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Israel and the Palestinians

Support for US Participation in a Peacekeeping Operation

Only if a number of conditions are met would there be strong majority support for the US participating in a peacekeeping operation in the Palestinian territories. Strong majority support is almost always contingent on such an operation being UN-sponsored, clearly multilateral, and preceded by a peace agreement endorsed by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Public responses to poll questions about the US contributing troops to a future peacekeeping operation in the Middle East range from very supportive to very much opposed, depending on the description of the circumstances under which such an operation would take place. Key variables in these questions are whether or not the parties have reached a mutually acceptable agreement, whether the operation is presented as multilateral, and whether it is sanctioned by the UN.

Americans show the least support of all for the idea of the US acting alone to send troops prior to an agreement between the warring parties. An overwhelming 72% opposed "sending US troops to attempt to help end the current conflict…before a peace agreement is reached" (Time/CNN, April 2002). In the same month, 63% opposed "sending US troops to the Middle East…now to bring about a cease-fire;" 27% were in favor (Fox). The more vaguely worded question, which respondents could interpret either as referring to the present or to some time in the future, garnered more support. In June 2003, a Fox News question also found a majority of 57% opposed to sending US troops as “peacekeepers in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” The question is problematic because it does not indicate whether any agreement has been signed or whether other nations would participate. It is also preceded by a statement that “sending troops around the word is both dangerous and expensive” and muddles the scenario by suggesting that peacekeeping troops would be sent to “take military action.” Given these problems, it is surprising that 33% supported the idea. [1]

In most cases, polls about US peacekeeping in the Middle East have found a divided response. This is true when questions posited a future peace agreement, but did not strongly underline that the peacekeeping force would include other countries' troops. In an April 2002 Fox News poll, a 48% plurality supported "sending US troops...to keep the peace after a treaty has been signed;" 42% opposed the idea. Also, a Time/CNN survey found 48% opposed and 45% in favor of "sending US troops as part of a peacekeeping force after a peace agreement is reached" (April 2002).[1a]

When questions ask about having US troops join a multilateral peacekeeping force, but without mentioning a prior agreement, Americans also give divided or negative responses. Americans are also not sanguine about sending US troops into the Middle East even with UN support if efforts to forge a peace agreement appear to be failing. In May 2003, respondents were asked about the following proposal:

There is some discussion about what should happen if months go by, the road map process makes no progress and the conflict continues just as before. According to one idea, the US should press the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to have the UN Security Council make the West Bank and Gaza a UN trusteeship. A well-armed international force with troops from many countries, led by the US, would take over the area, suppress terrorist groups, dismantle some Israeli settlements, develop a democratic Palestinian state, and supervise negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership on a final settlement.
A plurality of 48% think this proposal is not a good idea, while only 38% think it is and a considerable number (14%) refused to answer. In fact, Americans are not very favorable to resolving these issues without the participation of Israelis and Palestinians, even if the US approaches the international community first. When asked whether "the United States should strongly take the initiative and formulate a detailed final plan that would specify future borders for a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, and other central issues," then have the US "seek international consensus as part of an effort to convince all parties to accept these solutions," a plurality of 46% still do not think this is a good idea, while 38% say that it is (16% refused to answer). [1b]

A narrow 49% plurality favored the US "sending in troops as part of a peacekeeping force" "in order to try and end the fighting," with 43% opposed (CBS, April 2002). An April 2002 NBC poll also received a divided response (47% in favor and 48% opposed) when it asked about sending troops "as part of a UN peacekeeping force." In a March 2002 Newsweek poll, a series of questions offered several ways in which the US could "get involved in trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and end the violence." When respondents were asked, "What about sending US troops to Israel as part of an international force with monitoring and peacekeeping responsibilities?" the idea was rejected by a strong 62% (with 32% in favor). Opposition may have been higher in this instance because 'monitoring' sounded premature without clearly indicating an agreement was in place.[2]

In one instance, a majority favored sending US troops taking part in a multilateral peacekeeping effort, even without an agreement in place. In a German Marshall Fund study in June 2003, 55% agreed with the statement "the US and Europeans should send a peace-keeping force to separate the parties" as a way to resolve the conflict. Forty percent disagreed. This may have received majority support due to the US/European thrust of the question (rather than the more unspecified multilateral or UN context), or perhaps there was more response acquiescence to the agree/disagree format. Moreover, this was during a period in which ongoing conflict had diminished from 2002 and in which the US already had thousands of troops in the region.[2a]

If the question supposed that an agreement between the parties has been completed and that the US would take part in a multilateral effort, a majority supports sending troops. In a June 2004 CCFR poll, 52% favored the use of US troops "to be part of an international peacekeeping force to enforce a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians" (43% opposed). In the 2002 CCFR poll, during a particularly bleak moment in Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a surprising 65% favored and just 30% opposed sending troops.

The most complete formulation of the circumstances surrounding a possible US peacekeeping role in the region receives the most widespread support. In PIPA's May 2003 poll, the question spelled out that the operation would follow a peace agreement, would be UN-sponsored, and that other countries would be contributing troops as well. A large majority of 67% supported the "US participating, together with a number of other countries, in a UN-sponsored peacekeeping force to monitor and enforce the [Road Map] agreement." Similarly, in PIPA's May 2002 poll, with peace agreement conditions clarified, an overwhelming 77% said they would then support the US contributing troops. [3]

One poll question suggests that support for the idea of US involvement in peacekeeping increased as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensified over April and May 2002. In April 2002, 47% supported and 46% opposed "the United States sending military troops to help stop violence and keep peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" (Investor's Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor). In May the same question got a modest 54% majority in favor, with 38% opposed. It is interesting that support for US involvement in peacekeeping did not decrease and may have increased, in spite of the sharp and highly visible deterioration of the situation between April and May.[4]



Report Contents

View PIPA/Knowledge Networks study [pdf files]
Americans on the Middle East Road Map

[full report]
May 30, 2003