Americans back road map despite haziness over plan

NEW YORK — Most Americans don't know what the Bush administration's "road map" entails, but they believe it can lead to a Middle East peace.

That's the thread running through two new public opinion surveys dealing with the road map, which is the topic of discussion at two summits President Bush has been attending in the Mideast this week.

The first poll, released May 29 by a bipartisan effort called the Israel Project and a nonprofit group called Israel 21c, measured attitudes of 600 "opinion elites," defined as those who earn at least $75,000 annually, have attained a college or advanced degree and regularly read at least one national newspaper, watch national TV news or read a major news magazine.

Even among that rarified crowd, only 7 percent in the poll, conducted April 15-19, were familiar with the road map, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of the Israel Project, said.

"People don't know what's inside the road map, but what they do want is a solution to the conflict and that they can have peace as soon as possible," she said.

Americans may want peace now, but not without some conditions, she added.

The survey, conducted for the Israel Project by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg's Public Opinion Strategies, found that 66 percent said the United States should pressure the Palestinians to institute democratic reforms before any Palestinian state can exist — and 69 percent agree that the United States should not back a Palestinian state until the Palestinians halt terror attacks.

Meanwhile, 68 percent said a Palestinian state that encourages terrorism should not be established, especially since the United States just waged a war on terror in Iraq; and 61 percent said it is "easy" to understand Israel's insistence that the Palestinians take concrete action against terrorism.

A more recent Israel Project poll of 800 registered voters completed May 31 found that Americans remain skeptical about Palestinian pronouncements, maintaining that there "is talk of peace, but the terror attacks continue," Laszlo Mizrahi said.

Though Americans sympathize with Israeli security needs, she added that they also hold "simplistic" views about how smoothly the road map to peace can be implemented in the wake of the quick allied military victory in Iraq.

"In 21 days, we went from shock and awe to the fall of statues of Saddam Hussein in public squares, so there's a profound misunderstanding of how we can defeat Saddam in 21 days and we can't create a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis."

Meanwhile, the University of Maryland's program on international policy attitudes and the Knowledge Networks conducted a nationwide poll of 1,265 people from May 14 to 18, measuring attitudes about the road map.

According to that survey, 55 percent of Americans who are not well-informed about the road map hold positive views about it, and when they learned details of the plan that support rose to 74 percent.

Most Americans — 58 percent — see the road map as an "opportunity" for Bush to foster Mideast peace because the Iraq war bolstered U.S. standing in the region.

Steven Kull, director of the study and of the PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll series, said Americans want Bush to intensify pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to achieve the road map's aims.

A majority said Bush should threaten the Palestinians with holding back foreign aid if the Palestinians do not meet the road map's conditions.

A clear majority — 73 percent — said the United States should not take sides in the conflict, echoing a longtime public support for "evenhandedness" in the Mideast, Kull said.