Dissatisfaction with Sharon growing in Israel, poll finds

Majority say he lacks plan for ending Palestinian uprising

March 02, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - For the first time since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's election 13 months ago, a majority of Israelis are dissatisfied with his performance, a poll released yesterday found.

In the poll, published by the newspaper Maariv, a majority of the Israelis surveyed said Sharon did not have a plan for ending the 17-month Palestinian uprising. Fifty-three percent of those polled said they were dissatisfied with Sharon. Forty-two percent expressed satisfaction, a drop of 11 points in two weeks in the proportion saying they were satisfied.

"Over the past month, the magic has dissipated and security fell apart, perhaps because hope had disappeared," Maariv said. "The last wave of attacks strengthened the feeling among many people that Sharon does not have an answer to terrorism."

Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said the poll "reflects only the mood at the moment. These past weeks have perhaps been the worst in terms of violence in this long war that we've been fighting. The situation looks gloomy, and naturally people blame the prime minister."

Gissin said Sharon does have a plan and that it is to "prove to the Palestinians that terrorism and violence will not get them anywhere, that they need to implement a cease-fire." Only then, he said, can peace talks begin.

Yesterday, Israeli troops reinforced their presence in two West Bank refugee camps, killing at least four Palestinians and wounding more than 35 others. Palestinian officials said troops also shot and killed a 7-year old boy in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials said they were investigating that report.

On Thursday, Israeli soldiers battled their way into the Balata camp near Nablus and a second camp near the city of Jenin. Army commanders said yesterday that their forces had killed 20 armed Palestinians and demonstrated that gunmen would have no haven.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called the latest attacks a dangerous escalation. "I call upon the whole world to act quickly before a state of chaos engulfs the whole Middle East region," he said.

Among Israelis, the poll found, the political left and the hard right are dissastisfied with Sharon's performance, with the left demanding the resumption of peace talks and the far right urging all-out war.

More than 70 percent of those surveyed by Maariv said Sharon had not fulfilled his promises to provide "peace and security," and 68 percent said conditions were worse than when he took office in February last year.

The poll traced the decline in support to Jan. 14, when the Israeli army assassinated a Palestinian militant leader in the West Bank city of Tulkarm after two weeks of relative calm. Palestinian militias retaliated with attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.

Palestinians were encouraged when hundreds of Israeli army reservists protested against serving in the West Bank and Gaza.

In a televised speech last week, Sharon scolded Israel's peace camp and called the dissenting reservists unpatriotic. He proposed creating a buffer zone between Israel and the West Bank and told the public to brace for more violence.

The Maariv poll found the public divided over a peace initiative from Saudi Arabia that calls for Israel, in exchange for full diplomatic relations with Arab states, to withdraw from all lands it occupied after the 1967 Middle East war.

Fifty-one percent of those surveyed opposed those terms, the newspaper reported, and 42 percent said they would accept them.

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