(Inter Press Service)
A majority of global publics say their governments should "not take either side" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instead supporting a call for the United Nations to play a greater role in regional peace, according to a new international poll released in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
World publics gave low marks to Israeli, Palestinian, U.S., and Arab leaders when asked how well the international actors were doing to resolve the 60-year-old conflict, according to the poll of 18,792 people around the globe conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a collaborative research project.
On average, 58 percent of those polled said that they believed their country should remain neutral not take a side, with only 20 percent saying their country should favor the Palestinians, and just 7 percent saying the Israelis.
In contrast, those polled think the U.N. Security Council should take a robust role in resolving the dispute. On average, 67 percent of those polled on the issue favored the idea of a stronger U.N. force, while just 20 percent opposed it.
"Why is it important? World public opinion does matter. Public opinion matters. When somebody says, ‘I don’t care what anyone else says,’ they’re lying," said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, who oversaw the poll.
"What we’re dealing with here is the force of legitimacy," he continued. "Legitimacy creates order of the states, and legitimacy is a big factor in relations between states."
Most poll respondents living in Security Council member states support sending U.N. peacekeepers to enforce an eventual Israeli-Palestinian agreement, including majorities in China (81 percent), France (74 percent), Britain (67 percent), the United States (61 percent), and a plurality of Russians (47 percent).
Predominantly Muslim publics in the Middle East also support the proposal, including Turks (65 percent), Egyptians (64 percent), and Palestinians (63 percent).
Most publics polled would support an even higher level of U.N. commitment: If Israelis and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement, the U.N. Security Council should offer security guarantees to both Israel and its Arab neighbors.
On average, 45 percent favor the Security Council making a commitment to protect Israel if it is attacked by its Arab neighbors; 55 percent favor providing them to Arab countries if attacked by Israel.
Interviews were conducted in the Palestinian territories and 18 countries—China, India, United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico, Peru, Great Britain, France, Spain, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Thailand, and South Korea—representing 59 percent of the world’s population. (Not every public was asked every question.)
The majority in no country favors taking the Israeli side, including the United States, where 71 percent favor taking neither side. Only in Iran (64 percent) and Egypt (86 percent) did a large majority of those polled take a strong position on behalf of Palestinians, while Turkey (42 percent) maintained a smaller plurality.
Israel received the worst ratings. When asked whether Israel was "doing their part in the effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," respondents in 13 of the 15 publics offered negative views. On average, 54 percent said Israel is not playing a positive role, while just 22 percent said it is.
In predominantly Muslim populations, such as in Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, and the Palestinian territories, negative opinions of Israel were expectedly higher. And experts say that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to occupy a place of primacy in the hearts and minds of Arab populations.
"It is the prism of pain through which Arabs see the world. It trumps Iraq. It trumps the Sunni-Shia divide," said Shibley Telhami, an expert on Arab media and opinion who teaches at the University of Maryland and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center.
"If you’re an Israeli government official, what you need to note is the huge gap between Arab governments and the public on these issues that they care most about," said Telhami, "the kind of pressure that Arab governments are facing and the kind of positions that they’re taking."
Whether it is the Jordanian, Egyptian, or Saudi Arabian government, "that gap is growing," he said, as is the "degree of pessimism."
Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of the Beirut Daily Star, who attended a discussion about Telhami’s new paper, “Does the Palestinian-Israel Conflict Still Matter?” at Brookings on Tuesday, suggested that Arab populations are "shifting away from a passive or acquiescent protest into a more activist response to the conditions that plague their lives, whether it’s corruption or abuse of power or Israeli occupation or Western troops coming into the region."
Telhami cited the immense popularity of Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in the Arab world as evidence of the "defiance prism." Nasrallah is Shi’a, and although the majority of Arabs are Sunnis, the Hezbollah leader remains the most popular political figure among Arabs in the region.
"It is essentially an anti-American position, it’s an anti-Israeli position. It’s a defiance," said Telhami. "In particular it’s a defiance of Israelis and evaluation of the world through the conflict between Israel and the Arab states."
Khody Akhavi and Ali Gharib write for the Inter Press Service.
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