Despite Their Wide Differences, Many Israelis and Palestinians Want Bigger Role for Obama in Resolving Conflict
Israelis and Palestinians differ widely in their outlook for a peaceful resolution of their longstanding conflict and in their views about the United States. But both want U.S. President Barack Obama to play a larger role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.
Israelis, on balance, believe a way can be found for an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with their country. Palestinians, on the other hand, overwhelmingly do not think this is possible, and a plurality believes armed struggle rather than negotiations or nonviolent resistance is the best way to achieve statehood.
Views of the United States also continue to vary considerably between Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis are far more likely to rate the U.S. favorably and to say its policies in the Middle East are fair.
Nonetheless, while Palestinians give the U.S. negative ratings and are nearly unanimous in saying the U.S. favors Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, many join Israelis in welcoming a larger role for the Obama administration in resolving the conflict.
While Obama, who visited Jerusalem and the West Bank in March, remains largely unpopular in the Palestinian territories, his ratings have improved markedly in Israel. The president enjoys the confidence of 61% of Israelis, up 12 percentage points from 2011. Palestinians, however, remain negative, with just 15% expressing confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs, and 82% saying they have little or no confidence in the American president.
These are among the key findings from a new survey by the Pew Research Center of 14,997 people in 12 countries and the Palestinian territories from March 3 to April 12, 2013. Survey countries include Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia – and Germany, which has played an active role in key issues related to the Middle East. Surveys in Israel and the Palestinian territories were conducted after Obama’s trip to the region.
Israel’s image is overwhelmingly negative in the region; 86% or more in Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey have an unfavorable view. Israel also has few friends in France, Germany and China, where majorities express negative opinions of the Jewish state. The U.S. is the only country surveyed where a majority (57%) gives Israel a favorable rating.
Despite their negative views of Israel, Westerners generally believe a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible. At least half in France, Germany, Britain and the U.S. think a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully. In contrast, publics in Turkey and in the Arab countries surveyed are skeptical that this is possible.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas receive negative ratings in the region, although majorities in Israel and in the Palestinian territories rate their own leader favorably.
Netanyahu’s ratings are especially negative, with seven-in-ten in Turkey and at least 85% in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia expressing unfavorable views. Abbas receives his most negative ratings in Israel, where 84% have an unfavorable view of the Palestinian leader. Majorities or pluralities in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey also offer negative ratings of Abbas.
In Israel, a substantial number believes the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts their nation’s security, an opinion that is held by nearly half of secular Jews and by a large majority of Arabs in that country. In contrast, just 19% of Israeli Jews who describe themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox, say the continued building of settlements makes Israel less safe, while 41% say it makes Israel safer and 31% say it does not make a difference.
Middle East Sympathies
Perceptions of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians differ considerably across the countries surveyed. In the U.S., about half (53%) say they sympathize more with Israel, while just 14% sympathize more with the Palestinians. This is virtually unchanged from the last time the Pew Global Attitudes Project asked this question in 2007.
Views are more mixed in France, Germany and Russia. For example, 40% of French respondents sympathize more with Israel, while 44% say their sympathies lie with the Palestinians. Similarly, in Germany and Russia, about as many side with Israel as side with the Palestinians, but substantial numbers in these countries do not sympathize with either side in this conflict (31% and 42%, respectively).
One-in-five respondents in Britain also do not sympathize with either side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but those who choose a side tend to sympathize with the Palestinians. About a third (35%) of the British sympathize with the Palestinians, while 19% side with Israel.
In Turkey and the Arab countries where this question was asked, overwhelming majorities side with the Palestinians. At least nine-in-ten in Tunisia (98%), Jordan (94%) and Egypt (92%) sympathize with the Palestinians in the dispute with Israel, as do 88% in Lebanon and 66% in Turkey.
For the most part, there has been little change in perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years. In France, however, opinions are more balanced than they were in 2007, when 43% sympathized with the Palestinians and 32% sympathized with Israel. Germans also offer more even views now compared with six years ago; 34% sided with Israel and 21% sided with the Palestinians in 2007.
Prospects for Palestinian Statehood
Israelis and Palestinians have very different opinions on the prospects for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that coexists peacefully alongside Israel. Half of Israelis think this is possible, while 38% say it is not and 9% say it depends.
Palestinians are far less optimistic; 61% do not believe a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, while 14% say this is possible and 22% say it depends.
Israeli Arabs are considerably more likely than Jews to say it is possible for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully; 75% of Arabs in Israel say this is the case, compared with 46% of Israeli Jews.
Among Jews in Israel, a majority of those who describe themselves as secular believe a peaceful two-state solution is a possibility, while just 32% of those who describe themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox share this view.
Elsewhere, at least half in France (71%), Germany (59%), Britain (52%) and the U.S. (50%) are optimistic that a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with each other.
In Lebanon and Tunisia, majorities say there is not a way for a peaceful two-state solution to be achieved (80% and 57%, respectively), and about half (47%) in Turkey and 40% in Egypt are also skeptical. Opinions are somewhat more divided in Jordan, Russia and China, although pluralities in Russia and China say there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully.
