PRINCETON, NJ -- Acting on the "joint understanding" they signed in Annapolis, Md., last month, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority today start the hard work of bilateral negotiations aimed at reaching a final comprehensive peace accord by the end of 2008.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are not just speaking for themselves when they talk about seizing this fresh opportunity to broker a diplomatic solution to the decades-old conflict. Gallup polling in the region finds a large majority of both peoples in favor of the peace process. (See "Support for Peace Shifts Among Israelis, Palestinians" in Related Items.) Additionally, most Palestinians and Israelis perceive that peace will reap a number of tangible benefits for their countries.
The vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis see security and economic prosperity as the chief benefits of peace. Three-quarters or more of Israelis and Palestinians say attaining a peace treaty is very important to securing each benefit in their country.
At least two-thirds in Israel and in the Palestinian terrorities also believe peace is very important to international respect for their countries.
In essence, Israelis and Palestinians seem to recognize that the stakes for their respective countries at the peace table are high, and failure risks continued violence, condemnation in the international community, and a damper on economic activity.
An even greater incentive for Palestinians and Israelis to support peace negotiations may stem from perceptions about how peace benefits their personal well-being. To ascertain that, Gallup asked respondents to rate how important achieving peace is "to the future facing you and your family."
In the Palestinian territories, the association between peace and future well-being is extraordinarily high. Eight in 10 Palestinians say peace is very important to their own and their family's future. The picture is quite different in Israel, where slightly more than half (56%) believe peace is crucial to their own and their family's future.
Fewer Israelis than in the recent past say peace is very important to their personal futures. Gallup's 2006 poll in Israel found 70% saying peace was very important to this goal. Fewer Israelis also associate peace with Israelis' personal safety, but more now say peace is very important to economic prosperity and international respect for Israel.
In contrast, Palestinians' perception of the importance of peace for each goal is as high as or higher than it was in January 2006.
What does all of this mean for the new peace negotiations?
Israelis and Palestinians who perceive that peace is very important to improving national and personal well-being are much more likely than others to say they support the peace process. In Israel, support for the process is nearly twice as high among the former group as among the latter. In the Palestinian territories, the association is also high, particularly in terms of strong support.
Olmert and Abbas both face vigorous domestic opposition from the factions opposed to the peace process, but they can fortify their positions by energizing the majority that does support it. One way to do this is to emphasize why peace is important -- not just as an abstract good -- but as the concrete path to a better future for the country and its citizens. Yes, making peace involves engaging with a reviled enemy and eventually compromising on sacred values. But peace also means security; it means prosperity; it means having a respected seat at the international table, and it means offering your family the promise of a brighter future.
Palestinians appear to be ripe for hearing this message. The task could be more difficult in Israel, where some enthusiasm for the peace process has been lost since early 2006. But the majority in Israel remains supportive of it and mindful of the benefits.
Results from Israel are based on face-to-face interviews conducted July 15-Aug. 6, 2007, with a randomly selected sample of 1,001 Israeli residents, aged 15 and older. For results based on the Israeli sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points.
Results from the Palestinian territories are based on face-to-face interviews conducted July 9-23, 2007, with a randomly selected sample of 1,000 Palestinian residents, aged 15 and older. For results based on the Palestinian sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.