Israelis Wary of U.S.-Backed Peace Process

(AP Photo/David Silverman, Pool)
This story was filed by CBS Radio News correspondent Robert Berger in Jerusalem.

Amid strong U.S. pressure for a settlement freeze, there is growing skepticism among Israelis about America's stance in the Middle East peace process.

A poll published Friday in The Jerusalem Post shows that 64 percent of Israeli Jews believe Israel cannot trust international pledges for its security in return for dismantling settlements and withdrawing from the West Bank.

Furthermore, Israelis want a quid pro quo: 71 percent believe that Palestinians must freeze West Bank construction if Israel is forced to do the same.

The settlement issue has led to a deepening rift between Israel and Washington since hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assumed power three months ago. The Obama administration is demanding a complete freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and disputed East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu says he won't build new settlements in the West Bank, but construction will continue to allow for "natural growth" in the ones which already exist.

The Prime Minister has taken a harder line on East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.

"United Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel," Netanyahu told the Cabinet on Sunday, and "Israeli sovereignty in the city is indisputable."

He made the statement after Israel's Ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, was summoned to the State Department and told that an East Jerusalem housing project for Jews, financed by an American Jewish millionaire, must be stopped.

The poll also showed deep Israeli distrust of the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who is regarded as a moderate by the West.

Of the Israelis surveyed, 62 percent said the Palestinian leadership wants to establish an Arab state in place of Israel; only 27 percent said the Palestinians were hoping for two nations living side by side in peace.

While Netanyahu wants to improve Israel's all-important ties with the U.S., the poll gives him the kind of public support he needs to resist American pressure.

  • Robert Berger

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