Israeli Poll: Obama Pro-Palestinian

Israelis increasingly view Barack Obama, the US president, as supporting the Palestinian cause as he pushes for Israel to halt settlement growth in the occupied West Bank and relaunch peace talks, according to an opinion poll.

Fifty per cent of Israelis thought Obama was pro-Palestinian, while just six per cent thought he was pro-Israel, according to the poll for the Jerusalem Post newspaper released on Friday.

The results are a stark contrast to similar surveys taken during the US administration of Obama’s predecessor, George Bush, which indicated 88 per cent of Israelis thought that the US administration was pro-Israel.

The Post survey suggested that support for Obama’s stance on the Middle East had fallen significantly after he held talks with Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in Washington and gave a major speech addressing the Arab world in Cairo, Egypt.

During both events, the US president urged Israel to halt all expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land and accept the principle of an independent Palestinian state.

Blunt Language

Before Netanyahu traveled to the US in May, a similar poll had indicated that 31 per cent of  Israelis viewed Obama as pro-Israel and only 14 per cent saw him as pro-Palestinian.

The apparently strained relationship between the two new administrations is in marked contrast to that under the previous Israeli government and its main international ally.

The blunt diplomatic language has raised concerns among Israelis that Obama may distance himself from the Jewish state to improve relations with Arabs and Muslims, but Nathan Guttman, of the Jewish daily Forward, said that there was unlikely to be a major shift.

The opinion poll was published as Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, was in the US for a visit, during which tensions over the settlement issue were displayed in a news conference with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state.

Lieberman dismissed Clinton’s call for an end to the settlement building and said that Israel did not have "any intention to change the demographic balance" of the West Bank.

Settlement Support

The Jerusalem Post survey indicated that 69 per cent of Israelis were against freezing the growth of major settlement blocs, with only 27 per cent in favour and four percent expressing no opinion.

The Israeli government has said that the settlements must be allowed to expand to accommodate the "natural growth" of families there.

However, more than 50 per cent of Israelis supported removing so-called wildcat "outpost" settlements that are considered illegal under Israeli law.

About 500,000 Jewish settlers live in more than 200 settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, which were captured by Israel in 1967.

The poll by the Jerusalem Post and Smith Research surveyed 500 Israeli Jews and said it had a margin of error of 4.5 per cent.

( English and Agencies)

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