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Poll Shows Bush Approach on Mideast Conflict 'Out of Step' with US Public

9 May 2002

The United States public may not be nearly as supportive of the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as recent actions by Congress and the Bush administration suggest, according to a surprising new poll released in Washington Wednesday.

What this poll makes clear is that recent actions by Congress are out of step with the American public and their views on the crisis in the Middle East.

Almost 60 percent of Americans blame both sides equally for the breakdown of the peace process and the ongoing violence, the poll by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found when it surveyed 802 randomly selected respondents last week.

Seventy percent of those respondents said Washington should be even-handed between the parties, but only 22 percent said that the Bush administration was currently demonstrating such a balanced approach. Almost 60 percent said Washington was taking Israel's side.

Despite almost unanimous votes last week by both houses of Congress expressing strong support for Israel's recent military actions in the West Bank, the poll found very little public backing for those operations.

Sixty three percent of respondents said they supported Bush's call last month for Israel to withdraw and, failing that, a majority of 52 percent favored restricting U.S. military aid to Israel, something Bush has refused to discuss.

Moreover, 62 percent said they believed that Israel's military offensive has actually increased the likelihood of further suicide bombings against Israeli civilian targets, rather than diminished it.

"What this poll makes clear is that recent actions by Congress are out of step with the American public and their views on the crisis in the Middle East," said Steven Kull, the executive director of PIPA which has distinguished itself for unusually detailed surveys on foreign policy attitudes since the Gulf War.

Release of the poll results came in the wake of this week's visit by Sharon to Washington that he cut short Tuesday night after a White House meeting with Bush due to another Palestinian suicide bombing in a suburb of Tel Aviv that killed at least 16 Israelis. Sharon strongly suggested that Israel may retaliate with new military operations at any time.

Bush and Sharon reportedly discussed steps that could be taken to reduce the violence and move the two sides back to discussions for a political solution to the conflict, including a proposed peace conference sponsored by the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations. Sharon, however, has shown little enthusiasm for this idea, while senior U.S. officials have disagreed internally over how much importance and prominence to give the initiative.

According to the PIPA poll, however, large majorities of the public favor a more multilateral approach to ending the conflict than has prevailed so far. Eight-two percent said they supported convening the international conference, while two out of three respondents said they believe the UN Security Council should decide on permanent borders between the Israeli and Palestinian states.

If peacekeeping troops were required to separate the two sides, 77 percent said they believe Washington should provide troops as part of a multinational or UN force.

The poll also found that the public rejected by hefty margins Sharon's contention that its military operations in Palestinian areas should be seen as equivalent to Washington's war against the al-Qaeda network. Only 17 percent agreed with that assessment; 46 percent agreed with the description of the Mideast struggle as a "conflict between two national groups fighting over the same piece of land."

The poll results were described by Jerome Segal, a prominent Mideast expert at the University of Maryland, as "truly startling" in light of last week's showing of virtual wall-to-wall support for Israel in Congress.

Jim Lobe
Published by © 2002

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