Arab Americans and American Jews Want Peace and an End to the Occupation

In the flush of excitement that greeted the 2002 release of the Geneva Agreements (a framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiated by leading, though "unofficial", Israelis and Palestinians), the Arab American Institute (AAI) and Americans Friends of Peace Now (APN) polled Arab Americans and American Jews to test their support for the terms of the agreement. We found that not only did both communities demonstrate significant support for a resolution to the conflict along the lines of the Geneva Agreements, they also agreed on a host of other issues related to U.S. Middle East policy.

Five years later our two groups undertook a follow-up survey. We commissioned Zogby International (ZI) and, during the week of May 22, 2007, we polled 501 Arab Americans and an identical number of American Jews. What we found was that despite the violence and pain that bloodied the Middle East during the intervening years, the two communities still show significant agreement on almost every issue central to Arab-Israeli peace and U.S. policy in the region.

Strong majorities of both Arab Americans and American Jews still support the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both want an end to the forty years of occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (two-thirds of American Jews and 89% of Arab Americans). Over eighty percent of both Arab Americans and American Jews agree that the U.S. should support negotiations between Israel and Syria, and over three-quarters of both communities favor a diplomatic approach over a military confrontation with Iran.

Furthermore, eighty percent of both communities agree with the finding of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group that "The United States will not be able to achieve goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict" and seventy percent of American Jews and eighty-two percent of Arab Americans support the 2002 Arab League Peace Initiative as the "basis for negotiations."

What is striking about the results is the depth of the agreement. In many instances, the responses given by the two groups are near identical or, at least, within the margin of error of each other.

Strong majorities of both communities rate the Clinton Administration's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict as effective, while only an identical twenty-percent of each rate Bush's efforts as effective. And almost two-thirds of Arab Americans and American Jews say they would be more likely to support a 2008 presidential candidate who promised to "take an active role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," with nearly sixty percent of each community saying that they would be more likely to support a candidate who supported the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. Ninety percent of Arab Americans American Jews agree that it is important for their two communities to work together to support a Middle East peace where "Palestinians and Israelis each have the right to live in an independent state of their own."

In fact, there were only a few areas of disagreement. When asked how the Bush Administration should pursue Arab-Israeli peace, two thirds of Arab Americans agree that the President should "steer a middle course" between the Israelis and the Palestinians. American Jews, on the other hand, are divided, with forty-four percent saying the Administration should support Israel and forty percent saying "steer a middle course."

Both communities strongly support the statement "Israelis have a right to live in a secure and independent state of their own" (ninety-eight percent of American Jews and eighty-eight percent of Arab Americans); and the statement "Palestinians have the right to live in a secure and independent state of their own" (ninety percent of American Jews, ninety-six percent of Arab Americans). But they don't think that about each other. Only thirty-four percent of American Jews believe that Arab Americans support the Israeli right noted above, while a significantly higher sixty percent of Arab Americans believe American Jews support the Palestinian right.

t can be hoped that when the results of this AAI/APN poll become better known in both communities, they can provide the impetus for joint action in support of mutually shared goals.

Aside from providing the basis for better understanding and joint action, the poll demonstrates the fallacy, fostered by groups like AIPAC (the pro-Israel lobby) and believed by too many politicians, that Arab Americans and American Jews are poles apart in their views of Middle East peace. They are not.

Forty years into the occupation, both communities are saying "enough." They want the violence and occupation to end. They want a comprehensive Middle East peace, and they want the kind of U.S. leadership that will work to make that peace a reality.