- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2008

Amid rising cynicism about the prospects of peace, support among Israelis for the U.S.-led “road map” has slipped below 50 percent for the first time since 2003, according to a recent poll.

The poll, conducted May 27 to June 5 in Israel as well as the Palestinian territories, found only 49 percent of Israelis support the peace plan proposed by the Clinton administration. Support for the plan had reached up to 64 percent in previous polls since 2005.

Among Palestinians, support for the plan was at 46 percent - one percentage point lower than in December.

The poll, which has a margin of error of three percentage points, was conducted jointly by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

President Bush hopes to reach a final agreement on a Palestinian state before he leaves office early next year. Several Israeli and Palestinian officials, however, doubt that is possible.

“[Mr. Bush’s] effort is going to be too little too late,” said Russell Stone, director of the Center for Israeli studies at American University. “I don’t think he is going to succeed in reaching any breakthroughs.”

Analysts attribute the fall in support for the peace plan to the rise in cynicism among the Israeli public.

“This [decline] is a culmination of the skepticism, cynicism, or just lack of belief on the part of the Israelis about the possibilities of peace,” said Paul Scham, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

“Israelis felt that they held on to the hopes of peace for quite a while after the collapse of the Camp David conference eight years ago,” Mr. Scham said. “But at this point I think there is overwhelming cynicism that the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government simply are not able to produce anything and that it is pointless to try.”

The U.S.-led peace plan is based on parameters laid out by former President Bill Clinton after the second Camp David conference in 2000, which emphasized the need for an independent Palestinian state.

A large majority of Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state, but only 28 percent believe the chances of establishing it in the next five years are fair or high, while 69 percent believe the chances are nonexistent or weak.

The continued rocket attacks and suicide bombings in Israel over the past several years are behind the growing cynicism in the Israeli public, said Ariel Cohen, a specialist on the Arab-Israeli conflict at the Heritage Foundation.

“The Israeli public was very committed to a negotiated solution for decades,” Mr. Cohen said. “Every Israeli child grows up singing songs about peace, but even after that conditioning the population is becoming disappointed because the other side is clinging to terrorism.”

Mr. Stone also said continued Palestinian attacks were playing a part in feeding the skepticism about peace.

“After the [Israeli] withdrawal from Gaza a couple years ago rocketing of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip began immediately,” he said. “This has been a great tactical mistake for the Palestinians because it lessens the willingness among the Israeli population to make any further concessions.”

The status of Jerusalem - which both Israel and Palestinians claim - and return of Palestinian refugees to the territories are two key points of disagreement. The Palestinians also complain that Israel continues to allow settlements on the West Bank in violation of the road-map agreement.

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