Poll: 79 percent of Americans fear expansion of Mideast conflict
NEW YORK (CNN) -- More than three-quarters of Americans believe the crisis in the Middle East may grow into a wider, international conflict, with a majority saying peace can best be achieved by working with Yasser Arafat despite reservations about the Palestinian leader, according to results of a Newsweek poll released Saturday.
The poll, based on the views of 1,003 adults interviewed this week, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. It follows a rise in violence -- including the deaths of 25 Israelis in last weekend's suicide bombings claimed by Palestinian militants -- since the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians intensified 14 months ago.
Seventy percent of those polled supported U.S. involvement in the peace process, with 42 percent citing America's commitment to Israel and 18 percent pointing to the region's rich oil resources as reasons to be involved.
The push for involvement coincided with a strong belief that intensified clashes between Israelis and Palestinians could lead to a larger war involving other Middle Eastern countries -- with 38 percent calling the possibility of war "very likely" and 41 percent calling it "likely."
Both these one-sided results did not translate into any universal agreement on what the United States should do in the region.
For example, 40 percent of respondents favored U.S. support for the creation of a Palestinian state; 39 percent opposed it.
Opinions were also mixed on Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Thirty-five percent said Sharon wants peace, with the same percentage viewing him as an obstacle to peace.
A hefty 63 percent said Arafat was an obstacle in the peace process, compared to 18 percent who said he was committed to peace. A similar number (63 percent) said Arafat cannot control Palestinian militant groups.
Despite these misgivings, 58 percent of respondents said Israel and the United States would be better off working with Arafat toward a negotiated peace settlement than with another Palestinian leader.
Nearly one-fourth of respondents blamed Israel and Palestinians equally for recent violence, but a considerably larger number -- 42 percent -- faulted the Palestinians. Eleven percent laid the blame on Israelis.
Fifty-five percent said the Israeli military response to last weekend's suicide bombings was appropriate, with 27 percent deeming it excessive.
The poll also showed continued if slightly deflated support for President Bush. Bush's job approval ratings fell slightly to 82 percent, his lowest rating since September 11, while 88 percent approved the U.S. military action against terrorism.
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