Poll: Israelis view Obama favourably despite settlement spat

Other News Materials 19 March 2010 14:55 (UTC +04:00)

Most Israelis view US President Barack Obama favourably - despite the current dispute over construction in East Jerusalem, according to an opinion poll published Friday.

But many Israelis are adamant their country should continue to build in occupied East Jerusalem, even at the cost of a rift with Washington, said the Dialogue Institute survey, commissioned by Haaretz.

Some 51 per cent thought Obama's approach toward Israel was "to the point," while another 18 per cent thought it was "friendly," said the poll, DPA reported.

About a fifth (21 per cent) considered it "hostile," while the remaining 10 per cent had no opinion.

Most Israelis (56 per cent) disagreed with charges by some right-wing activists that Obama was "anti-Semitic." Just over a quarter (27 per cent) agreed with that charge, while 17 per cent did not know.

Almost half (48 per cent) said Israel must continue to build in all of Jerusalem, even if that meant a clash with the US. A slightly smaller percentage (41 per cent) said construction in East Jerusalem should stop until the end of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday, and proposed measures that would enable indirect negotiations with the Palestinians to take place, despite their fury over an Israeli announcement to build some 1,600 apartment in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo.

That announcement came in the midst of a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden and prompted Washington's envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, to postpone a visit to Israel and the West Bank.

After Netanyahu's telephone conversation with Clinton, the State Department announced that Mitchell would now be arriving this weekend.

According to Israeli officials, Mitchell will be arriving on Sunday, prior to Netanyahu's visit to Washington, where the Israeli leader would hold talks with Obama and Biden, despite the recent crisis.

The content of Netanyahu's conversation with Clinton was not disclosed, and the premier's spokesman, Mark Regev, would not comment on the details of the Israeli premier's proposal to the secretary of state.

Washington Post blogger Jackson Diehl, quoting Israel's ambassador to the US who had been deeply engaged in the back channel talks between the two governments, said the Israelis would not cancel the Ramat Shlomo project.

But they would give assurances that groundbreaking would begin only in two or three years.

Israel would also avoid publicizing further construction decisions in Jerusalem - the result being not a construction freeze in East Jerusalem, but a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu also again promised more confidence-building measures, including removing more military roadblocks in the West Bank.

The package of measures was unanimously approved by a forum of seven senior Israeli cabinet ministers, whom Netanyahu had convened over the last days for intense discussions on the issue, his office said.

The Haaretz-Dialog poll questioned 499 Israelis - the standard in Israel - and had a margin of error of 4.3 per cent.