Haviv Rettig Gur , THE JERUSALEM POST
Almost two-thirds of Israeli Jews support sending NATO troops to the West Bank in a peacekeeping capacity, according to a poll conducted by Jerusalem-based KEEVOON Research and set to be released on Wednesday.
Israeli Jews supported the presence of NATO peacekeepers in Palestinian areas by 62 percent to 34%, the study found. But that support was not shared among Israeli Arabs, who opposed the idea by 44% to 24% - though a third said they did not know or refused to answer the question.
"We are seeing a change in the readiness for third-party intervention in the conflict," according to Dr. Lars Hansel, head of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung office in Jerusalem, which commissioned the study.
"Three or four years back, there was no readiness for international involvement, but I think this changed because of the EU monitoring mission in Rafah, which was seen positively, and the German marines deployed on the Lebanese coast, who are seen [by Israelis] as a welcome development. We are clearly sensing a shift in discourse in Israel about this," Hansel said.
Indeed, a majority of respondents (54%) supported outright Israeli membership in NATO (33% did not). Support rose to 60% when only Jewish responses were counted.
This high support was almost identical among Jerusalem and Tel Aviv residents - 65% and 64%, respectively - suggesting that this view cut across social, religious and political divisions. A similar majority was maintained among the voters of all major parties, including Labor (70%), Israel Beiteinu (67%), Kadima (63%) and the Likud (59%).
The study also found that more than two-thirds of Israelis (69%) would like to join the European Union, with just 18% opposing the idea. Support was higher among Jews (75%, with 15% opposing) than among Arabs (40% vs 30% opposing).
To test the strength of this support, the survey presented a hypothetical situation in which "Israelis would be able to live or work anywhere in Europe, the shekel would have to be replaced eventually with the euro, and the Law of Return might be amended."
Even then, support for joining the EU narrowly defeated opposition by 44% to 43%.
According to Hansel, "there is a general attraction to the EU, which is interesting because it is based not only on economic issues, but also on values. The study showed that Israelis liked the EU in part because it promotes democracy and pluralism. For Israelis, the EU stands for certain values and a certain kind of prosperity."
Nearly half of Israelis welcomed EU aid to the Palestinians.
After being told that "the European Union is the largest donor to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and is committed to improving their humanitarian and economic situation," 47% of Israelis said this caused their support for the European organization to increase, while 37% said it diminished their support.
Similarly, 54% said the EU's support for a two-state solution encouraged them to support the EU, while 34% said it hurt their support.
Israelis were less forgiving on the question of a potential EU dialogue with Hamas, however, as 59% said it would reduce their support for the EU. And though they generally held a high opinion of the European organization (63% favorable), Israelis were evenly split (36% to 34%) on whether it had advanced or impeded the peace process in recent years.
Unlike with NATO, opinion on the European Union seemed to depend heavily on political and religious belief and age. Large majorities of Kadima, Labor and Meretz voters and most Israelis over 51 said they liked the European umbrella organization, while much of the opposition came from large segments of the young Israeli population, the Orthodox, and voters for Arab parties.
The study asked Israelis to rate their opinions of several well-known foreign leaders. The results showed that Israelis were as susceptible to the charisma of the new American president as people from any European country: Barack Obama was the most popular of the world leaders, with a favorability rating of 74% and just 11% saying they had an "unfavorable" view of him.
The high figures indicate that Obama's popularity is widespread even among Israel's political Right.
After Obama, Middle East negotiator and former British prime minister Tony Blair is the next-most popular foreign leader, with 68% favorable to 14% unfavorable.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy came third with 64%. That marks a doubling of support for the French presidency compared to Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac. In 2007, Chirac had 29% approval and 63% disapproval among Israelis.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana came in last among foreign leaders mentioned in the poll, with 26% approval and 28% disapproval.
The study put a particular focus on Israelis' views of Germany, finding that two-thirds had a favorable opinion of the country. Fully 62% of Israelis believe Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor, improves the country's image abroad.
The survey included a battery of other questions.
Asked about their main concern vis-a-vis their government, Israelis said they were overwhelmingly more concerned about the economy than foreign policy by a margin of 61% to 12%.
In the wake of February's election (the study was conducted from April 1 to 5), the poll found a significant swing toward optimism among Israelis compared with the last poll from 2007. Two years ago, fully 77% of respondents said the country was going in the wrong direction. By 2009, that figure had dropped to 50%.
However, Israelis' views of Turkey took a sharp turn for the worse, in the wake of the bitter diplomatic dispute between the two countries over Operation Cast Lead in January. Approval for Turkey dropped from 65% in 2007 to just 34% in the current study.
The survey also questioned Hebrew-speaking respondents about the countries from which their grandparents had come, concluding that 40% of Israeli Jews had European origins and were likely eligible for European citizenship. The 2007 poll found a similar figure of 36%.
The KEEVOON poll was directed by Mitchell Barak, funded by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and advised academically by Dr. Sharon Pardo of the Center for the Study of European Politics and Society at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba. It questioned 600 participants - 500 Jews polled in Hebrew and 100 Arabs polled in Arabic.