The Influence of Events and (Mis)information on Israeli-Jewish Public Opinion: The Case of the Camp David Summit and the Second Intifada

Public opinion is fluid and reflects the experiences, knowledge, attitudes and emotions of society members. In this article I would like to focus on only two types of major factors that influence and shape public opinion: (a) major events that society members experience either directly or indirectly; and (b) information that is provided by societal epistemic authorities "to enlighten the reality" of society members. Major societal information refers to information supplied by an epistemic authority about a matter of great relevance and importance to society members and society as a whole. It causes wide resonance, involves society members, occupies a central position in public discussion and the public agenda, and forces society members to reconsider and change their psychological repertoire.

The present article intends to shed light on the evolution of public opinion in the Israeli-Jewish society following the failure of the Camp David summit and the eruption of the second intifada. It focuses only on the specific period of July 2000-February 2001, as different dynamics developed later. The paper describes the major events that took place and focuses on the information presented to the Israeli public to illuminate these events. First, it will describe the changes that took place in Israeli-Jewish public opinion.

Changes in Israeli-Jewish Public Opinion

On May 17, 1999, the election of Labor Party leader Ehud Barak as prime minister inspired hope among many supporters of the peace process, as they believed that peace was near.
In his election campaign Barak promised to continue the heritage of Yitzhak Rabin and advance the peace process with good intentions and vigor. These promises were welcomed by the majority of the Israeli public, which expressed optimistic and conciliatory attitudes. In a national survey carried out by Asher Arian between January 25 and March 7, 1999, during the election campaign, he found the following opinions. Table 1 reports some of the findings.3
But about 20 months after Barak took office, a psychological earthquake in public opinion took place. Dovish and centrist Israeli Jews dramatically changed their views in comparison to the ones they expressed in 1999. In a national survey carried out by Asher Arian between April 12 and May 11, 2001, a couple of months after Barak lost the elections, the following responses were found (see Table 1 for selected findings):

Table 1: Results of national survewys 1999 and 2001 (Arian, 1999, 2001, 2002)

Responses 1999 2001

Reported enhanced feeling of 80%
personal security since the
peace process began in 1993

Reported that personal security 63%
became worse since the peace
process began

Preferred peace talks over 69% 47%
strengthening military capacity

Believed peace will be maintained 68% 35%
during the next three years

Thought that signing peace 67% 30%
treaties would actually mean an
end to the Arab-Israeli conflict

Supported Oslo process 70% 58%

Thought that only through 59%
negotiations would terror attacks
be curtailed

Favored unleashing IDF to fight 52%

Believed that the majority of 64% 46%
Palestinians want peace

Wanted continuation of the peace 63% 42%

In addition, Arian (2001) found that 38 percent of the respondents said that violence decreased their willingness to make concessions, while only 9 percent said they were ready for additional concessions; 47 percent thought there was a military solution to the conflict and 41 percent thought there was no military solution. Other surveys found that 70 percent of the Israeli-Jewish public estimated that Yasser Arafat personally lacked the desire or the capability to sign an agreement to end the conflict with Israel - even if Israel agreed to all his demands - and that he would make additional demands aimed at foiling the agreement; and 80 percent believed that Palestinians would not honor an agreement signed by them (Peace Index, May 2001).4 In March 2001, 72 percent of Israeli Jews thought that more military force should be used against the Palestinians (Peace Index, March 2001). Finally, another major change took place with regard to the self-categorization of Israeli Jews into left (i.e., dovish) and right (i.e., hawkish) camps, a change reflecting a major polarization in Israeli society. While in the early 1990s, about 36 percent categorized themselves to the left and about 39 percent to the right,5 in May 2002 only about 19 percent categorized themselves to the left and 48 percent to the right. The rest categorized themselves to the center, or did not know where to categorize themselves (Ma'ariv, May 10, 2002).

