Leaders from the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority gather at Camp David outside Washington, D.C. this week in an attempt to negotiate a treaty settling some of the more difficult issues in the Middle East conflict. New Gallup polling finds Americans continuing to be more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians in this matter, as they have since Gallup began measuring American attitudes about it in 1988. Most Americans recognize the Palestinian-Israeli issue as an important one for U.S. foreign policy to address, but despite their tendency to agree with Israel in the dispute, the vast majority thinks the United States should remain neutral rather than take sides with either Israel or the Palestinians.
The Clinton administration appears to have the backing of the American public in its effort to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. A new Gallup poll, conducted July 6-9, finds that Americans believe developing a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli situation should be an important foreign policy goal of the United States. Roughly one-third, 34%, say it should be a "very important" goal and an additional 43% say it should be a "somewhat important" goal. Only 20% say it is not important. Additionally, public opinion of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- who has invested considerable time over the past several years in the peace process -- is quite high, with 69% saying they have a favorable opinion of her, and just 17% viewing her unfavorably.
Public Sympathizes More with Israel
As for the issue at hand, 41% of Americans say their sympathies in the Middle East conflict lie with Israel, compared to only 14% who side with the Palestinians. At the same time, a substantial number say they favor neither side (18%), while 5% are sympathetic to "both" and 22% have no opinion. This preference for Israel is seen across all major groups in U.S. society but is particularly strong among Republicans, who side with Israel over the Palestinians by a 53% to 8% margin. Democrats favor Israel by a smaller margin, 35% to 19%.
Americans' partiality for Israel over the Palestinians is also seen in public reaction to the leaders on each side. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is viewed more negatively than positively by Americans. Just 27% view him favorably while 45% view him unfavorably. Despite Arafat's longevity on the world stage, roughly one-quarter of the public, 28%, has no opinion of the Palestinian leader. By contrast, a much higher number of Americans, 58%, have no opinion of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, but among those who do the balance of opinion is favorable, 28% to 14%.
Despite this public sympathy with Israel, Americans would prefer to see the United States stay neutral in the Middle East conflict. When asked which side the United States should officially take, 6% think the United States should favor Israel, only 1% say it should favor the Palestinians, while three-quarters (74%) say the United States should take neither side.
And focusing on one of the core issues on the negotiating table at Camp David this week, Americans tend to support establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza strip by nearly a two-to-one margin, 40% to 24%. This support is lower than one year ago, when 53% of Americans backed the idea, but is similar to where it stood in 1998 and 1994.
See data from this and other polls:
Gallup Polls on American Sympathy Toward Israel and the Arabs/Palestinians
American Sympathy Toward Israel and the Arabs/Palestinians
Palestinian Homeland Polls
Public Attitudes Toward the Peace Process
Source: Gallup, (July 11, 2000)