

“If the Israeli people want to name themselves whatever they want, they are free to do so,” the PA president said.

In a sign that he also was seeking conciliation on the matter, Abbas said at the meeting that he would accept the designation if it were approved by the Knesset. He repeated his recognition of Israel’s Jewish roots and decried Holocaust denial.

It was not far enough for some of his interlocutors.

Stephen Savitzky, the president of the Orthodox Union, wanted Abbas to recognize not only Jewish ties to the land but with the Temple Mount, the site of the third holiest mosque in Islam.

“President Abbas missed an opportunity this evening to make a key statement that would have created good will in the Jewish community,” Savitzky said in a statement.

Fayyad, less charismatic but deemed more trustworthy than Abbas by the pro-Israel intelligentsia, appeared to fare well in the dinner hosted by The Israel Project, which hews to the centrist-right pro-Israel line of much of the U.S. Jewish establishment. He scored points for admitting that the Palestinian Authority had not done enough to combat incitement.

“Prime Minister Fayyad’s spirit of hope was extremely welcome,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a founder of The Israel Project.

“We know that some people will criticize us for falling for a Palestinian ‘charm offensive.’ However, there is nothing offensive about charm. More Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, should sit together over dinner and exchange ideas—especially when it can help lead to security and peace.”