Published on Friday, November 22, 2002 by the Inter Press Service
Arab, Jewish Americans Agree Widely on Solution
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Despite two years of unprecedented violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Arab and Jewish Americans generally agree on the outlines of a final settlement between the two peoples, according to an unprecedented poll released here Thursday.
The poll, carried out late last month by the Arab-American Institute (AAI) and Americans for Peace Now (APN), found that both communities were critical of the Mideast policies of the administration of President George W. Bush and overwhelmingly support a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
It also found that majorities in both groups supported a final settlement based on the outlines agreed to by the last Labour government in Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) at Taba, Egypt in January 2001, just before the election of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Of 500 people polled at random from each community, 52 percent of U.S. Jews and 79 percent of Arab Americans said they would support a settlement that led to two independent and secure states with a common border that would be defined roughly by Israel's 1967 frontiers, with a shared capital.
Less than one-third of Jewish respondents opposed such a solution, with 18 percent expressing uncertainty or no opinion. Only 11 percent of Arab-American respondents said they would oppose such a resolution.
''The AAI/APN joint survey reveals that our two communities are much more moderate on Middle East-related issues than people are often led to believe,'' said Debra DeLee, APN's president.
''In fact, this study provides encouraging information about the potential for both communities to work together in pursuit of common interests in the region, (and) sends a message to decision-makers in Washington that Arab Americans and Jewish Americans at large want to the see the U.S. follow policies that will encourage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, rather than distract from it,'' she said.
The survey results were released at a moment of tension and uncertainty in the Middle East, caused above all by speculation over whether the United States will go to war against Iraq.
But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has killed more than 2,000 people in the past two years, shows little sign of winding down: 11 Israelis were killed in a Palestinian suicide bombing aboard a bus in Jerusalem on Thursday, and senior Israeli officials vowed a response.
On the other hand, the resignation of the Labour Party from Sharon's government and its election this week of ret. Gen. Amram Mitzna, who wants to renew peace talks with the PNA, to lead the party into the January 28 elections have altered the political dynamics in Israel.
The developments could encourage U.S. Jews, like the Labour Party, to be more outspoken against the hawkish policies of Sharon's Likud Party.
Significantly, Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser and close confidant of former President George H.W. Bush who played a key role in persuading Bush junior to go to the U.N. Security Council before striking Iraq, urged the president in a column published in the Washington Post on Thursday to take advantage of Labour's decision to put the peace process at the top of the election agenda.
Launching a new diplomatic initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would bolster Arab support for Washington in its confrontation with Iraq, said Scowcroft.
He called in particular for Washington to both spell out ''the road map'' it has worked out with the United Nations, the European Union (EU), and Russia, for achieving a Palestinian state by 2005 and to press Israel to stop all settlement expansion and pull back its forces from population centers in the West Bank.
''The administration owes the parties a clear statement of its vision," Scowcroft wrote. ''Presenting it at this time could provide both the Israeli and Palestinian publics a broader perspective on the most important issue facing them even as they engage in the election process.''
Judging by the AAI-APN survey results, Bush would also gain much support for such an effort from the Arab- and Jewish-American communities, which number some three million and 5.2 million people, respectively.
''If politicians are looking for a constituency for peace,'' said AAI president James Zogby, ''they'll find it in these two communities.''
Both Zogby and DeLee said they were surprised by the extent of agreement between the two communities after two years of often-horrific violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
''If we'd done this survey in 2000, we might have expected these results,'' said Zogby. ''But, after two years of terrible violence, the fact that we could get this degree of a commitment to a common future is really quite heartening.''
Two-thirds of respondents in both communities rated the administration's performance either ''poor'' or ''fair'' in dealing with the Middle East, as opposed to ''excellent'' or ''good''.
Nearly two-thirds of Arab-Americans and 45 percent of Jewish Americans said the administration should try to ''steer a middle course'' between the Palestinians and Israelis in its pursuit of peace. But 65 percent of Arab-Americans and nearly 40 percent of U.S. Jews said the administration favors Israel.
Asked whether they agreed or disagreed that Palestinians have a right to live in a ''secure and independent state of their own'', 85.5 percent of Jews agreed, as did 95.6 of Arab-Americans. Posed the same choice about the right of Israelis to an independent and secure state, 96.6 percent of Jews agreed, as did 95.4 percent of Arab-Americans.
Asked who was responsible for the breakdown in the peace process, 42.1 percent of Jewish-Americans and 49.6 percent of Arab-Americans blamed both sides, a particularly significant result given that respondents were given seven possible choices.
The survey found a high level of support for the Taba framework, whose main elements include a two-state solution, the evacuation of most Jewish settlements from the occupied territories, the establishment of a border roughly along the pre-1967 frontiers, a Palestinian right of return only inside a new Palestinian state, and a shared capital in Jerusalem.
Only 30 percent of Jewish-Americans and 11 percent of Arab-Americans opposed such a solution.
The study also found that, despite areas of agreement, both communities harbored misconceptions about the attitudes of each other. Thirty percent of Arab Americans thought that less than half of the Jewish community supported a secure and independent Palestinian state, while the actual level of support was 85.5 percent.
Similarly, 41 percent of Jewish Americans thought that less than half of Arab Americans supported a secure and independent Israel, when the actual percentage was 95.4 percent. Despite those differences, 94 percent of Arab Americans and 87 percent of Jewish Americans agreed that it was either ''very'' or ''somewhat'' important for the two communities to work together.
''Both communities don't know each other to the degree that they should,'' said Zogby, who noted that Jewish-Arab dialogue groups have been proliferating at the grass-roots level in the past year ''in part because the situation (in the Middle East) feels like it's spinning out of control''.
Copyright © 2002 IPS-Inter Press Service