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US partisan divide on Palestine-Israel deepens

79% Republicans say they sympathise more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared with just 27% Democrats

Image Credit: AP
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Occupied Jerusalem.
Gulf News

Washington: In the United States, the partisan divide in Middle East sympathies, for Israel or the Palestinians, is now wider than at any point since 1978. Currently, 79 per cent of Republicans say they sympathise more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared with just 27 per cent of Democrats.

Since 2001, the share of Republicans sympathising more with Israel than the Palestinians has increased 29 percentage points, from 50 per cent to 79 per cent. Over the same period, the share of Democrats saying this has declined 11 points, from 38 per cent to 27 per cent.

The latest national survey by Pew Research Centre, conducted January 10-15 among 1,503 adults, found that 42 per cent say President Donald Trump is “striking the right balance” in the situation in the Middle East, while 30 per cent say he favours Israel too much (just 3 per cent say Trump sides too much with the Palestinians; 25 per cent do not offer an opinion).

  …the partisan divide has widened considerably, especially over the past two decades. The share of Republicans who sympathise with Israel has never been higher, dating back four decades


At a similar point in Barack Obama’s presidency, 47 per cent of Americans said he had struck a proper balance in dealing with the Middle East; 21 per cent said he sided too much with the Palestinians, while 7 per cent said he favoured Israel too much.

The survey found that while Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided in views of Israel, so too do they differ markedly in opinions about Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

Nearly three times as many Republicans (52 per cent) as Democrats (18 per cent) have favourable impressions of Israel’s leader.

About half of Americans say a two-state solution is possible in the Middle East: 49 per cent say a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state “to coexist peacefully,” while 39 per cent say this is not possible. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say a two-state solution is possible (58 per cent vs. 40 per cent).

When asked about the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, 46 per cent of Americans say they sympathise more with the Israelis, 16 per cent say they sympathise more with the Palestinians and about four-in-ten (38 per cent) either volunteer that their sympathies are with both (5 per cent), neither (14 per cent) or that they do not know (19 per cent). The overall balance of opinion has fluctuated only modestly since 1978, when 45 per cent said they sympathised more with Israel, 14 per cent with the Palestinians and 42 per cent could not decide.

  … a plurality (42% ) of Americans say that Trump is “striking the right balance” on Middle East policy. Three-in-ten (30%) say Trump favours Israel too much, while just 3% say Trump favours the Palestinians too much


But the partisan divide has widened considerably, especially over the past two decades. The share of Republicans who sympathise with Israel has never been higher, dating back four decades.

Nearly eight-in-ten Republicans (79 per cent) sympathise more with Israel than the Palestinians, while just 6 per cent sympathise more with the Palestinians; another 7 per cent say they sympathise with both or neither, while 9 per cent say they do not know.

As was the case last year, Democrats are divided in views of the Middle East conflict:

Currently, 27 per cent of Democrats say they sympathise more with Israel, while 25 per cent say they sympathise more with the Palestinians; another 23 per cent say they sympathise with neither or both sides and one-quarter (25 per cent) say they don’t know. Democrats also were divided last year, when 33 per cent said they sympathised with Israel and 31 per cent said the Palestinians. Since then, the share of Democrats saying they don’t know has increased from 17 per cent to 25 per cent and the share saying they sympathise with both or neither has ticked up slightly from 19 per cent to 23 per cent.

As recently as two years ago, in April 2016, Democrats were more likely to sympathise more with Israel (43 per cent) than with the Palestinians (29 per cent), with 16 per cent saying they sympathised with both or neither.

Among Democrats, the decline over the last few years in those who say they sympathise more with Israel is seen both among liberals and among conservatives and moderates.

The share of liberal Democrats who sympathise more with Israel than the Palestinians has declined from 33 per cent to 19 per cent since 2016. Currently, nearly twice as many liberal Democrats say they sympathise more with the Palestinians than with Israel (35 per cent vs. 19 per cent); 22 per cent of liberal Democrats sympathise with both sides or neither side and 24 per cent do not offer an opinion.

Moderate and conservative Democrats continue to sympathise more with Israel (35 per cent) than the Palestinians (17 per cent). However, the share of conservative and moderate Democrats who sympathise more with Israel has declined 18 percentage points since 2016 (from 53 per cent to 35 per cent).

There has been less change since 2016 among Republicans: Large majorities of both conservative Republicans (81 per cent) and moderate and liberal Republicans (70 per cent) continue to say they sympathise more with Israel than the Palestinians.

As in the past, there are wide religious differences in Middle East sympathies. White evangelical Protestants continue to overwhelmingly sympathise with Israel: 78 per cent say this, while just 5 per cent sympathise more with the Palestinians.

Other religious groups sympathise more with Israel than the Palestinians, though by much smaller margins. Religiously unaffiliated people are divided: 29 per cent sympathise more with the Palestinians, 26 per cent more with Israel and 24 per cent say they side with both or neither.

At this early point in his term, a plurality (42 per cent) of Americans say that Trump is “striking the right balance” when it comes to Middle East policy. Three-in-ten (30 per cent) say Trump favours Israel too much, while just 3 per cent say Trump favours the Palestinians too much; 25 per cent do not offer an opinion.

At a roughly comparable point in Obama’s presidency (April of his second year in office), 47 per cent said he struck the right balance, while more said he favoured the Palestinians (21 per cent) than Israel (7 per cent) too much.

Today, nearly half of Democrats (46 per cent) say Trump favours Israel too much, while just 21 per cent say he is striking the right balance. In 2010, more Republicans said Obama supported the Palestinians too much (38 per cent) than said he struck the right balance.

Trump gets high marks from his own party for handling the Middle East (73 per cent of Republicans say he is striking the right balance). Eight years ago, 66 per cent of Democrats said the same about Obama.

Opinions of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, are basically unchanged from last year. About as many say they have a favourable view (31 per cent) as an unfavourable opinion (28 per cent) of Netanyahu; 41 per cent express no opinion of Israel’s prime minister.

Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, have positive views of Netanyahu on balance. Six-in-ten conservative Republicans (60 per cent) view Netanyahu favourably, while just 13 per cent have an unfavourable opinion.

Democrats’ views of Netanyahu are much more negative. And among liberal Democrats, more than three times as many have an unfavourable view of Netanyahu (49 per cent) than a favourable opinion (15 per cent).

Americans continue to be divided in their views of whether or not a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully. About half (49 per cent) say that it is possible, while about four-in-ten (39 per cent) say it is not.

Views about prospects for a two-state solution are correlated with Middle East sympathies: Among those who sympathise more with Israel, 40 per cent say a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinians state to coexist peacefully. Among those who sympathise more with the Palestinians, 64 per cent say a two-state solution is possible.

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