Nearly half Canadians say Ottawa's policy on Israeli-Palestinian conflict 'strikes right balance'

Jerusalem — The Globe and Mail

Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird speaks at the annual 'Herzliya Conference' in the central Israeli city of Herzliya, near Tel Aviv January 30, 2012. (NIR ELIAS/REUTERS/NIR ELIAS/REUTERS)

Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, currently visiting Israel and the Palestinian Territories, can take some comfort from a new public opinion survey on Canadian attitudes toward the Middle East.

Almost half of Canadians surveyed (48 per cent) say they believe the federal government’s policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “strikes the right balance,” according to a new Focus Canada survey conducted by the Environics Research Group.

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The policy of the government, since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, has been to take a more overtly pro-Israeli position than previous governments. And this is very much the position borne this week by the two Canadian ministers. Mr. Baird has made a point of telling just about every Israeli audience that “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.”

Not everyone agrees. Almost a quarter of Canadians (23 per cent) say the government is “too pro-Israel,” while just 3 per cent say the government’s policy is “too pro-Palestinian.” The proportion of people who say they are unable to offer a clear opinion on the matter increased this year to 27 per cent (from 23 per cent).

Environics says the number of Canadians who believe the government is too pro-Israeli rose in the Prairie provinces, as well as among older Canadians, those with higher socio-economic status and among NDP supporters. Overall, the view is strongest among Quebeckers.

But while the majority of Canadians may share the government’s view toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they differ strongly with the view expressed Monday on the Palestinians’ effort to have their territory recognized as a state by the United Nations.

Mr. Baird told Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Maliki that Canada viewed the Palestinian initiative as “profoundly wrong.”

According to the Focus Canada survey, that is not quite accurate.

Its survey of 1,500 adult Canadians, between Nov. 21 and Dec. 14, showed that three times as many Canadians (35 per cent) support the Palestinian bid as oppose it (11 per cent). Notably, more than half of Canadians surveyed (53 per cent) say they have no opinion on the matter.

Support for the Palestinian’s UN initiative, Environics says, is most widely expressed in Quebec and Ontario (especially in Montreal and Toronto), and among men, university graduates, non-European immigrants, and those who support the NDP or Green Party.

Opposition to the bid is most evident among Canadians 60 years of age and older and among Conservative supporters.

(Environics says that a sample of this size drawn from the population produces results accurate to within +/-2.5 percentage points in 19 out of 20 samples.)

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