Survey: Arabs consider Israel biggest threat to Mideast peace

WASHINGTON — A vast majority of people in 12 Arab-majority countries regard Israel as the biggest threat to achieving Middle East peace — on par with the Islamic State as a source of perceived regional instability, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

The center, an independent think tank based in Qatar, surveyed 18,000 people in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tunisia. Eighty-nine percent said they were certain or agreed to an extent about the security threat posed by Israel, while another 86 percent “disapproved of their countries’ recognition of Israel,” as a reason for their views.

Those surveyed also criticized American policy toward Arab countries, with 80 percent saying they disapproved of American handling of the Palestinian-Israel question, while disapproval of American policy toward Syria hit 77 percent, with Iraq at 78 percent and Libya at 72 percent.

A majority — 58 percent — believe the Islamic State is the “product of foreign intervention,” compared with 43 percent who think the terrorist group “is a product of the religious extremism in the Middle East” or the 35 percent who believe the group owes its existence to the policies of Arab regimes.

Nevertheless, nearly 9 of 10 disliked IS, while only 5 percent have “very positive” or “positive to some extent” views of the group.

Respondents expressed high confidence in the region’s security forces, which have long been viewed by policymakers in the West as an impediment to the democratic process. Of those surveyed, 87 percent expressed “high and moderate confidence in the armed forces,” while 70 percent said they have high confidence in security organizations, including the police.

The 2016 survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews between Sept. 10 and Dec. 30, 2016. It has a margin of error of 2 to 3 percent for each of the 12 countries.

Since the survey was conducted, U.S. President Donald Trump has twice tried to order a travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, only to be thwarted by the courts. Last week, he ordered a missile strike against Syria. Two of the countries surveyed — Iraq and Sudan — were included in the original travel ban list. Iraq was later removed.

In February, while hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Trump said he “can live with either one,” referring to a one-state or two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict even as he has continued to warn Israel against building new settlements in occupied territory.

“As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump told Netanyahu during the same White House meeting. He also called on the Palestinians to recognize the state of Israel.

“They’re going to have to do that.  There’s no way a deal can be made if they’re not ready to acknowledge a very, very great and important country,” he said.

Convincing Arabs on this point may be tough. Of those surveyed by the Arab Center, 86 percent “disapprove of their countries’ recognition of Israel,” with about half saying recognition of Israel was tied to “the establishment of a Palestinian state.”