Poll finds hope in ‘road map’ peace plan

University students interviewed last week said they were hopeful of an eventual peaceful dual-state conclusion to the more than 90-year-old land dispute.

by Nathan Hall

A public opinion poll conducted in Israel by a Jewish alumnus of the University and a Palestinian political scientist found Israelis and Palestinians overwhelmingly support President George W. Bush’s “Road Map to Peace” initiative.

But the study, released June 30, found both sides privately question the other’s intentions.

University student opinions were split on the survey but echoed some of its key findings.

“I’m very hopeful that the road map will work,” said Bayram Yenikaya, a University mathematics graduate student born in Turkey. “We all want to believe that.”

The polling project’s leader, Jacob Shamir, a journalism professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, received a journalism doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1979. His associate, Khalil Shikaki, is a political science professor at the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

“Israeli-Palestinian hostility supersedes now anything we knew in the previous intifada,” Shamir said in an e-mail interview.

Shamir said he hopes the collaboration will help make both groups more aware of the other side’s viewpoints.

Shamir and Shikaki meet occasionally at an East Jerusalem hotel, but because travel can be difficult, dangerous or impossible, they coordinate much of their work via telephone and Internet.

“I will put myself in danger if I visit the Palestinian Authority,” Shamir said. Road blocks and closures also sometimes make it difficult for Shikaki to come to Israel, Shamir said.

Shikaki knows firsthand what a potentially controversial profession he has chosen.

His last survey – which found the majority of Palestinian refugees forced to flee when the state of Israel was created in 1948 had no desire to move back – incited an angry mob to break his furniture and pelt his office with rotten eggs.

University students said they were hopeful of an eventual peaceful dual-state conclusion to the more than 90-year-old land dispute.

“Yasser Arafat’s personal interests have gotten in the way of having the promises of the ‘road map’ actually becoming fulfilled,” said political science sophomore Dan Levin, president of Hillel, the University’s Jewish student center. “I think his personal interests are obstructing real progress.”

Many international students said they are growing increasingly dissatisfied with Arafat’s and Ariel Sharon’s job performance in the past three months.

“I was really disappointed that all these extenuating outside circumstances forced (Palestine Liberation Organization Prime Minister) Mahmoud Abbas to unfortunately resign,” said recent University graduate Sumbal Mahmud. “But he couldn’t really effectively carry out his job under that administration.”

The peace process threatened to derail completely Sept. 26 when Sharon publicly confirmed that he has not ruled out the possibility of either assassinating Arafat or exiling him from the region.

“Other pollsters’ data indicate that Sharon still enjoys majority support among the Israeli public, but there is growing criticism of his performance in recent weeks,” Shamir said.

The survey, conducted June 19-26, was part of an ongoing partnership between the Palestinian Center in Ramallah, Tel Aviv, and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The study was also partly funded by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Germany.

Researchers surveyed 1,318 Palestinians in person. They also interviewed 502 Israelis and 500 West Bank and Gaza settlers by telephone.