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Obama's Voters Clearly Have His Back If He Wants to Get Tougher with Israel

Israel faces growing international pressure to freeze its settlements -- will the U.S. join the chorus?
 
 
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When President Barack Obama said in his Cairo speech that “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” he cut to the heart of the four decade old conflict in the Occupied Territories, slicing through the thicket of “confidence building,” “security walls,” and  “road maps” that have derailed one peace attempt after another.

But has the process already gone too far? Has Tel Aviv’s policy of “creating facts on the ground” and moving over 500,000 settlers into the West Bank made disentangling the two people impossible? Do the Israelis have any interest in removing some 120 settlements, and 100 so-called “outposts”? And if Obama is serious about putting the squeeze on the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, does he have the political backing to make it stick?

On the last point, the answer would seem to be “yes.” According to a recent Zogby International poll, 50 percent of Americans think that the U.S. should “get tough” with Israel. Some 32 percent were “not sure,” and only 19 percent said, “do nothing.” But once the partisan gap is factored in, Obama supporters overwhelmingly favor “getting tough” by 71 to 18.

The poll shows strong support for Israel -- 71 percent to 21 percent -- and a negative view of Palestinians -- 25 to 66 -- but again, there were strong differences between Obama and McCain supporters. Asked if Israeli and U.S. interests were identical, Obama voters said “no” 59 to 28, while McCain voters said they were identical 78 to 15. Obama backers had a largely negative view of Netanyahu -- 49 to 29 -- while McCain supporters favored the Israeli prime minister 82 to 9.

While the Netanyahu administration has tried to rally Americans Jews to support the settlement project, according to Guttman, “On this issue, the community could find it difficult to back Netanyahu.”

Indeed, the prime minister’s reluctant endorsement of a two-state solution -- and one filled with so many caveats that it would be almost impossible for the Palestinians to accept -- might have been, in part, a response to the concerns of American Jews. According to Guttman in The Forward, “For the mainstream Jewish community…has fully embraced the idea of a two state solution and has been working to promote it within the community and among policymakers.”

In short, Americans who voted for Obama have his back if he wants to lean on Netanyahu.

The current Israeli government doesn’t even have a great deal of support at home. According to a recent Tel Aviv University poll almost two-thirds of Israelis view the settlements as a liability, not an asset, and a majority are willing to dismantle all but the largest. According to Tel Aviv University political scientist, Tamar Hermann, the Israeli public believes that “settlements do not stop terror and they use up Israeli resources.”

Which doesn’t mean they support dismantling them, or even freezing their expansion. A recent Maagar Mohot poll found that by a margin of 56 to 37, Jewish Israelis think the government should resist the Obama Administration’s call for a freeze, and 36 percent think all the settlements should be kept, while 30 percent think only smaller settlements should be abandoned.

But the poll also found out something that Washington should pay attention to: some 50 percent of those polled think that the Obama Administration is not serious about a freeze. Only 32 percent of them thought it might be a “make or break” demand, suggesting that those poll numbers might shift dramatically if Israelis thought the $2.3 billion in yearly U.S. aid, plus billions in military support might be affected.

 
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