Most U.S. Jews still support peace process

NEW YORK — Most American Jews continue to back the Arab-Israeli peace process, but that support has weakened in the past two years, according to a new nationwide American Jewish Committee survey.

More than half of those interviewed for the survey by an independent research firm said they mistrust the Arabs as peace partners, with the exception of the Jordanians.

Mistrust of the Palestine Liberation Organization runs especially deep, with 71 percent saying that it "cannot be relied upon to honor its agreements."

As before, 62 percent of the respondents said Israel should not "compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction" in a peace accord with the Palestinians.

Only 20 percent said they favor an immediate move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, however.

Meanwhile, almost 90 percent said they "see a need for a continuing U.S. role" in the peace process.

The results, released Tuesday, come as demonstrations against the peace process appear to be escalating, prompting concern by the Israeli government and U.S. peace process supporters.

For peace process backers, the survey results were welcome.

"The clear message is that there is continued support by American Jews despite vigorous efforts by the enemies of the peace process to discredit it," said Gary Rubin, executive director of Americans For Peace Now. "Clearly they have not succeeded."

Martin Raffel, associate executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, added, "It's reassuring to see a strong majority of Jews backs our efforts to support the peace process."

Still, Raffel said he is not surprised by the erosion of support since the signing of the Oslo Accords. "It was incorrectly described as a peace treaty when it was merely a framework for messy and complicated negotiations," he said.

People underestimated the difficulties that were to follow, especially heightened terrorism, he said, and the poll reflects their disappointment and frustration.

But David Harris, AJCommittee's executive director, said the results "demonstrate broad general support for the peace initiative under way in Israel and a sense that the process is likely to lead to regional peace." said

That "optimism remains tempered with caution," he added, reflected in "the growing level of distrust of the Arabs, in general, and the PLO, in particular."

Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said the poll reveals "the fatigue and exhaustion that most Jews feel" with unrelenting terrorism.

"Most Jews clearly recognize the PLO continues to encourage terrorism by [PLO Chairman Yasser] Arafat's calls for jihad [holy war] and praises of terrorists as heroes," said Klein.

The survey was the third of a series completed by the AJCommittee since the signing of the Oslo treaty. In the current survey, 1,000 people who identified as Jews were questioned by phone during the second week in August.

When asked whether they generally "support" or "oppose" the "Israeli government's current handling of the peace negotiations with the Arabs," 68 percent said they "support" the process. That is down from 77 percent in August of last year and 84 percent in September of 1993.

A total of 15 percent said they "oppose" the process, while 17 percent said they are "not sure."

Sixty-six percent said the past two years of Israeli-Arab talks "increase the likelihood of peace," while 18 percent said they "increase the likelihood of another war."

But most simply do not trust the Arabs' aims. Some 56 percent said they "agree" that the "goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel," up from 51 percent in 1994 and 42 percent in 1993. But 37 percent said they "disagree" with such concerns.

Although 74 percent believe Jordan is interested "in a true and lasting peace with Israel," only 38 percent believe this about Syria and 37 percent about the Palestinians.

A total of 71 percent said the PLO could not be "relied upon to honor its agreements and refrain from terrorist activity against Israel," up from 65 percent last year and 42 percent in 1993.

An overwhelming 91 percent said the PLO is "not doing enough to control terrorist activity against Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian extremist groups."

Support for a Palestinian state has dropped, the survey indicates. A total of 46 percent support its establishment, down from 53 percent last year and 57 percent the year before.

The AJCommittee surveys were conducted by Market Facts Inc. The latest poll represented the U.S. adult Jewish population in terms of age, income, gender and geographic region.