Tuesday, October 18, 2016

18-Oct-16: What do the Palestinian Arabs think and feel now?

A Palestinian Arab leader [Image Source]
There are people who try to understand the Palestinian Arabs by watching CNN or reading the New York Times. For us, it makes far more sense to reach for Palestinian Arab sources and and work from there.

Once again, we're looking in this post at what the Palestinian Arabs think, based on what they tell the pre-eminent Palestinian Arab opinion polling organization, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research [website] headed by a respected figure, Prof. Khalil Shikaki.

In a report published three weeks ago, PSR reported these findings (the wording is ours - the PSR's published summary, a 21-page document, is here):
  • Some trends that are mentioned in the last PSR report ninety days earlier (reported in our post: "15-Jun-16: What do the Palestinian Arabs think?") have gotten stronger. For instance, Palestinian Arab opinion is slightly less inclined to back armed action; the so-called French Initiative is slightly more popular; and the feeling that Mahmoud Abbas - the "moderate" head of the Palestinian Authority - should stop being president one way or another has gotten stronger. 
  • Ismail Haniyeh, the likely Hamas candidate for president, would defeat Abbas if an election had been held in September. 
  • But Marwan Barghouti, a convicted multiple murderer who, before being arrested, tried (in open court) and imprisoned by the Israelis more than a decade ago, was the commander of the Tanzim armed wing of Fatah, would defeat Haniyeh. All those lives murdered by him and his men speak loudly in Palestinian Arab society: in blunt terms, they're a political asset. And don't overlook that Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1984, thinks Jew-killing Barghouti ought to have been given this year's Nobel Peace Prize ["25-Jul-16: More on Tutu, Barghouti, terror, peace and prizes"]. We're fairly sure Barghouti is much more popular than Tutu among the Palestinian Arabs, but in politics, every source of electoral support counts.
  • Palestinian Arab support for what the poll calls "an armed intifada" is currently high, as it has been for a long time. Three months ago, it stood at 54%. In this latest poll, it's down all the way to 48% - which still means every second Palestinian Arab favours the continuation of a shooting/stabbing/ramming campaign against Israeli civilians. Think about that for a moment, and consider what it means for those of us who come into contact with them every day.
  • While it gets their support (55%), the Palestinian Arab public is "highly pessimistic" that the French Initiative has any chance of succeeding.  
  • A Palestinian Authority court recently ordered the postponement of local elections. But if they had been held in late September, the Pal Arab public was certain Hamas would win in the Gaza Strip. They expect Fatah - the party headed by Abbas - to take the West Bank. (Clarification: Presidential and parliamentary elections have not been held anywhere in the two Palestinian Arab statelets for more than a decade. They are not likely to happen soon. The elections in this note are for local representatives. Abbas' four year term as president which started on January 9, 2005, is likely to keep going for the rest of his life. The Fatah–Hamas Gaza Agreement of April 2014 provided for presidential and parliamentary elections by no later than October 2014. It's questionable whether many thought it was going to happen at that time and no such elections are currently in view.) 
  • This past summer saw numerous news reports of water shortages in Palestinian Arab cities and towns. Parts of the activist news reporting media knew whom to blame [for instance "Israel: Water as a tool to dominate Palestinians", Aljazeera, June 23, 2016], because there's rarely any downside in their circles to pointing the finger at Israel. The Israeli view is, not surprisingly, a little different ["Israel blames Palestinians for West Bank water shortage", Jerusalem Post, June 26, 2016]. So what are the Arab consumers of scarce water thinking and whom are they blaming? PSR found that 45% of Palestinian Arabs pin the responsibility for a shortage of water on Israel but a larger percentage (49%) says the Palestinian Arab side is to blame. (When did you last read or hear that in the mainstream news?
  • The Palestinian Arab public are concerned about what the PSR terms "internal security breakdowns" and connects those with three main factors, all of them Arab: The PA security services' "weak and inconsistent performance"; a "weak" justice system, including the courts; and "a surge in family and societal conflicts". It's an issue that is rarely discussed in the world's media.
  • There is very little faith among Palestinian Arabs in their own government. Indication: how many of them believe the PA suffers from corruption? 79%.
  • There is even less faith in the freedom of the news reporting media. On the Fatah/PA side, only 16% of respondents feel there is press freedom. In Gaza where Hamas rules the roost, faith in freedom of the local press is even lower: just 14%.
  • A two-state solution to the Palestinian Arab versus Israel conflict has the support of just 49% of Palestinian Arabs. A different poll conducted in August 2016 found that 59% of Israelis supported a two-state solution - and an additional 26% would agree if a peace agreement were to be made not only with the Palestinian Arabs but with the other hostile Arab states.
  • There's strong support (55%) among Palestinian Arabs for abandoning the Oslo Accords of 1993-1995. (That requires a separate post of its own.)
  • Concerning the Temple Mount, on which UNESCO is going to be voting again today, more than half of all Palestinian Arabs believe (and this is a direct quote from the PSR report) that of "the long-term aspirations or plans of the Israeli government for al Haram al Sharif in Jerusalem", the one considered most likely by most respondents by far is "Destroy Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock Mosques and build a synagogue in their place". That's the view of 52% of all Palestinian Arabs. And while it's a view that only 33% of Gazans hold, in the Abbas-controlled West Bank, 62% believe it to be true.
If all of this were not sufficiently dis-spiriting (and let's be frank - it really is and it mostly has been for at least five generations now), consider what the people on the far side of the fence want to happen after a State of Palestine has been established and after all (repeat: all) the "issues in dispute" (that's a quote) are resolved. 
Will there then be mutual recognition of Israel as the state of "the Jewish people" and Palestine as the state of "the Palestinian people" (those are the terms the poll report uses)?
The answer of 59% of West Bank Palestinian Arabs is "no". And that's what the Arabs of the Gaza Strip also say: 63% of them. 

We're for peaceful relations. And like most of the Israelis that we know, we're open to talk about compromise and to bargain in good faith. But what are people who hold views like ours to do once we internalize the Arab opinion reflected in that last statistic? It's also impossible to ignore the daily incitement to yet more hatred, bigotry, violence and conflict emanating from elite circles in the two Palestinian Arab statelets (the schools, the mosques, the political corridors) that certainly makes the situation steadily worse.

Postscript:

We're convinced that understanding the feelings, expectations and aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs is fundamental to comprehending them and to having a sense of what's ahead. If you agree, you might want to review these earlier posts:

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