12/06/2012 05:39 EST | Updated 02/05/2013 05:12 EST

Neutrality On Mideast Supported By Half Of Canadians, Poll Suggests


Nearly half of Canadians polled would prefer the federal government be neutral when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a new poll suggests.

According to the CBC/Nanos survey, 48 per cent of people asked how the government should handle Middle East foreign policy said they want the government to favour neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians.

Another 27 per cent said they are unsure.

Of those who had a preference, 19 per cent said they want the government to favour the Israelis, with six per cent wanting the government to favour the Palestinians — a three-to-one ratio.

Nik Nanos, president of Nanos Research, says Canadians likely prefer a Middle East foreign policy that "treads the middle path."

"For those that do have a preference, they're more likely to favour the Israelis over the Palestinians, but it's still a minority at only 19 per cent," Nanos said.

The Conservative government has been a staunch supporter of Israel, with officials asserting a deep, warm friendship between the two countries. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is unshakeable in his support for Israel's right to defend itself from attacks.

Last week, Canada recalled several diplomats to bring them home for consultations over how to handle a UN vote that granted Palestinians non-member observer state status. Pulling an envoy is seen as a rebuke in the diplomatic world.

Canadians split on overall foreign policy

The poll also asked Canadians whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the government's foreign policy.

- 7 per cent are satisfied.

- 33 per cent are somewhat satisfied.

- 23 per cent are somewhat dissatisfied.

- 16 per cent are dissatisfied.

- 22 per cent are unsure.

The breakdown shows those who are satisfied and somewhat satisfied are essentially tied with those are who are dissatisfied and somewhat dissatisfied.

Nanos says public opinion on Canadian foreign policy isn't usually so divided.

"I think the reason why it's more of a mixed bag is that Conservative foreign policy has been much more definitive on a few issues," he said, pointing to Israel and the Palestinian Territories as an example.

"We don't know from these numbers [in favour of a neutral position] how much they are a reaction to the Conservative foreign policy positions. Those numbers in terms of the percentage of Canadians who would like to see a middle course, we don't know whether that's a result of dissatisfaction with the Conservative foreign policy or not," Nanos said.

Nanos says the middle path is the usual frame for Canadian foreign policy.

"More of a middle course might also be code for boring," he added.

"I don't think that anyone would say that Canada's foreign policy has been boring under the Conservatives. The thing is that they've taken a very high-profile approach on a lot of very controversial subjects ranging from Kyoto to the state of Israel."

The online survey polled 1,000 Canadians, 18 years or older between Dec. 3 to 4, 2012.

The data was weighted using the latest census results to ensure the final sample represents the Canadian population. Nanos Research believes it to be a true reflection of Canadian opinion at the time of the research.

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