The cardinal question then is: What kinds of factors have influenced the change in Israeli public opinion in such a short time? The response to this question lies in the analysis of two major events that took place between July 2000, and January 2001, and two sets of major information that were provided to enlighten these events. The next section will present these major events and sets of information and will try to evaluate the validity of the provided information.

Analysis of the Major Events and Sets of Information that have Affected Public Opinion

Major Event: The Camp David Summit

The first major event took place on July 11-24, 2000, when top-level delegations of Israelis and Palestinians met at Camp David, with the participation of a U.S. team led by then President Bill Clinton, to try to reach a final agreement and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the two sides did not succeed in reaching an agreement and the peace summit failed.

Major Information about the Camp David Negotiations and the Outcome

When these negotiations ended without an agreement, Barak provided major information by saying he had done everything, leaving no stone unturned in the search for peace by making a very generous and far-reaching offer at Camp David, and that Arafat had refused to accept it, without making any counter proposals. This left the responsibility for the failure solidly on the side of the Palestinians. Subsequently, almost all the country's political, social and religious leaders, as well as the Israeli mass media, intensely circulated this information time and time again. This was major information and had a profound impact on the construction of the Israeli people's view, especially because of Barak's proposals with regard to Jerusalem which broke the taboo about dividing the city. It implied that, although Israel made its ultimate compromise and "gave everything," Arafat and the Palestinians refused to accept this offer. It meant that Arafat and the Palestinian leadership were not interested in resolving the conflict through compromise and in a peaceful way, but were still striving to annihilate Israel, especially by insisting on the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel. This smear campaign was well prepared in advance, and was carried out with great success, especially in Israel, but also abroad.6 It focused mainly on Arafat, presenting him as "not a partner" for a peace process.

Thus data from a survey carried out at the end of July 2000 showed that 67 percent of Israeli Jews believed the Palestinian side to be entirely, or in the main part, responsible for the failure of the Camp David summit. Only 13 percent thought the Israelis were either solely or largely responsible, and 12 percent thought both sides were equally responsible for the failure (Peace Index, July 2000). In August 2002, 92 percent of Israeli Jews believed the Palestinians did not fulfill their commitments as specified in the Oslo agreement, while 66 percent believed Israel did fulfill its own part (Peace Index, August 2002).

By now there are numerous published accounts about the negotiation process at Camp David.7 These accounts reveal that the formal version presented by Barak can be best presented as his narrative. Numerous other accounts criticize not only Palestinian behavior but also insufficient Israeli proposals, Barak's negotiation conduct, lack of American preparation, and so on. It became clear that, although from the Israeli perspective Barak's offers were unprecedented and far-reaching, from the Palestinian perspective they were far from satisfying, since the future Palestinian state would not have been a sovereign, contiguous and viable state, being divided into three separate enclaves on 87-88 percent of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip, without control of the Jordan Valley for many years to come. In addition, part of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would be kept with neighborhood autonomy status, under Israeli sovereignty (e.g., Sheikh-Jarah, Wadi-Joz, Silwan, etc.), and Israel would retain sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The acceptance of the Clinton proposals in December by Israel and the offering of further concessions to the Palestinians at Taba indicate that the Camp David proposals were not the most far-reaching that Israel could offer. Moreover, there was a fundamental orientation gap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions in the Camp David negotiations. While the Palestinians demanded, in principle, that UN resolutions should be the basis for the negotiations leading to a realization of objective rights stemming from international legitimacy, the Israelis wanted compromise and a fair solution based on the existing situation, mainly concerning security and the settlements.

Major Event: The Onset of the Second Intifada

The second major continuous event began on September 28, 2000, when violent conflict erupted. Triggered by the controversial visit of Israel's then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, where the holy mosques of the Muslims are located, Palestinians began disturbances accompanied by stone-throwing, demonstrations and shootings. These were met with violent responses by the Israeli security forces.