Palestinians are more likely to say armed struggle is the best way for their people to achieve statehood (45%) than they are to say negotiations or nonviolent resistance offer the best prospect for the creation of a Palestinian state (15% each). Another 22% volunteer that a combination of these three approaches would be most effective.
When asked whether Arab countries are doing too much, too little or enough to help the Palestinian people achieve statehood, three-quarters in the Palestinian territories say they are doing too little; 16% say other Arab nations are doing enough and 5% believe they are doing too much to help Palestinians achieve statehood.
In the other Arab countries surveyed, only in Tunisia and Egypt do majorities or pluralities say their country could be doing more to help the Palestinians. More than six-in-ten (64%) Tunisians say their country is doing too little to help the Palestinian people achieve statehood. In Egypt, 47% believe their country is doing too little, but 34% think it is doing enough and 14% think Egypt is doing too much to help Palestinians with this goal.
Views are more mixed in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. For example, about the same number of Lebanese say their country is doing too little to help the Palestinian people achieve statehood (37%) as say it is doing enough (38%), while about a quarter (24%) believe Lebanon is doing too much. Among Jordanians, 28% say their country could be doing more to help Palestinians, while 38% think it is doing enough and 29% think Jordan is doing too much. And in Turkey, 26% say their country is doing too little, but 33% believe it is doing enough and 15% say it is doing too much to help the Palestinian people achieve statehood.
The U.S. is the only country surveyed where a majority expresses positive views of Israel: 57% of Americans have a favorable opinion and 27% have an unfavorable view of one of their country’s closest allies in the Middle East. Russians also express more favorable than unfavorable views of Israel (46% vs. 38%).
In predominantly Muslim countries, as well as in France, Germany, Britain and China, majorities or pluralities express negative opinions in Israel. At least eight-in-ten in Lebanon (99%), Jordan (96%), the Palestinian territories (94%), Egypt (92%), Turkey (86%), and Tunisia (86%) offer unfavorable views. Majorities in China (66%), France (65%) and Germany (62%) also express negative opinions of Israel, as does a 44%-plurality in Britain.
Negative Views of Netanyahu and Abbas
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives overwhelmingly negative ratings in neighboring countries. At least nine-in-ten in neighboring Lebanon (99%), Palestinian territories (96%), Jordan (95%) and Egypt (92%) have an unfavorable view of the Israeli leader; 85% in Tunisia and 70% in Turkey also express negative opinions of Netanyahu.
In Israel, by contrast, more than half (56%) view Netanyahu favorably, while 42% have an unfavorable opinion of their country’s prime minister. Israeli Jews are far more likely than Israeli Arabs to express positive views of Netanyahu. Among Jews, 63% have a favorable opinion and 36% have an unfavorable view of the prime minister; among Arabs, just 20% have a positive view, while 76% have a negative view of Netanyahu. Israeli Jews who describe themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox are especially likely to have a favorable opinion of Netanyahu (70% vs. 58% of secular Jews).
Views of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are also largely negative across the region, but not as overwhelmingly so as views of Netanyahu. More than eight-in-ten (84%) Israelis hold unfavorable opinions of Abbas, but Arabs in that country are more positive, with 52% expressing favorable views and 44% expressing negative opinions of Abbas.
Majorities in Lebanon (64%), Egypt (58%) and Jordan (56%) also have unfavorable views, as does a 42%-plurality in Turkey. Tunisians are nearly evenly divided, with 40% expressing positive views and 37% expressing unfavorable views of the Palestinian leader.
In Lebanon, views of Abbas reflect religious and sectarian differences. Majorities of Christians (78%) and Shia (66%) hold unfavorable opinions of Abbas. Among Lebanese Sunnis, however, most (54%) give the Palestinian leader a positive rating, while 44% have a negative opinion of him.
Palestinians express mostly positive opinions of Abbas; 61% have a favorable view and 34% have an unfavorable view of the Palestinian president. Abbas is viewed favorably by majorities in both the West Bank (57%) and Gaza (68%). His party also receives positive ratings among Palestinians; 69% have a favorable view of Fatah, while 27% express unfavorable opinions.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas, two groups designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S., receive lower ratings among Palestinians than Fatah, which renounced terrorism in 1988. Still, a majority of Palestinians (56%) holds favorable opinions of Islamic Jihad, while about a third (35%) gives the militant organization negative ratings.
Opinions of Hamas are more mixed, with 48% of Palestinians viewing the extremist group favorably and 45% saying they have an unfavorable view of Hamas. In 2011, when Pew Research last asked Palestinians about Hamas, more held negative views (56%) than expressed positive opinions (42%), but the militant organization was more popular in 2007, when 62% of Palestinians gave it a positive rating. Views of Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not vary significantly between the West Bank and Gaza or across demographic groups.
Many Israelis Say Settlements Hurt Security
About four-in-ten Israelis (42%) believe the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts their nation’s security; 27% say the expansion of settlements helps Israel’s security, and 23% say it does not make a difference.
Israeli Arabs are far more likely than Israeli Jews to say the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts Israel’s security. More than eight-in-ten (84%) Israeli Arabs express this view, while 4% say it helps their country’s security and 2% believe it does not make a difference. Israeli Jews are divided: 35% say the expansion of settlements hurts the security of Israel, 31% say it helps, and 27% say it does not make a difference.
