August 7, 2014 | By Dina Smeltz, Craig Kafura

Americans Prefer Neutrality in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Chicago Council Survey results from May, before the recent outbreak of fighting in Gaza, show that Americans did not see the lack of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to be a critical threat to the vital interests of the United States. A solid majority continued to want the United States to remain neutral in the conflict, even though their sympathies tended to lie more with Israel than the Palestinian Authority.

Americans opt for neutrality

Over the last decade of Chicago Council Surveys, a majority of Americans have consistently advocated for a neutral approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Chicago Council results from May 2014 found that six in ten (64%) said the United States should not take either side, while three in ten (30%) favored taking Israel’s side (3% favored the Palestinians’ side).

While these recent data were collected prior to the June kidnappings that sparked outbreak of fighting in July, previous data suggest that these incidents would most likely not have a dramatic effect on Americans’ preference for the United States to stay neutral. For example, results from the identical question in a 2000 Gallup Poll fielded just prior to the beginning of the Second Intifada found that a majority said the United States should not take either side. Two years later, the 2002 Chicago Council Survey found a majority continued to prefer that the United States remain neutral, just after an outbreak of fighting in Jenin and an extended standoff at the Church of the Nativity. And in 2010, a year after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza ended in Israeli forces declaring a unilateral ceasefire, a majority of Americans continued to support not taking either side in the conflict.

Americans feel warmer toward Israel than the Palestinian Authority

Americans continue to feel warmly towards Israel, rating it an average of 59 on a 0-100 scale. In 2014, this rating places Israel just above Brazil (58) and just below France (61). But American attitudes on current Israeli actions are mixed. A July 22-23 Gallup poll shows the US public is divided over whether Israel’s actions against Hamas are justified (42%) or not justified (39%). Americans are cooler in their feelings towards the Palestinian Authority, giving it a 33 out of 100. Comparatively, the Palestinian Authority is viewed slightly more favorably than Iraq (31) and slightly less favorably than Russia (36).

Support for meeting; talking with Hamas

According to the July 22-23 Gallup poll, a solid majority of Americans consider Hamas’ actions unjustified (70%, vs. 11% justified). But Americans do not want to close the door on dialogue with Hamas. A bare majority of Americans (50%) continue to say that US leaders should be ready to meet and talk with leaders of Hamas (46% oppose doing so). This has been a consistent finding in Chicago Council Surveys over the last six years, and reflects the public’s general preference for diplomatic engagement, even with hostile nations or groups.

Half willing to send US troops as part of a peacekeeping mission if a peace agreement reached

Relative to other threats to US national security, the lack of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is not considered a critical threat (26% critical). A majority (53%) label it as an ‘important, but not critical, threat.’ But if a hypothetical peace agreement is reached, half of Americans are willing to send US troops to be part of an international peacekeeping force to enforce a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians (50%; 49% oppose). Americans are only slightly less supportive of using US troops to defend Israel in the event of an attack by its neighbors, with 45 percent of the public in favor. Finally, in the event that Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear facilities and Iran were to retaliate against Israel, four in ten Americans (43%) support the use of US troops.

Support for economic, military aid to Israel

Reflecting the generally positive view Americans have of Israel, a plurality of Americans support maintaining both economic and military aid to Israel. An additional one in ten support increasing economic and military aid to Israel, while about two in ten want to decrease or end that aid. This is unique among nations in the Middle East: support for aid to nearby Egypt and Iraq has declined in recent years.

Partisan divides on the Middle East conflict  

As in past Chicago Council Surveys, self-described Republicans tend to express more positive views toward Israel than other partisans. Though supporters of all three political groupings view Israel quite favorably, Republicans ratings of Israel are highest. In addition, Republicans (49%) are more likely than Democrats (17%) or Independents (30%) to say that the United States should take Israel’s side in the conflict – though Republicans themselves are divided (47% say the US should take neither side). By contrast, solid majorities of Democrats (76%) and Independents (60%) prefer that the United States stay neutral in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

When it comes to using US troops, Republicans are more likely to favor coming to Israel’s aid in a military confrontation with its neighbors or with Iran. As in other peacekeeping scenarios, Democrats are more likely to support using US troops as part of an international peacekeeping mission to enforce a peace agreement between the two sides.

Younger Americans less pro-Israel

Chicago Council Surveys conducted over the past 40 years show that an interesting age gap has emerged in overall impressions of Israel. From 1978 to the early 2000s, attitudes towards Israel across age divisions were fairly similar. But by 2008, these views became more differentiated: younger Americans (between the ages of 18 and 29) now feel significantly less favorably about Israel than do Americans over the age of 60. As the figure below shows, the gap today between the oldest and youngest Americans is at its widest ever. This is due primarily to an increase in favorability among older Americans, and secondarily to declining favorability among younger Americans. 

Older Americans are also more likely to support taking Israel’s side in the conflict. While majorities of all age groups prefer taking a neutral position, four in ten (42%) of Americans age 60 or older are more likely than other age groups to support the US taking Israel’s side (42%, compared to 29% among those 45-59 and 25% among those 30-44 and 18-29).  



The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


| By Craig Kafura

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