U.S. Jews back Netanyahus peace tactics, poll says

The survey is the latest in a wave of such polls — many of which are seen as an effort to advance a particular political objective.

But the AJCommittee survey is widely seen as one of the most useful because it is conducted annually and can track changing attitudes.

"Our survey has come out at a timely point in the…debate among pollsters," said David Singer, the AJCommittee's research director. "We provide some clarification."

And this year's results are telling.

"In 1993 we saw in our surveys widespread euphoria" for the Oslo peace process, and five years later, "we find that there has been serious erosion in that euphoria," said David Harris, executive director of the AJCommittee.

The survey's findings reflect widespread pessimism about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in particular.

Many of the survey's questions touched on these issues. Among the findings:

*As many as 94 percent of American Jews say the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to control terrorist activity, up from approximately 82 percent in 1996. The question wasn't asked in 1997.

*Over two-thirds — 69 percent — said they favored U.S. pressure on Arafat, while 52 percent oppose pressure on Netanyahu; 45 percent believe the United States should pressure Netanyahu.

*42 percent favor — and 49 percent oppose — the establishment of a Palestinian state. In 1996, 45 percent favored such a state, compared to 57 percent in 1993.

Netanyahu continues to garner favorable ratings from American Jews. According to the survey:

*56 percent of American Jews support Netanyahu's handling of the peace process –down from last year, but only by 5 percent.

*57 percent agree — and 36 percent disagree — that American Jews should support the policies of the elected government of Israel.

Not unexpectedly, the survey faced criticism from both the right and the left.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and an outspoken critic of the Oslo peace process, said he is disappointed in the "biased" and "vague" language of some of the questions. He suggested that specifying support for Israel trading land for peace instead of just the peace process would have garnered different results.

Still, pointing to the finding that 68 percent of American Jews believe that "the goal of the Arabs is not the return of the occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel," Klein said the poll reflects what he has long believed: "Most American Jews are skeptical about Arab intention to having a real peace with Israel."

Jonathan Jacoby, president of the Israel Policy Forum, which supported the peace policies of the former Labor government, said the questions' wording, particularly those related to U.S. pressure, does not reveal "how Americans feel about an even-handed approach toward mediating the conflict, because the questions only referred to pressuring one side or the other."

A recent poll commissioned by his group found that 84 percent of American Jews believed the Clinton administration should pressure both Netanyahu and Arafat to work harder for peace.

He added, "The poll is important because it points to the troubling increase in the hopelessness American Jews feel about the situation in Israel."