Why Olmert’s Private Peace Polling Failed to Make a Splash

Raviv DrukerRaviv Druker (pictured here), Israel’s Channel 10’s political commentator, had a scoop on last night’s news. Nothing unusual in that, he is a rising star of Israeli TV. Raviv is highly respected as a journalist and author, he hosts his own show on the primetime Friday evening news slot. When he has an expose, it’s normally a news topping event. One might have expected last night’s story to follow a similar pattern.

Raviv’s scoop was this: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had apparently been conducting private polling (carried out by his trusted pollster, Kalman Gayer) to check Israeli public receptivity to a possible agreement with the Palestinians on principles for a permanent status peace.

Olmert and the Palestinian President Abbas are beginning to discuss these principles in their private meetings as part of the preparation for a possible US-sponsored peace summit in November. Kalman Gayer’s survey results revealed that the yes’s have a 5% lead over the no’s regarding support for the outlines of a somewhat realistic set of Israeli-Palestinian peace parameters. The polling also showed 60% public support for negotiating a peace deal now with President Abbas. Noteworthy too was the fact that this polling was conducted exclusively among Israel’s Jewish population and therefore support in the overall Israeli public, including the Arab citizens could be expected to be significantly higher. As Druker pointed out on Channel 10 News, this is all the more remarkable when one considers how low Olmert’s personal approval ratings are. Bottom line, it would seem, the Israeli public is ready for a peace deal, if only their leaders would show some courage and make the tough choices, and they’ll support even the unloved Olmert if he does it.

So, it is revealed that the Israeli Prime Minister is conducting secret polling about a return to the ’67 border, plus/minus, and dividing Jerusalem at a time when he is discussing these very issues with his Palestinian counterpart. The question is how come this exclusive scoop was not a headline, but was rather buried as the fourth or fifth item in the news, and that there was no follow up today in the Israeli press? Even Raviv was less than his normal exuberant self in disclosing the information.

There are two possible explanations. One is that the Israeli public no longer considers it a big deal when their leaders are discussing a withdrawal from the vast majority of the West Bank and from the Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem with the neighbors. The reality of what a two-state solution will really take has finally sunk in and it no longer makes a big splash. This would be the encouraging interpretation.

The other way to understand this is that the public and media have so dismissed Olmert as a leader and his peace efforts, and by the way the Bush administration’s own promotion of a November summit, that they no longer attribute much importance to what Olmert might be discussing with Abbas or polling via Gayer. People are skeptical that this can lead anywhere or that their Prime Minister has the political traction to get much done.

Liklihood is that it is probably a bit of both. And that both the substance of Raviv’s story and it’s placement in the news cycle might actually be a positive sign.