August 21, 2019

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13-Sep-18: What the Palestinian Arabs think?

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The Oslo Accords are signed at the White House exactly 25 years ago today, on September 13, 1993 | Shimon Peres, Israel’s foreign minister, signs  as Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; President Bill Clinton and the PLO’s Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas look on. [Image Credit: J David AKE/AFP]

One of the most interesting things we do here is look at what the Palestinian Arabs think. As we explained in our most recent attempt to do this [“16-Jul-18: What do the Palestinian Arabs want? What do they believe? What do they think?“], looking at accurate, well-collected and intelligently analyzed opinion poll data is

invariably more valuable by far than media guesses about what the Palestinian Arabs think and want. Claims are made freely and often about Palestinian Arab aspirations. Very often, though, the data tell a story that’s at total variance from what’s being claimed about them… [source

Bluntly, much of what the mainstream media claim about Palestinian Arab public opinion is just plain wrong. We make that statement on the basis of carefully reviewing the work of a Palestinian Arab organization called The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR). It’s headed by a respected professional, Dr. Khalil Shikaki. We have no personal connection with him or his work. His reputation for objectivity is why we pay attention. Here are some of our previous analyses:

Here are some insights we found PSR Public Opinion Poll Number 69, published yesterday (Wednesday September 12, 2018). It’s based on survey data collected face-to-face in the previous week from a total sample size of 1,270 Palestinian Arab adults.

Political leaders?

From our perspective and with Arab-on-Israeli terrorism very much on our minds, the most clear-cut insights have to do with Mahmoud Abbas, the fading president-for-life of the Palestinian Authority:

  • More than six out of ten Palestinian Arabs want him to resign. This is very slightly higher than the last poll showed. Broken down, the rejection stands at 52% in the West Bank; 78% in the Gaza Strip.
  • An overwhelming majority disagree with his most important domestic policies. Overall about half of the Palestinian Arabs now see Abbas’ PA as a burden rather than an asset.
  • So where do they want power to reside? Well, fully two-thirds are against his decision (incapable at this stage of being implemented) to disarm the terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.
  • Furthermore, most reject his demand that Hamas hand control over the Gaza Strip to the so-called reconciliation government controlled by his PA. 
  • Related to this, most Palestinian Arabs say they support Hamas’ efforts to reach a long-term Tahdia agreement with Israel even if the reconciliation government cannot be created. (Tahdia or Tahdiya is an Arabic word that is usually translated cease-fire or calming-down. It does not mean truce or peace.)
  • These data points show that Hamas gets more overall trust and backing now than Abbas and his Fatah/PA/PLO factions. But both get less support than they had when the last survey was published three months ago.
  • In party-political terms, if elections (which were last held since 2006) took place for the Palestinian Legislative Council and its 132 seats, 27% say they would support Hamas (down on the summer poll results); 36% would vote for Fatah (also down on the summer results); all the other parties combined would get 10%. The 28% who say they are undecided would be more numerous than Hamas’ voters. By comparison, Hamas defeated the long-dominant Fatah in those 2006 elections, ending up with 76 seats out of the 132. Chaos ensued, followed, in June 2007, by the eruption of open fighting between the armed forces of Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The winners of the blood-bath (the physical one, not the electoral one) were Hamas who have held on tightly to control until today. No parliamentary elections have happened in the ensuing 12 years, and none are realistically in prospect.
  • But leaving aside the factions and focusing on the personalities, the picture gets confusing. If a two-horse election race had been held last week: 
    • If it were Mahmoud Abbas up against Ismail Haniyeh (of Hamas), Abbas wins 47% to 45%. 
    • If instead of Abbas, the Fatah candidate were the imprisoned murderer Marwan Barghouti, he would steamroller Haniyeh by the substantial margin of 58% against 37%.

The role of the United States?

It’s no secret that the Palestinian Arab leadership is having a hard time with the Trump Administration. How have such moves by the US as ending most of its cash aid to the PA, cancelling its contributions to UNRWA, moving its Tel Aviv embassy to Jerusalem affected Palestinian Arab opinion?

