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Monday, April 23, 2007
Israeli Public Opinion on National Security: disengagement from Gaza dismal failure

[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA: It would have been refreshing for former
religious left wing Meimad candidate Yehuda Ben Meir, when citing the
demographic issue, to mention in passing that the poll apparently indicates
that the public has yet to assimilate the evidence that the demographic
issue has been grossly overstated by improper projections. This would not
serve the policy recommendations he may promote but just because the
demographic argument became the argument of last resort for withdrawals
after it became clear that withdrawals would not bring peace that doesn't
mean that intellectual honesty has to take a back seat.

The question ranking four key values-a) a country with a Jewish majority; b)
Greater Israel; c) a democratic country; and d) a state of peace is thus a
loaded question in two ways:

#1 It asserts that the Jewish majority - in particular after the withdrawal
from Gaza - is a trade-off with retaining the West Bank.
#2 It seems to leave out a "secure country" or perhaps a "defendable
country" as a key value for policy making .]

Contact: David Twersky (212)360-1586

Dr. Yehuda Ben Meir 011-972-50-380-8849

Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv
Releases Results of 2007 Survey of Israelis' Attitudes
on National Security - First Since Lebanon War

April 23, 2007 - The American Jewish Congress today welcomed publication of
the 2007 survey on public opinion and national security conducted by the
Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. The survey was funded
in part by a grant from the Steinberg Trust (Israel Portion) established by
American Jewish Congress leaders Martin and Lillian Steinberg.

"It may surprise Americans, but the results of this respected study show
that most of the basic attitudes and opinions of the adult Jewish population
in Israel regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and possible solutions
have not changed dramatically as a result of last summer's war in Lebanon,"
said AJCongress Executive Director Neil B. Goldstein. "It also may come as a
surprise that Israelis remain personally optimistic about the future and
remain committed to territorial compromise and concessions (abandoning
settlements) in the context of a peace agreement and an end to the
conflict," added Goldstein.

"At the same time, support for unilateralism has sharply fallen."

"We are proud to support this project, which articulates the evolving
Israeli consensus on national security issues," Goldstein said. "It is
vitally important for the American community and for all of Israel's
supporters to understand how Israelis approach these crucial issues. The
2007 Institute for National Security Studies underscores the
pragmatism-laced with idealism and shaped by harsh realities-that influences
the Israeli consensus on national security."

As part of its ongoing National Security and Public Opinion Project (NSPOP),
the INSS conducted in-depth surveys on representative samples of the adult
Jewish population in July-August 2005 (704 respondents); March 2006 (724
respondents); and February-March 2007 (709 respondents). The studies were
conducted by Dr. Yehuda Ben Meir, a senior research associate at INSS and
were supported by a research grant from the American Jewish Congress. All
the respondents were interviewed face to face, for close to an hour, in
their homes, by trained interviewers.

The National Security and Public Opinion Project found that Israelis remain
hawkish on security but dovish on political issues.

Support for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and
Gaza was 55%, down from 61% in 2006; support for the solution of "two states
for two peoples" was 63%, down from 70% in 2006-yet both propositions still
enjoy a clear majority amongst the Jewish public.

Dr. Ben Meir observed that:

Demography remains more important than geography. Respondents were asked to
rank four key values-a) a country with a Jewish majority; b) Greater Israel;
c) a democratic country; and d) a state of peace-as to their order of
importance. For over twenty years, the value ranked as the most important is
a Jewish majority. In 2006, for the first time, an absolute majority of the
Jewish population (54%) listed it as the most important value vs. only 7%
who chose Greater Israel as the number one value. The corresponding numbers
for 2007 are 50% and 9%. In 2006, 72% and 71% in 2007 chose "a country with
a Jewish majority" as "the most important" or "the second most important"
value vs. 27% and 29% respectively for Greater Israel. The similarity of the
findings is both dramatic and remarkable and goes to show that we are
dealing with a fundamental and consistent parameter of Israeli public
opinion, which is impervious to ongoing events.

The predominance of demography over geography is manifest in the readiness
to evacuate certain settlements in the West Bank. Support for removal of all
the settlements, including the large settlement blocks is negligible-18% in
2006 and 14 % in 2007. However, 46% in 2006 and 45% in 2007 support the
removal of all the small and isolated settlements-taken together, 64% in
2006 and 59% in 2007 are ready to evacuate certain settlements in the West
Bank-this in the context of a permanent settlement.

Israelis remain committed to looking for a solution to the conflict,
although they are quite pessimistic regarding the Palestinian partner.
Support for halting the peace process remains low. Using a 1-7 scale, in
2006-20% agreed with the proposition that the peace process should be
suspended vs. 69% who disagreed (11% were in the middle). The comparable
numbers for 2007 were 22%, 62% and 16%. On the other hand, in 2007 only 31%
believed in the possibility of reaching a peace agreement with the
Palestinians, slightly down from 34% in 2006. Support, even in principle,
for the Saudi initiative is low. 27% support a positive Israeli response to
the initiative vs. 49% who are opposed (24% are in the middle). At the same
time, Israelis have not completely given up on a political solution-only one
third agree with the statement that "there is no political solution to the
conflict" and this figure has remained constant over the past four years
(2004 -2007). It should also be noted that 49% in 2006 and 44% in 2007
believed that "most Palestinians" want peace.

