Does the conflict between Palestinians, Israelis still matter?

July 06, 2008

That's the question University of Maryland scholar and Brookings Institution fellow Shibley Telhami set out to answer through an analysis of Arab public opinion surveys he conducted in six countries with Zogby International. The countries were Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

How important is the issue of Palestine in your priorities?

Eighty-six percent of non-Palestinians rated it the most important or within their top three priorities, compared with 73 percent in 2006.

What two steps by the U.S. would improve your views of the U.S. most?

In 2006, 62 percent said brokering a comprehensive Middle East peace with Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border and establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. This year, that figure dropped to 50 percent, with 44 percent choosing a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

What do you believe is the likely outcome if the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict collapse?

Fifty-five percent in 2008 said it would lead to a state of intense conflict for years to come. Twenty-three percent said the status quo would continue with little change.

What do you believe motivates Israeli policies in the region and U.S. support for these policies?

Forty-one percent in 2008 said the United States and Israel have mutual interests most of the time. That compares with 42 percent who said the same in 2006.

"The trends in Arab public attitudes are telling," Mr. Telhami concluded, in part. "Despite the Iraq war and the increasing focus on a Sunni-Shiite divide, the Palestinian question remains a central prism through which Arabs view the world. Palestinian divisions make it harder for the public to decide 'what's good for the Palestinians,' but this has so far translated into a trend toward sympathy with militants, pessimism about the prospects of Arab-Israel peace, and anger with Israel and the United States. Given that most Arabs in principle still support the two-state solution, this trend is not irreversible, especially if a Palestinian-Israeli agreement is concluded. But until then, the trend is likely to continue and not only affect support for Hamas and Hezbollah in the Arab-Israeli arena, but also translate into more resentment of Arab governments and more support for militant opposition even away from this arena."

Data from the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution

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