In the battle for favorable public opinion in America, both the Arab and Israeli causes are seriously handicapped by positions and tactics which majorities of the American people are unwilling to accept.
The Arab position is seriously encumbered by the tactics of the Palestine Liberation Organization. By 57 to 24 percent, a majority of Americans does not think that the PLO really wants peace in the Middle East.By a nearly unanimous 93 to 2 percent, the public condemns the PLO for its terrorist tactics, particuarly the killing of 37 people in Israel in the most recent PLO guerrilla raid. A sizable majority of Americans agrees with the firm Israeli stand of not negotiating with the PLO and its leader, Yasser Arafat.
For its part, Israel meets with serious problems when its prime minister, Menachem Begin, steadfastly refuses to agree to give back, as a part of a peace settlement, most of the territories Israel occupied after the 1967 war.
Twenty-seven percent of the public feels that Israel should give up none of the occupied land, but a substantial 60 percent thinks it should give up some part of it.
The irony of the American disagreement with Israel in this matter is that no more than 10 percent of the public thinks Israel should give back all of the lands it has occupied. Fifty percent holds the view that Israel should give back some of the occupied territory, and keep "what it needs to protect its security." Americans would overwhelmingly approve of a clear-cut statement by Israel that it would be willing to give back all occupied territories except those areas needed for its security. It would be much more difficult for Israel to convince the majority of Americans of its historic and religious claims to the occupied areas.
But on most other key issues at stake in the peace negotiations, Americans take positions that are not far from those taken by the Israeli government.
Only 21 percent of Americans favor an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan. Twice as many Americans would prefer having the West Bank made into a Palestinian homeland under Jordanian rule or having the Palestinians stay where they are.
A 47-to-40 percent plurality felt the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in response to the terrorist raid was justified. By 47 to 39 percent, a plurality also favored the United Nations moving a force of 4,000 troops into Lebanon as a replacement for Israeli troops.