Israelis and Palestinians remember differently the beginning of the second intifada as collective memories than historical facts. With regard to hard facts, in the first four days of the uprising, 39 Palestinians and five Israelis were killed; by the end of October, 141 Palestinians had been killed and about 500 injured, while 11 Israelis had been killed and one injured. During November and December 2000, 186 Palestinians were killed and about 540 were injured. In the same period, 31 Israelis were killed and 84 were injured. From the beginning of the intifada until April 1, 2001, 409 Palestinians were killed and about 1,740 injured; in the same period, 70 Israelis were killed and 183 injured.8 During the first months of the intifada, the Palestinian uprising was expressed mostly through spontaneous and organized demonstrations that were met with excessive military power by Israel, using massive force, including snipers, liquidation teams, tanks and helicopters. With regard to terror attacks, Palestinians shot mostly at Israeli cars on West Bank roads and at soldiers. In November 2000, a bomb was placed in the Jerusalem market and later in Hadera. Then on March 1, a bomb was placed in a taxi. The first suicide attack took place on March 28, 2001, east of Kfar Saba (after the election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister in February 2001).
These facts indicate that Israeli forces responded to the Palestinian popular uprising with powerful force. The number of casualties on both sides reveal the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of fire-power by the Israeli army, which caused massive killings including many innocent civilians. The Israeli army was well prepared for the eruption of the uprising, and decided to deal with it with force to teach the Palestinians a lesson.9 During the first days of the intifada, the Israeli army shot about a million bullets and shells.10 Moreover, the Israeli army ignored the orders of the political echelon that tried to moderate the level of violence.11 [Shlomo] Ben-Ami, who was then foreign minister, wrote in his memoirs that there was "a gap between the directives of the political echelon and their translation in the field. It was a structural failure that was expressed in the political echelon-army relationship, as well as in the political echelon-police relationship; with regard to the ability of the political echelon to govern and control the dynamics of events in the field and the reaction of the operational echelon" (Ben-Ami, 2004, p.295).

Major Information about the Beginning of the Intifada and Its Course in the First Phase

After the violence began, major information coming from the Israeli government and part of the military establishment12 was that the outbreak of the second intifada had been well prepared by Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA). This was the explanation, even though at the beginning of the violence most of the intelligence sources had a different interpretation of the events.13 Nevertheless, very soon major security and government sources rallied behind the information that was being continuously disseminated by the media. As the violence continued, both government and military sources and much of the media kept providing information to the effect that the goal of the Palestinians is to destroy Israel, thus Israel is engaged in a war for its survival (see for example, interviews with Ehud Barak in the Haaretz magazine supplement, September 6, 2002, and with Moshe Ya'alon, Israeli chief of staff, in the Haaretz magazine supplement, August 8, 2002). Also, governmental and military sources continuously repeated major information saying that Arafat is personally responsible for every terror attack, and that Palestinian leaders (especially Arafat and leaders associated with him) are not partners for negotiation because of their involvement in terror and their refusal to fight acts of terror. So began the campaign of "there is no partner for peace negotiations."
In contrast to the popular belief perpetuated by Barak and some of the military officers, it is well accepted by experts that Arafat did not plan the intifada, but that it erupted spontaneously and then evolved, at least partially, due to the overwhelming, forceful responses of the Israeli army, on the one hand, and the lack of political incentives to stop it, on the other. As Ami Ayalon (major general in the reserves and head of the General Security Service until six months before the beginning of the intifada) put it, "the al-Aqsa intifada was initially a popular phenomenon, spontaneous and lacking a clear political objective...The PA chairman has been drawn into this violent whirlpool, and to stop it he must create political hope."14 This view was supported by Yuval Diskin, who was at that time deputy to the head of the General Security Services (Haaretz, February 10, 2005) and by Matti Steinberg who was special adviser on Palestinian affairs to the General Security Services.

