Arab Americans & American Jews Agree

James Zogby’s Column

I’ve always maintained that for there to be an effective U.S. policy pressing for a just Middle East peace, there had to be a U.S. constituency that demanded such a policy.  The results of a recent poll establishes that such a constituency exists among strong majorities of Arab Americans and American Jews-both of whom agree on the general outlines of a just peace plan.

It may be surprising to some that despite more than two years of terrible violence and tragedy and growing polarization in the Middle East, Arab Americans and American Jews remain committed to support for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This was but one of the findings of a special poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute (AAI) and Americans for Peace Now (APN).  The poll, conducted by Zogby International of New York, interviewed 500 Arab Americans and 500 American Jews about a number of U.S. policy and Middle East peace issues.  

What was most striking about the results were the many points of convergence between the two communities.  For example, more than 90% of the respondents in both communities report that they closely follow Middle East news.  And majorities in both communities say that they are pessimistic about the prospects for Middle East peace (six in 10 Arabs, and three-quarters of American Jews).

Neither Arab Americans nor American Jews give U.S. President George W. Bush high ratings for his handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  In fact, both groups give the President near identical negative ratings-Jews rating Bush’s performance 28% positive and 70% negative and Arab Americans giving the President a 26%/67% net negative score.

While the negative assessments are the same, it appears from the data in the poll that the reasons behind each communities’ concerns are somewhat different.  A significant number of American Jews, it appears, fault the Administration for being too disengaged from the search for peace, while a substantial number of Arab Americans critique the Administration for showing too much support for Israel.

Interestingly, when asked how the President should pursue Middle East peace, pluralities in both communities agreed that the Administration should be more balanced and not favor either side.       

Where the strongest agreement exists between the two groups is in their mutual support for two “independent and secure states” for Israelis and Palestinians.

More than 95% of Arab Americans support a “secure and independent” Palestine and a “secure and independent” Israel.  Meanwhile, 87% of American Jews, support such a state for Palestinians, while more than 95% support an “secure and independent Israel”.

And when given the broad outlines of a compromise peace proposal both Arab Americans and American Jews largely agreed.  Specifically the proposal presented followed the Taba outline and asked:

Would you support a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that included the establishment of an independent, secure Palestinian state alongside an independent, secure Israeli state, the evacuation of most settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of a border roughly along the June 4, 1967 border, a Palestinian right of return only to inside a new Palestinian state, and establishing Jerusalem as the shared capital of both countries?

52% of American Jews agreed to this plan, only 30% disagreed.  79% of Arab Americans agreed and only 11% disagreed.

One interesting area of disconnect between the two groups comes in their perceptions of each other.  For example, although 95% of Arab Americans support a secure and independent Israel, only 34% of American Jews thought that Arab Americans held such a view, while 41% felt that Arab Americans did not support it.  At the same while 86% of American Jews support a secure and independent Palestine, some 50% of Arab Americans indicated that they believed American Jews shared this view, with 30% believing that they did not.

Never the less, very solid majorities of both Arab Americans (94%) and American Jews (87%) believed that it was important for the two communities to “work together to achieve a Middle East peace where Palestinians and Israelis each have the right to live in an independent state of their own.”

What the AAI/APN poll demonstrates is that there are substantial areas of common ground on which Arab Americans and American Jews can work together to press for a balanced U.S. peace policy.  Already efforts are underway in several communities around the United States and nationally for Arab Americans and American Jews to come together to explore how to translate their shared commitment into a program for change.

After two years of violence that has destroyed lives, shattered hopes and brutally transformed the West Bank and Gaza into a devastated and impoverished land-it is important that many Arab Americans and American Jews still seek a way forward based on mutual rights and respect.  What the AAI/APN poll tells us is that while both communities have obvious deep feelings and attachments to different sides in this struggle, and while they may differ in many areas, they can find common agreement and work for peace.

Dr. James J. Zogby is President of Arab American Institute in Washington, DC.