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Britons palestinians { April 24 2002 }

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More Britons support Palestinians, says poll
Alan Travis, home affairs editor

Wednesday April 24, 2002

British voters who say they are more sympathetic towards the Palestinians outnumber by a factor of two to one those who say they support Israel, according to the findings of this month's Guardian/ICM opinion poll.

But only a minority of British voters have a firm view on the issue, with 28% backing the Palestinians and 14% supporting Israel.

For while those who have a committed view of the Middle East conflict tilt towards the Palestinian cause, the ICM survey shows that the overwhelming majority of British voters take a more neutral approach.

Some 14% of those polled said they sympathised equally with the plight of both Israelis and Palestinians, a further 23% said they sympathised with neither side and 20% declined to answer the question, which asked who they sympathised with more, by replying "don't know".

The poll shows that pro-Palestinian sympathies are stronger among Labour voters (32% back the Palestinians to 14% for Israel) and Liberal Democrat voters (40% to 11%) than among Conservative supporters (23% to 16%). Men are also more likely to sympathise with the Palestinian cause than women.

The findings mark a sea change in British attitudes towards the Middle East over the past 20 years and are in line with recent polls in France, Germany and Italy which show that European public opinion is generally more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

It is, however, in sharp contrast to recent American polls which have shown pro-Israeli sentiment in the US strengthening since September 11 to 41% support for Israel and just 13% support for the Palestinians.

However British voters dislike Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as much, if not more, than the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Asked if they had favourable or unfavourable view of Arafat and Sharon, 54% said they didn't like Arafat and 50% said they didn't like Sharon.

A majority of British voters (52%) agreed that the US could do more to bring about a peace settlement. Only 35% said they believed the Americans were doing as much as they could.

But while there is a demand for the Americans to bring more pressure to bear there is not much support for the idea of imposing sanctions, either on the Israelis or the Palestinian Authority. Asked if Britain should impose sanctions, such as cutting off aid or blocking military exports, 39% said such action should be taken against Israel and 33% thought sanctions should be taken against the PA.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,000 Britons aged over 18 by telephone between April 20 and 21. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

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