  • An overwhelming 90% now view the US as biased towards Israel.
  • Half want their leaders to absolutely reject what the pollsters call the US “Deal of the Century” – the terms of which no one has actually seen yet – because “it will certainly be bad for Palestinians
  • Moreover, most oppose the resumption of any dialogue with the US.
  • Most also are against going back to negotiations with Israel. 

How bad are things?

The poll looks at how ordinary people feell about the overall condition of where they live. The results are bleak. What proportion think their conditions are “positive”?

  • In the Gaza Strip, a whopping 5%
  • In the West Bank, just 19%.
  • Overall, 77% worry that reductions in foreign aid from the US and others will generate more unemployment growth, more poverty and still further deterioration in daily living conditions.
  • Who’s to blame for all this awfulness? 43% say it’s the PA and its head, Mahmoud Abbas – and note that Gazans are twice as likely to say this as West Bankers. 24% blame Hamas. 8% say it’s Egypt that caused the problems. 17% say it’s “others”. 
  • Presumably making matters even worse, 59% of Palestinian Arabs – not surprisingly, given the nature of the two regimes in question – say they cannot criticize the Palestinian Authority (except to the pollsters) without fear. And 77% say there is corruption in the PA’s organs 
  • A third of all Palestinian Arabs say they want to emigrate if they can. This trend is much stronger in Gaza (about 50%) than in the West Bank (22%). 
Violence?
  • Two-thirds – and this holds equally true in Gaza and in the West Bank – favour allowing the “armed battalions”, meaning terrorist factions and their weapons, where they currently are.
  • 68% support (and 25% oppose) the PA decision to cease security coordination with Israel. At the same time, 69% think the Palestinian Arab leadership will never actually implement that decision.
Peace?

Has life gotten better or worse since the Oslo Accords were signed between Arafat’s PA and the government of Israel in 1993? And how will peace look when it arrives?

  • 73% say “conditions today are worse” than before Oslo.
  • 36% blame this on Israel for “refusing to end its occupation”
  • 35% say its the failure of the “international community” to press Israel harder
  • 65% believe the Oslo Accords “damaged the national interest”.
  • Support for the two-state solution has risen slightly compared with three months ago: 47%.
  • When asked to choose among (a) the two-state solution, (b) the one-state solution and (c) any other third solution, the two-state solution wins with 53%.
  • At the same time, 56% say the two-state solution is no longer practical because of Israeli settlement. 
  • Do they agree that the chances for the creation of a Palestinian Arab state side-by-side with the State of Israel in the next five years are slim or nonexistent? Yes, say 72% of Palestinian Arabs.
  • And for 30%, the preferred next stage entails waging armed struggle against “the Israeli occupation”. 39% say “negotiation is the most effective means of establishing a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel”.
  • Don’t expect or look for coherence or consistency.
  • 80% think the Arab world doesn’t see Palestine as “its primary cause”, which sounds right to us.
  • Depressingly, 57% “believe that Israel’s long-term aspiration is to expand the state of Israel to stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and to expel the Palestinian population“. 
The biggest challenge?

What do Palestinian Arabs see as the most serious problem facing their society today? They’re facing in numerous different directions.

  • 27% say poverty and unemployment 
  • 25% say the “occupation” and “settlement” activities (they mean by Israel)
  • 22% say corruption in Palestinian Arab public institutions
  • 20% say the “siege” (they mean by Israel) of the Gaza Strip
  • 3% say the absence of national unity.
All in all, it’s hard not to feel a sense of despair when confronted with views like those on which the PSR reports each 90 days. So much effort, so much news-reporting, so much foreign aid, so much waste… so little of anything constructive to show for it – except that a plurality of them now agrees that it’s poverty that tops their list of challenges. 
But they’re hopelessly divided on that too. 
And catastrophically ill-served by venal political operatives and self-serving insiders who have never shown the smallest interest or ability in addressing that vital issue among the many on their people’s agenda.

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