Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Subject: IPS: Arab, Jewish Communities in the US Share Peace Goals
Date: Wed, 06 Jun 2007 13:52:45 +0000
Arab, Jewish Communities Share Peace Goals
Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Jun 4 (IPS) - Almost exactly 40 years after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Arab and Jewish communities of the United States appear largely agreed on the general outlines of a final settlement and the importance of Washington playing a stronger role in bringing it about.

Those are the main findings of a national survey of the two communities carried out late last month and released here Monday by Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish Zionist group, and the Arab American Institute.

"Despite heightened tensions and the devastation of continued conflicts in the region, solid majorities of Arab Americans and Jewish Americans are united in their desire for an end to the occupation and settlements, and for peace through a two-state solution (to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)," said the institute's president, James Zogby.

The survey, based on interviews with 501 members of each community, found nearly unanimous support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a similar level of agreement that such an accord will help the U.S. achieve its broader strategic interests in the region.

The poll also found strong majorities -- 63 percent of Jewish Americans and 77 percent of Arab Americans -- in favour of a freeze on Jewish settlement activity in the occupied territories and similar levels of support for the revived 2002 Arab League peace plan that would normalise ties with Israel in return for land it conquered in the 1967 war.

More than four out of five respondents in each community said they support negotiations between Israel and Syria, while 73 percent of Jewish Americans and 79 percent of Arab Americans said they favoured "serious diplomacy" with Iran over other options that could lead to war.

Four out of five respondents in each community also assessed President George W. Bush's performance in the Middle East as ineffective, particularly compared to his predecessor, Bill Clinton, whose handling of the region was given high marks by large majorities of both groups.

"This survey, yet again, reaffirms our assertion that most American Jews support a diplomatic approach to resolving conflicts in the Middle East -- whether conflicts between Israel and its neighbours or the conflict between the U.S. and Iran," said Americans for Peace Now president Debra DeLee.

"Not only do members of both communities support negotiated peace between Israel and its neighbours, they also want to see the Bush administration play a role to make it happen," she added.

The survey, a sequel to a first-ever side-by-side poll of the two communities in 2002, comes amid growing speculation about prospects for peace -- or more war -- in the region.

Recent fighting in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas, which are supposed to be working together as part of a government of national unity midwifed by Saudi King Abdullah, has dampened prospects for a resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that has been promoted, in particular, by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Washington's European allies.

At the same time, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has so far spurned -- reportedly at the behest of the Bush administration -- appeals by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for direct talks aimed at returning the Golan Heights to Damascus in return for normalising bilateral ties and presumably ending Syrian support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

Meanwhile, Iran's regional ascendancy in the wake of Washington's 2003 Iraq invasion has stirred growing concern not only on the part of both Israel and the U.S., but also Sunni-led Arab governments which, under Abdullah's leadership, have appeared more disposed to make peace with Israel than ever before. But they have so far been frustrated by Bush's reluctance to press Olmert to make key concessions that could give the Arab League initiative greater momentum.

Bush's failure to become seriously engaged in peace efforts has also clearly frustrated the Jewish and Arab American communities here, too. Only one in five respondents in each community described Bush's performance in the region as either somewhat or very effective.

Both the Jewish-American and the Arab-American communities, which are highly educated when compared with other demographic groups, have been very attentive to events in the region, according to the survey. More than nine out of 10 respondents in both communities said they follow the situation in the Middle East either "very" (55 percent of each group) or "somewhat" closely.

Majorities in both communities described Bush's approach to the region either as favouring Israel or as "disengaged". Asked what approach they preferred, two-thirds of Arab Americans said he should "steer a middle course", a position with which 40 percent of Jewish Americans agreed. Forty-four percent of Jewish respondents, however, said Bush should continue "leaning toward Israel".

Two-thirds of both groups said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate next year if that candidate pledged to take an active role in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Nine in 10 Jewish Americans said they agreed that Palestinians "have a right to live in a secure and independent state of their own", while 88 percent of Arab Americans said the same about Israel.

At the same time, however, each of the two groups underestimated the degree to which the other supports their position. Thus, 60 percent of Arab Americans believe that Jewish Americans support the right of Palestinians to live in a secure and independent state, while only 34 percent of Jewish-American respondents believe that Arab Americans support the same right for Israelis.

"There's clearly a need in each community to create a broader sense about how the other community feels on this issue," said DeLee. "There's very high support for these (positions) but not necessarily trust that the other side feels the same way."

At the same time, four in five Arab American respondents and two in three Jewish respondents said it was "very important" for the two communities to work together to achieve a two-state solution.

Ninety-six percent of Jewish Americans and ninety-one percent of Arab Americans said they agreed that a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians was important to U.S. strategic interests in the region. Eighty-seven and 81 percent, respectively, agreed "strongly" with that assessment.

Two-thirds of Jewish Americans said ending the occupation was either very (41 percent) or somewhat (24 percent) important, compared to 89 percent of Arab Americans.

Seven in 10 Jewish Americans and eight in 10 Arab Americans said they support the Arab League Initiative.

"While presidential candidates are urged to believe that there's no way to bring the two sides together, in fact the opposite is true," said Zogby. "This is not a situation where the two communities are divided; rather, they are extraordinarily united around the vision of what the Middle East ought to look like." (END/2007)

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