Construction of the security fence continues to enjoy massive support
amongst the Jewish population. Indeed, it is hard to find any issue in
Israel about which there is so wide a consensus. 80% in 2004, 82% in 2005,
79% in 2006 and 76% in 2007 supported the construction of the fence. In the
context of an item related to the various proposals regarding the route of
the fence, 81% in 2005, 75% in 2006 and 78% in 2007 disagreed with the
statement that "the fence should not have been constructed at all."

Regarding the fence, respondents were asked if under certain
circumstances-no possibility of progress with the Palestinians and a return
of terrorism in the territories-would they agree that Israel declare the
fence as its permanent border. A clear majority were in favor in 2005(57%)
and in 2006(60%). However, by 2007, the Jewish population was evenly split
on the issue-49% in favor and 51% against. This decline reflects primarily
the disenchantment of Israeli public opinion with unilateralism.

The events of 2006, namely the continuation and intensification of the Qasam
rocket attacks against Israeli towns and cities from the Gaza strip after
the disengagement, culminating with the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and
the killing of two others on June 25, 2006 and the Second Lebanon War
brought home to many Israelis the dangers and drawbacks inherent in
unilateralism. The dramatic effect on public opinion can be seen in the
latest results. Support for "unilateral disengagement involving evacuation
of settlements" declined from 50% in 2004, 47% in 2005 and 51% in 2006 to
28% in 2007. In 2004, 56% of the Jewish population supported Ariel Sharon's
disengagement plan in Gaza and northern Samaria. In the days just prior to
the actual implementation of the disengagement (August 2005) and a half a
year later (March 2006) the Jewish public was evenly split down the middle
(50%-50%) with regard to the plan. When asked in March 2007, what, in
retrospect, was their opinion-only 36% supported the disengagement plan vs.
close to two thirds (64%) who were against. It is clear that Israeli public
opinion views the disengagement from Gaza as a dismal failure and this
perception will inevitably have a strong influence on the decisions and
actions of the Israeli government in the near future. Support for the
removal of some settlements (mainly the small and isolated ones) in the
context of unilateral disengagement declined from 55% in 2006 to 41% in

The Jewish public has mixed feelings regarding the results of the Second
Lebanon War. 51% believe that neither side won the war. The other half are,
more or less, evenly divided-23% saying Israel won and 26% that Hizbollah
won. At the same time, confidence in the ability of the IDF to defend Israel
remains extremely high-83% of the Jewish population say that they can depend
on the IDF to defend the country. On the other hand, faith in the political
leadership is low, with only 34% saying that they can depend on the
government to "make right decisions on questions of national security".

There is a slight increase in the threat perception of Israelis, although a
significant majority of the Jewish public remains confident that Israel can
cope successfully with any conceivable threat. In 2007, 76% saw a high or
medium chance for outbreak of a war between Israel and an Arab country or
Hizbollah in the next three years, up from 37% in 2006 and 39% in 2005.
Nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran are viewed as the most serious threat
facing Israel-6.2 on a 1-7 point scale. It is interesting to note that the
second most serious threat in the eyes of Israelis is "corruption in the
public system."

Another major and consistent conclusion from the studies conducted over the
last few years is the predominant effect of religiosity on one's political
opinions. Of all the demographic factors (gender, age, country of origin,
education, socio-economic status, etc.) investigated, the one with the
strongest influence on the attitudes and opinions of the respondents was one's
own definition of his or her religiosity. The ultra-orthodox and the
religious were the most hawkish, the secular population had the most
moderate positions and the traditionalists were in the middle.

Dr. Ben Meir concluded that:

As far as the national mood and overall optimism is concerned, there is a
distinct difference between the assessment of the overall state of the
country and the assessment of one's own personal state. Not only is the
perception of the latter much higher than that of the former, but while for
the state of the country there is a clear decline in 2007, ratings as to
one's personal state remain as high as ever in 2007. On a 1-9 scale there
was a progressive improvement in the assessment of the state of the country
from the aspect of national security from 2004 to 2006 (an average score of
4.1, 4.6 and 4.8 respectively) only to drop, in 2007, back to the 2004 level
(4.3). Assessment of the individuals' own personal state increased from 2004
to 2006 (an average score of 5.5, 6.0 and5.9) and remained in 2007 at 5.9.
The picture is identical regarding optimism. Assessment of the state of the
country from the aspect of national security "five years hence" increased
from 2004 to 2006 (an average score of 5.2, 5.3 and 5.5 respectively) only
to drop, in 2007, back to the 2004 level (5.2). The comparable numbers, for
2004 to 2007 regarding the assessment of one's own personal state "five
years hence" are 6.6, 6.6, 6.9 and 6.9. The improvement in one's personal
mood over the four year period and in his assessment of the state of the
country from 2004 to 2006 reflects the sharp decrease in terrorism over this
period as well as the rapid improvement in the economic situation and the
rise in the standard of living of most Israelis. The decrease in the
national mood from 2006 to 2007 reflects the disappointment with the results
of the disengagement from Gaza and the unsatisfactory results (at least in
the subjective view of most Israelis) of the Second Lebanon War.

The American Jewish Congress is a membership association of Jewish
Americans, organized to defend Jewish interests at home and abroad, through
public policy advocacy, in the courts, Congress, the executive branch and
state and local governments. It also works overseas with others who are
similarly engaged.

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