Amos Malka (major general in the reserves who headed the intelligence branch of the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] at the beginning of the intifada) challenges Gilad's professional integrity saying: "During my entire period as head of military intelligence there was not a single research department document that expressed the assessment that Gilad claims to have presented to the prime minister. As obligatory under the work regulations, no document can leave the research department without getting the approval of the head of the division."15

Ephraim Lavie, who headed the Palestinian desk at the intelligence branch of the IDF, said he "can determine, unequivocally, that in written formal evaluations of the research department formulated during [his] service from summer 1998 until February 2002, there was no intelligence basis for the conception existing today."16

With regard to the major information about the outbreak of the intifada, the polls showed that in November 2000, about 80 percent of Israeli Jews blamed the Palestinians for the eruption of the violence (Peace Index, November 2000), and in 2002, 84 percent of the Israeli-Jewish respondents thought the Palestinians were solely or mostly responsible for the deterioration in the relationship between them and the Israelis, while only 5 percent thought Israel was solely responsible (Arian, 2002). Finally, with regard to major information about Palestinian intentions, 53 percent of Israeli Jews believed the intifada was aimed at harming and attacking Israel as an objective in itself, and not in order to improve the terms of the agreement (Peace Index, March 2001). In addition, the polls showed that, already in October 2000, 71 percent of Israeli Jews thought Arafat behaved like a terrorist, in comparison to two years earlier, when only 41 percent thought so (Peace Index, October 2000).


The present paper has tried to analyze the reasons for the earthquake in Israeli-Jewish public opinion. First, it has to be remembered that a substantial part of Israeli-Jewish society, including the leaders who govern Israel today, objected vehemently and continuously to the peace process with the Palestinians. They objected to the Oslo Accords in principle, and specifically to the concessions granted during the Oslo process. During the era of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin they carried out a campaign to de-legitimize his peace policy and him personally.17 A campaign against any compromises was also carried out during Barak's term by the same segment of the society. Thus the major events and the information provided only served to validate their earlier beliefs.
There is no doubt that the massive steps of protest and violence carried out by the Palestinians during the first months of the intifada were cognized by the majority of Israelis as threatening their personal security and collective well-being (see Peace Index and Arian, 2001, 2002). But it can be assumed that violence itself in the fall of 2000 could not have caused the major earthquake in public opinion. We have to remember that Israeli society suffered from vicious suicidal terror attacks in February-March 1996, in which dozens of innocent citizens were murdered and hundreds were injured in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But support for the peace process did not collapse, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud party candidate for the prime minister's office, who at the time was an extreme objector to the Oslo Accords, had to promise to accept it and carry on with it, in order to be elected.

The present paper suggests that particularly influential factors in the psychological earthquake experienced by the peace supporters were the sets of information provided by Barak that framed the major events of the summer and fall of 2000. This information was accepted by the Israeli establishment and transmitted massively by most of the mass media to the public.18 It is thus not surprising that the most meaningful change of opinion took place among peace supporters. A poll carried out in March 2002 revealed that 29 percent of Israeli Jews reported that "before the Camp David summit they believed the Palestinian leadership had sincere intentions to reach peace with Israel, but today they do not believe in it." Fifty-six percent reported that they did not formerly believe in the sincerity of Palestinian intentions and that they continued feeling this way, and only 8 percent continued to believe in the sincere intentions of the Palestinians to reach peace with Israel. Among those who voted for Barak in 2001, responses were as follows: 43 percent changed their belief for the worse, 23 percent continued to mistrust the Palestinians, and 29 percent continued to trust them. When asked about the main cause for change, 57 percent noted the Palestinians' choice of violence instead of negotiation, and about 24 percent noted the Palestinians' rejection of Barak's generous offer.

Barak, who was never an ardent supporter of the Oslo Accords and who admitted that "emotionally he feels like a right-winger" (interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, January 29, 2001, in the New Yorker), provided the devastating blow to the peace camp, being the leader of that camp. It can be assumed that if the same information was provided by Likud leaders, it would have been met with suspicion by peace-camp members. But when this information came from the Labor party leader, who was perceived as an epistemic authority by many of its members, the information had a devastating impact on the peace camp. Barak had a major influence on the dovish and centrist members of Israeli society. What the Likud could not accomplish in 20 years, Barak, the leader of the Labor party, and his associates succeeded in doing. At present Israeli society does not have a strong peace camp, and it is important to understand why this camp has disintegrated. The beginning of its disintegration is at least partially due to the effects of the major sets of (mis)information. Later, powerful events of suicidal terror greatly enhanced this trend.

In sum, society members lack information about events, and also many of the events are inaccessible to the general public. In all these cases, the public depends on the information provided by leaders or other sources. But, many of the campaigns of major information serve, first of all, the needs and the motivations of the leaders; therefore, society members of the in-group(s) and/or out-group(s) may later pay a very high price for accepting them as valid and truthful. In an open, democratic society, it is the role of the media, academia and other institutions and channels of communication not to take the information propagated by leaders for granted, but to try to reach the valid information and provide it to the public. In the case presented above, most of the channels of communication failed to shed light on the events as they took place, despite the fact that factual information was available and even published. Israeli society paid and is paying a very high price for this failure, and this is not the first, and probably not the last, time.

1 The author would like to express his thanks to Gershon Baskin, Uri Ben Joseph, Akiva Eldar, Galia Golan, Dan Jacobson, Menachem Klein, Ephraim Lavie, Moshe Maoz, Kobi Michael, Hillel Schenker and Gadi Wolfsfeld for their comments on the earlier draft of this manuscript.

2 A major societal event is defined as an event of great importance occurring in a society. This event is experienced either directly(by participation) or indirectly (by watching, hearing or reading about it)by society members, causes wide resonance, has relevance to the well-being of society members and to society as a whole, involves society members, occupies a central position in public discussion and the public agenda, and implies information that forces society members to reconsider, and often change, their held psychological repertoire (Oren, in this issue)

3 A. Arian (1999) Israeli Public Opinion on National Security, 1999, Memorandum No. 53, July 1999 (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies); A. Arian (2001) Israeli Public Opinion on National Security, 2001, Memorandum No. 60, August 2001 (TelAviv: Tel Aviv University, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies); A.Arian (2002) Israeli Public Opinion on National Security, 2002, Memorandum No. 61, July 2002 (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies).

4 Peace Index project is conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University. The data appear on the Tami Steinmetz Center website at

5 A. Arian. & M. Shamir (2000), Candidates, Parties and Blocs: Evidence from the 1999 Elections, Discussion Paper No. 1, 2000 (Tel Aviv: The Pinhas Sapir Center for Development, Tel Aviv University).

6 A. Ben, "Now Everyone Knows: They Are Guilty, Haaretz July 21,2001, p. B3 (Hebrew); R. Drucker (2002), Harakiri (Tel Aviv: Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books), (Hebrew); G. Wolfsfeld (2004), Media and the Path to Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

7 For example, H. Agha & R. Malley (August 9, 2001), "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," New York Review of Books; S. Ben-Ami (2004) A Front without a Rearguard (Tel Aviv: Miskal-Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books), (Hebrew); C. Enderlin (2003), The Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East: 1995-2002 (New York: Other Press); A. Hannieh (2001), "The Camp David Papers," Journal of Palestine Studies 30:75-97; M. Klein (2003) The Jerusalem Problem: The Struggle for Permanent Status (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press); J. Pressman (2003), "Vision in Collision: What Happened at Camp David and Taba?" International Security 28: 5-43; R. Pundak & S. Arieli (2004), The Territorial Aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian Final-Status Negotiations (Tel Aviv: Peres Center), (Hebrew); D. Rubinstein (2003), Camp David 2000: What Really Happened There (Tel Aviv:Yedioth Ahronoth), (Hebrew); S. Shamir & B. Maddy-Weitzman (Eds.), (forthcoming), The Camp David Summit, 2000: What Went Wrong? Lessons for the Future; G. Sher (2001) Just beyond Reach: The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations 1999-2001 (Tel Aviv: Miskal-Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books), (Hebrew).

8 The Palestinian casualty numbers were taken from the Palestine Red Crescent Society,; the Israeli figures are from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, where the nature of the events is also described.

9 The preparations were made in view of the intelligence evaluations that Palestinian disturbances may take place in a situation where the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would be stalled, Arafat would unilaterally declare an independent state and Israel would initiate punitive steps. No intelligence evaluation suggested that Arafat would retreat from the idea of two states and intend to initiate wide-scale violence to destroy the State of Israel (E. Lavie, "BaselessConception," interview by Yoav Shtern, Haaretz June 13, 2004, p.B3)

10 S. Ben-Ami (2004), A Front without a Rearguard (Tel Aviv: Miskal-Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books), (Hebrew); B. Kaspit, "Israel Is Not a State That Has an Army but Rather Army That Has a State Attached to It. Ma'ariv September 6, 2002, Rosh Hashana Supplement, pp. 8-11, 32, (Hebrew); A. Harel & A. Isacharof (2004), The Seventh War (Tel Aviv:Miskal-Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books), (Hebrew); G.Hirsch (2004), "From 'Molten Lead' to 'Another Road': The Campaigns Development in the Central Command 2000-2003," Ma'arachot, No. 393, pp. 26-31, (Hebrew); Y.Peri (2002), The Israeli Military and Israel's Palestinian Policy (Washington, D. C.: United States Institute of Peace).

11 B. Kaspit, "Israel Is Not a State That Has an Army but Rather Army That Has a State Attached to It," op cit.; B. Kaspit, "The Army Will Decide and Approve" Ma'ariv September 13, 2002, Sabbath Supplement, pp. 6-10, (Hebrew); K. Michael (2004), Between Militarism and Diplomacy: The Dialectics in the Interaction between the Military and Political Echelon in Managing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, unpublished paper, (Hebrew); R. Pedazur, "The Brakes Were Pounded." Ha'aretz April 22, 2001; Y. Peri (2005), Generals in the Cabinet Room: How the Military Shapes Israel's Policy (Washington D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace).

12 The most notable propagators of this misinformation were at that time Chief of Staff Shaull Mofaz, Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and Chief of the Research Unit in the Intelligence Branch Amos Gilad.

13 Y. Bar-Siman-Tov, E. Lavie, K. Michael & D. Bar-Tal. (2004), The Transition from Conflict Resolution to Conflict Management: The Israeli-Palestinian Violent Conflict 2000-2004, unpublished manuscript; D. Dor (2001), Newspapers under the Influence (Tel Aviv: Babel), (Hebrew).

14 A. Ayalon (2004), "The Broken Dream: Analyzing the Israeli- Palestinian Process" in Y. Bar-Siman-Tov (Ed.), As the Generals See It: The Collapse of the Oslo Process and the Violent Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University), pp. 9-17; The Leonard Davis Institute for International Studies, Publication No. 95, p.16.

15 A. Eldar, "Popular Misconception," Haaretz June 11, 2004.

16 E. Lavie, "Baseless Conception," interview by Yoav Shtern, Haaretz June 13, 2004, p.B3.

17 M. Karpin & I. Friedman (1998), Murder in the Name of God (NewYork: Henry Holt & Company); M. Peleg (1997), Spreading the Wrath of God (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad), (Hebrew); M. .Peleg (2004), If Words Could Kill (Jerusalem: Academon), (Hebrew).

18 It should be noted that information providing an alternative account of the events was available and publicized, but was not advanced by the mass media, had a very limited exposure and was not accepted by the great majority of the public.