April/May 1994, Page 34
Israeli, Palestinian Support for Peace Accord Was Dropping Before Massacre
When implementation negotiations in Taba and Cairo failed to produce agreement on a Dec. 15 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, public support plummeted among both Palestinians and Israelis for the Declaration of Principles of Peace signed Sept. 13, 1993 at the White House.
A poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza conducted by the London-based and Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) and Cable News Network illustrated this. Whereas 68.6 percent of Palestinians in the two regions supported the accord on Sept. 23, support had dropped to 45.3 percent by mid-January. In the same period, opposition to the agreement rose from 27.8 percent to 39.8 percent.
Of 1,622 Palestinian respondents, 12.6 percent said their support for the PLO had increased, while 30 percent said it had decreased. As for personal affiliations of the respondents, 40.4 percent identified themselves as supporters of Yasser Arafat's Al Fatah, while 14.2 percent said they backed Hamas, the Islamist group.
The poll also showed more involvement in both organizations among residents of Gaza than in the West.Bank. Al Fatah had the support of 47. 1 percent of Gazans, and 37.3 percent of West Bankers. Hamas had support of 18.4 percent of Gazans, and 12.3 percent of West Bankers.
Another opinion poll among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza released in mid-January showed that half of the respondents felt Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat had been ineffective in his negotiations with the Israelis. Only 20 percent of respondents considered him a democratic leader, and 80 percent said that changes must be made in the PLO itself.
In Israel, a secret poll commissioned by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's office that leaked into the Israeli press during the first days of February showed that since the signing ceremony Israeli public support had dropped by more than half, to 34 percent.
After the Hebron Massacre
The Feb. 25 massacre by American born Jewish settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein of Muslims at prayer in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron set in motion a whole new chain of events. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat said he would return to negotiations only if Jewish settlers were disarmed, some Jewish settlements evacuated, and international observers allowed to protect Palestinians.
A poll published March 4 by Yediot Ahronot newspaper in Tel Aviv found 79 percent of Israelis opposed to concessions to the Palestinians to get negotiations underway again, and only 16 percent in favor of concessions. In the same poll, opinion was more evenly divided on the wisdom of evacuating Israeli settlements, with 52 percent of Israelis opposed to evacuation, and 40 percent approving it.
In the same time period, when the Rabin government revealed it was considering a ban on the late Rabbi Meir Kahane's Jewish terrorist group Kach, 66 percent of Israeli respondents to a newspaper poll said they would support the ban.
Regarding the massacre itself, a poll conducted by Israel's Teleseker polling firm for the International Center for Peace in the Middle East found that immediately after the massacre 79 percent of the Israelis polled condemned it, 11 percent said "it had to be understood against the background of Arab terror against Jews," and 3.6 percent praised Goldstein.
How U.S. Support Rose for Bosnian Intervention
U.S. public sentiment for action to halt Serb aggression in Bosnia, so long as U.S intervention was part of an international effort, had been increasing slowly even before a Serb mortar shell landed in Sarajevo's crowded central market on Feb. 5, killing 68 people and wounding some 200 more. Shortly before the slaughter a Los Angeles Times poll found 33 percent in favor of air strikes and 48 percent opposed.
The marketplace carnage reversed the figures. A CNN/ USA Today poll released three days afterward found 48 percent of Americans in favor of allied air strikes in Bosnia, with 43 percent opposed. Asked how they would respond "if President Clinton and Congress do order air strikes," 65 percent said they would support them.
An ABC-TV poll released one day later on Feb. 9 found a clear majority in favor of Americans bombing Serb gun positions ringing Sarajevo so long as U.S. allies also participated.
A poll taken between Feb. 9 and 13 by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found 76 percent of Americans supporting the NATO ultimatum to Bosnian Serbs to withdraw their heavy artillery from Sarjevo. Eighty percent of respondents supported following through with air strikes if the Serbs did not comply.
Support for participation by U.S. troops in a U.N. peacekeeping force to enforce a peace agreement, if it is accepted by all sides, also jumped from a 40-to-57 percent range during previous months to 72 percent after the mortar in the marketplace.
However, according to Steven Kull and Clay Ramsey of PIPA, the dramatic change in public support for air strikes was not necessarily based on what the media calls "the CNN factor. " In fact, according to Kull and Ramsey, it seemed to be based less on what respondents had seen on television than on subsequent U.S. actions and President Bill Clinton's explanation of them.
Kull and Ramsey point out that the CNNIUSA Today and ABC surveys on Feb. 7, two days after news reports of the slaughter in Sarajevo, showed 48 and 57 percent support, respectively, for air strikes. After a formal ultimatum was issued to the Serbs, and President Clinton explained it on prime-time television, however, support jumped to the 76-to-80 percent level.
The figures seem to support the conventional wisdom that, although Americans have strong opinions on domestic and pocketbook issues, on foreign affairs they generally will follow any U.S. president, so long as he explains to them the course of action he has chosen. This has strong implications in cases in which the foreign affairs establishment and a domestic interest lobby differ, as has often been the case in issues involving Israel and the Arabs, Greece and Turkey, and, possibly, Turks and Armenians.
PIPA polls also indicate that President Clinton's decision to withdraw all American forces from Somalia before the end of March, regardless of the state in which they left the country, may have been based upon false assumptions about American public opinion.
A poll last October, shortly after the deaths of American soldiers in a failed attempt to capture Gen. Mohammad Farah Aidid's top lieutenants in Mogadishu, showed that the majority sentiment among Americans for a U.S. withdrawal was based upon the perception that most Somalis wanted the U.S. forces to withdraw
Asked if U.S. forces should stay if most Somalis wanted them to, 54 percent of respondents said yes.