Nearly a quarter of a century of formal peace between Jordan and Israel and 40 years of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty have resulted in 61 per cent of Israelis; Hebrew, Russians and Arabs, having a favourable view of Jordan and 56 per cent of Egypt, according to a comparative research project carried out in the fall of 2017 in Jordan, Palestine and Israel by the renowned German Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in collaboration with NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. When broken down, this overall view has significant background and linguistic differences are revealed from the overall view.
While Russian and Hebrew speaking Israelis have a favourable view of Jordan at 59 per cent each, 77 per cent of Arabic speaking Israelis have a favourable view of Jordan. Perceptions of Jordanian people among Israelis are also positive; 60 per cent have a favourable view of Jordanians. However, there are significant differences between Hebrew speaking Israelis at 58 per cent, Russian speaking Israelis at 54 per cent and Arabic speaking Israelis at 85 per cent viewing Jordanians favourably. When one breaks down the 56 per cent of Israelis who have a favourable view of Egypt, linguistically 52 per cent of Hebrew speakers, 57 per cent of Russian speakers and 74 per cent of Arabic speakers have favourable view of Egypt.
Despite many deep and temporal political debacles over the years, Israelis have a positive perception of peace treaties. A total of 79 per cent of Israelis believe the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty has a positive impact on the Middle East, while only 14 per cent think it has a negative impact. The perception of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty follows a similar pattern; 81 per cent of Israelis believe the treaty has a positive impact on the Middle East, while 16 per cent think it has a negative impact.
Although Jordan and Egypt have positively perceived peace treaties with Israel, 34 per cent of Israelis still have unfavourable view of Jordan and 40 per cent of Egypt. These negative views are particularly high among Hebrew and Russian speaking Israelis.
Furthermore, unfavourable views of other Middle Eastern countries are rather high among Israelis. Unfavourable views of Iran expectedly rank the highest at 92 per cent, followed by Turkey at 85 per cent, Palestine at 76 per cent, Qatar at 67 per cent and Saudi Arabia at 57 per cent. Overall, 72 per cent have an unfavourable view of the Arab League. For Saudi Arabia, 67 per cent of Hebrew speaking Israelis and 58 per cent of Russian speaking Israelis have unfavorable views of the kingdom. In contrast, three quarters of Arabic speaking Israelis have a favourable view of Saudi Arabia. As for other international actors, 68 per cent of Israelis have an unfavourable view of the UN, 60 per cent have an unfavourable view of Russia, while Israeli public opinion is split equally over the EU.
Empirical evidence suggests that Israeli public opinion is neither uniform nor unchangeable on war and peace. Three quarters of Israelis think peace between Israelis and Palestinians is important for regional stability and agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prevents deeper Israeli-Jordanians relations. Suggesting a propensity towards building relationships with the potential to foster peace, 70 per cent agree that the Israeli government should do more to improve relations with Jordan. However, these public attitudes do not always prevail in official Israeli policies for a wide range of political and localised reasons.
Although 51 per cent of Israelis agree that there should be a Palestinian state, little action is taken by Israeli governments to materialise this position. Israel faces a serious challenge, as 44 per cent of Israelis disagree with the idea of establishing a Palestinian state. This divide is perpetuated by an exclusion of Arabic-speaking Israelis from decision making processes, giving a disproportionately strong voice to other strong Israeli groups, such as Hebrew and Russian speakers, a majority of whom is against a Palestinian state. Disagreements over pathways to peace are still deep as 60 per cent disapprove of the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative. Changing these attitudes requires bold leadership and actions to unify the peace camp inside Israel, especially when the majority of Israelis are living a state of denial about Palestinians’ rights.
Despite these peace-challenging attitudes among Israelis, there are examples that give hope for future peace in the region. According to the same survey, two thirds of Israelis agree that His Majesty King Abdullah plays an important role in the region and serves as a stabilising force, a quarter disagree. Moreover, two thirds have a favourable view of King Abdullah and 70 per cent said Israeli-Jordanians relationship is based on common interests. Israelis view King Abdullah more positively than any other leader in the region. However, the most recent action by Jordan to discontinue land rental to Israel in Ghumar and Baqoura may cause Israeli public opinion to describe relations between Jordan and Israel as weaker than they were in the fall of 2017 when 46 per cent described them as strong, while 48 per cent said they are weak. Though different cultural and linguistic groups in Israel disagree over the best pathway to peace, there is hope to be found that the general population agrees over a more peaceful future for the region.
The writer is chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions