Nearly six of every 10 Israelis think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should resist U.S. demands to completely freeze construction in Jewish West Bank settlements, according to a new poll released Friday.
The poll by the Maagar Mohot Polling Institute comes just ahead of Netanyahu's major policy speech on Sunday that is expected to address a growing divide with Washington.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to aggressively pursue Mideast peacemaking, and the halt of all building on land the Palestinians claim for their future state has been a key U.S. demand.
Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said Netanyahu should not consent to the American demand to halt all settlement construction, as opposed to 37 percent who said he should. Fifty percent said failure to comply would not provoke a crisis with the U.S., while 32 percent said they thought the settlement freeze was a make or break issue for Washington.
Maagar Mohot also found in a separate poll that two-thirds of Israelis have little appetite for dismantling West Bank settlements. Thirty-six percent oppose any evacuation as part of a final peace deal and 30 percent said only a small number should be dismantled.
Both surveys polled 503 people and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
Nearly 300,000 Israelis live in 121 West Bank settlements and more than 100 wildcat settler enclaves.
The Palestinians want the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for a future state, and see settlement building as a major obstacle to that aspiration. The U.S. has opposed settlement construction for decades, but Obama has been especially forceful in the early months of his presidency in demanding a settlement freeze.
He also has been pressing Netanyahu to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state, something the Israeli leader has refused to do.
Netanyahu is expected to try to placate Washington in his policy address on Sunday. He will have to execute a delicate balancing act because he doesn't want any overtures to the U.S. to splinter his hawkish coalition.