Among Jews, those who are secular are considerably more critical of the continued building of settlements than those who describe themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox. Nearly half of secular Jews in Israel (47%) believe the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts their country’s security; fewer say it helps or does not make a difference (23% each). Among more observant Jews, just 19% say expansion of settlements hurts Israel’s security, while 41% say it helps and 31% say it does not make a difference.
Israelis and Palestinians Differ on Views of U.S. and Obama
The U.S. receives overwhelmingly positive ratings in Israel, with even more Israelis now saying they have a favorable view of their country’s ally than did so two years ago, when Pew Research last conducted a survey in Israel; today, 83% express a positive opinion of the U.S., compared with 72% in 2011. In contrast, about eight-in-ten (79%) Palestinians express unfavorable views of the U.S., virtually unchanged from recent surveys.
In Israel, Jews are far more likely than Arabs to express positive views of the U.S.; nine-in-ten Israeli Jews have a favorable opinion, compared with 42% of Israeli Arabs. Arabs and Jews in Israel agree, however, that their country’s relationship with the U.S. is good. Overall, 94% of Israelis think Israel and the U.S. have a good relationship; 93% of Israeli Jews and 95% of Israeli Arabs share this view.
In the Palestinian territories, about one-third (35%) describe relations between the Palestinian Authority and the U.S. as good, while most (57%) say they are bad. Opinions are especially negative in Gaza, where just 24% say the relationship between their government and the U.S. is good, while 73% say it is bad. Views are more mixed in the West Bank, with 42% saying the Palestinian Authority has a good relationship with the U.S. and 47% saying relations between the two governments are bad.
Israelis and Palestinians also differ on views of Obama. About six-in-ten (61%) Israelis express confidence in the American president to do the right thing regarding world affairs, up from 49% in 2011. In the Palestinian territories, just 15% have confidence in Obama, while 82% have little or no confidence in him.
In Israel, opinions of Obama are far more positive among Jews than among Arabs. More than six-in-ten (64%) Jews express confidence in the American president, compared with about half (48%) of Arabs.
Secular Jews in Israel are especially positive in their views of Obama. About seven-in-ten (71%) secular Jews have confidence in Obama to do the right thing when it comes to world affairs, compared with 56% of Israeli Jews who describe themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox.
U.S. Policies in the Middle East
Israelis are more likely than they were six years ago to see U.S. policies in the Middle East as fair. Nearly half of Israelis (47%) say this is the case, while 35% say U.S. policies favor their own country too much and 14% say the U.S. is biased towards the Palestinians. In 2007, 37% of Israelis believed the U.S. was fair, while 42% said it favored Israel too much and 13% said the U.S. was overly supportive of the Palestinians.
Israeli opinions about U.S. policies in the Middle East vary considerably by ethnicity and religious affiliation. About six-in-ten (62%) secular Jews in Israel see the U.S. as fair, while 23% say the U.S. is biased toward Israel and 12% say the U.S. is biased toward the Palestinians. Among Israeli Jews who describe themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox, 47% say U.S. policies in the region are fair, 23% say they favor their own country too much, and 22% say the U.S. is biased towards the Palestinians. Israeli Arabs overwhelmingly believe U.S. policies favor Israel too much; 94% say this is the case.
Palestinian assessments of U.S. policies in the Middle East mirror those of Arabs in Israel. More than nine-in-ten (95%) Palestinians believe the U.S. is biased toward Israel, virtually unchanged from past surveys.
When asked whether they would like the Obama administration to play a larger role, a smaller role or about the same role it has been playing in resolving the conflict in the Middle East, at least four-in-ten Israelis and Palestinians say they would like it to play a larger role in the coming months.
About half (49%) of Israelis would like the Obama administration to be more involved, while 15% would like it to play a smaller role and 29% would like it to play the same role it has been playing in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Opinions on this do not vary considerably between Israeli Arabs and Jews.
In the Palestinian territories, 41% would welcome more involvement from the Obama administration in the coming months; about a quarter (26%) of Palestinians want the American president to play a smaller role in resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and 19% would like it to play the same role it has been playing. Those who live in the West Bank are more likely than Gaza residents to say they would like the Obama administration to play a larger role in the Middle East conflict; 47% in the West Bank want more U.S. involvement, compared with 30% in Gaza.
Israeli and Palestinian Policies toward the U.S.
A majority of Israelis (61%) approve of Netanyahu’s policies toward the U.S., while 28% disapprove. Israeli Jews who describe themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-orthodox are especially likely to approve of Netanyahu’s policies (75% approve), but most secular Jews also approve (63%). Israeli Arabs are more critical of the prime minister’s policies toward the U.S.; just 22% approve and 59% disapprove of Netanyahu’s policies toward the U.S.
In the Palestinian territories, half approve of Abbas’ policies toward the U.S., and 38% disapprove. Views of the way Hamas is handling the U.S. are more mixed; 39% approve and 46% disapprove. Opinions about Hamas’ policies toward the U.S. are similar in the West Bank and Gaza.