November 2009: 59% of Israelis will support ‘any agreement Netanyahu reaches with our enemies.’

A poll commissioned by the New America Foundation regarding Israeli public attitudes towards the Obama administration, the peace process, and other issues on today’s agenda

8-15.11.2009

 

The results of New America Foundation’s national survey of 1,000 Israelis reveal a very different picture from the narrative that has taken hold regarding Israeli attitudes toward President Obama and American efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Despite repeated media reports touting a “4 percent Obama approval rating” and arguments that the United States has lost the Israeli public’s support for renewed peace efforts, Israelis actually demonstrate a much more supportive and nuanced view of President Obama, and there is solid backing for an American-sponsored final status agreement along the lines of where the parties left off nine years ago at Taba and in the recent Olmert-Abbas negotiations. The survey also shows that Prime Minister Netanyahu has a great deal of political space to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians, including within his own Likud party.
 
The NAF survey, conducted by Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications, took place November 8-15, 2009 and examined several aspects of Israeli public opinion and the dynamics underlying the first year of the Obama and Netanyahu Administrations, ranging from attitudes toward President Obama and the relationship with the United States to the aspirations and fears that people have about a peace agreement with the Palestinians to the overall national mood and political landscape that set the context in which policy decisions in Israel are received by its citizens.
 
As the Obama Administration continues its efforts to assert American leadership to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is very clear that it does so from a position of strength when seen through the prism of Israeli public opinion, and that there are real opportunities for the President and his team to speak directly and convincingly to the Israeli people.
 
Overall, Obama has a 41 percent favorable / 37 percent unfavorable rating among Israelis, which is notably stronger than opinion toward the Israeli Defense and Foreign Ministers, and his unfavorable rating is only four points higher than the unfavorable rating for George W. Bush, who is routinely characterized as very popular among Israelis. A majority (55 percent) believes Obama is honest and trustworthy –considerably higher than the 36 percent who believe the same of Prime Minister Netanyahu – and 52 percent believe Obama will strengthen America’s standing in the world.
 
There are though also doubts centered on whether the President understands the threats facing Israelis, with large numbers believing he is weak on terrorism (50 percent) and naïve (43 percent). Overall, 42 percent of Israelis believe Obama supports Israel, compared to 55 percent who do not - not a high level of confidence for an American
President, but much stronger than the abysmal and frequently (but incorrectly) reported 4 percent approval rating that has driven conventional wisdom on Obama’s support in
Israel. And this before there has been any outreach effort or visit by the President to
Israel.
 
By a 65 to 31 percent margin, Israelis believe that the U.S. is the only powerful country that Israel can count on in the world today. Further, they do not believe Israel will be able to build alliances with other powers if relations with the U.S. ever deteriorate. Ultimately, if President Obama were to put forward a peace plan based on the previous Taba talks then it receives majority Israeli public support if PM Netanyahu is on board (53% to 45%) while, the public is evenly split (48 percent each) if PM Netanyahu rejects the plan. The Israeli public is concerned that U.S. support could be endangered if Israel rejects a U.S.-sponsored final status agreement – but the question is simply not seen as urgent and Israelis do not feel any sense of crisis in the relationship with the U.S. – despite the recent spat over settlements.
 
While Israel’s Prime Minister has a modest 48 percent overall job approval, he is remarkably strong on every measure related to security, and Netanyahu’s security image translates into 59 percent support for ‘any agreement Netanyahu reaches with our enemies.’

The full poll can be viewed here, and the memo analyzing the results from the pollster, Jim Gerstein, can be viewed here.
An article in Ha'aretz commenting on the poll's findings can be accessed here.