Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iranian attitudes toward Israel: the TFT poll

The now-notorious poll of the Iranian electorate conducted in May by Terror Free Tomorrow and the New America Foundation may not have shed much light on the final presidential vote, given that less than half of those surveyed expressed a preference for any candidate, and that the poll was conducted a month before the vote in a short campaign that changed radically in the final weeks. But its basic methodology was sound. And the survey does contain a wealth of data about Iranian beliefs on a wide range of issues.

That includes some chilling -- albeit somewhat contradictory -- data on Iranians' attitudes toward Israel. The 1000 respondents were asked which statement was closest to their own opinons: "I would favor a peace treaty recognizing the State of Israel, if an independent Palestinian State is established" or "I oppose any peace treaty recognizing the State of Israel, and I favor all Muslims continuing to fight until there is no state of Israel in the Middle East." 269 (26.9%) favored the peace treaty; 615 (61.5%) opposed any treaty and favored fighting until Israel, pardon the interpolation, vanishes from the page of time. 8.9% didn't know; 2.7% refused to answer.

Respondents were also asked, however, about their attitudes toward "several proposals which some Iranian diplomats were willing to give to the United States in return for normal relations." Among them: "recognizing Israel and Palestine each as separate, independent states." Here, 35% strongly favored the two-state solution; 17.1% somewhat favored it; 9.1% somewhat opposed, 27.2% strongly opposed; 10.3% didn't know, and 1.4% refused to answer.

Almost twice as many respondents were willing to support a two-state solution in this context as in the prior one. It would appear that a good number of Iranians are willing to put their hatred of Israel on ice in exchange for normal relations with the U.S.

Iranians also consider Israel to be the country that poses the greatest threat to Iran -- with some justification, given Netanyahu's loud saber rattling. 44.1% said that Israel was the greatest threat to their country, vs. 37.9% for the United States and just 2.1% for Russia -- which, incidentally, might indicate that Mousavi's recent effort to portray Ahmadinijad as a Russian tool will not have much resonance.

I must say that I will remember Iranian policy preferences toward Israel when reading accounts of Iranians' apparent growing enthusiasm for nonviolence as a means to effect political change at home. At the same time, one might hope that success in nonviolent resistance at home might dispose Iranians more favorably toward nonviolent resolutions of conflicts abroad. Indeed, a major reason for Mousavi's strong support is Iranians' wish for a less confrontational foreign policy, a wish demonstrated by the response to the second question about Israel cited above. In fact the subtitle of the TFT report on their Iranian poll is "Iranians Continue to Back Compromise and Better Relations with US and West." But it's worth remembering that if Iranians do indeed manage to unclench their collective fist, they may yet hold a rock under the armpit for Israel.

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