Tuesday, September 26, 2017

26-Sep-17: What do the Palestinian Arabs think now?

[Image Source: PCR]
It's been about nine months since we last addressed the core question of what Palestinian Arab opinion polls tell us about their hopes, fears, ambitions and values. That last review is here: "15-Dec-16: What do the Palestinian Arabs think now?"

As it happens, this morning has gotten off to a really rotten start with another Arab-on-Israeli terror attack at the entrance to the bucolic northern Jerusalem suburb of Har Adar. As we write this, reports say three Israelis were shot to death and a fourth is fighting for his life in a Jerusalem hospital. The gunman is dead. We will report on what we know about this later.

With the fresh extreme violence in mind, what do the data tell us? What do Palestinian Arab polls of Palestinian Arab opinion, reveal about support for murder of this kind and about the other issues that are on the minds of the people who play such an influential/complicated role on the lives lived by us Israelis?

As we have said here before, what the Palestinian Arabs think is something we're very interested in knowing. Relying on newspapers or electronic media coverage of their views, a person is likely to get someone's wishful projections or politically-skewed understandings rather than data-based analysis. The difference between the two is vast and unbridgeable.

There are some serious polling organizations that are themselves Palestinian Arab. We tend to focus on the findings of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research or PSR [website] headed by the respected Prof. Khalil Shikaki. We're doing that again now.

In PSR's Poll Number 65 (there have been three on which we did not manage to report since our last related post), which was published on September 19, 2017, we think these are the key findings (italicized texts are taken verbatim from the source)
A syndicated AFP photo shows the supporters of Fatah and of Abbas in the
Gaza Strip last week. There may be more out of camera range. [Image Source]
  • Violence: 35% of those polled "think that the most effective means of creating a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel is armed action". Negotiation gets 33% and "popular non-violent resistance" 26%. In the December  2016 poll, armed action got slightly more: 37%. A year ago, it got 34%. Those slight rises and falls are less significant than the reality that a third of the Arabs living closest to us see the best solution to the differences between as being achieved by murder and terror. A third. But it gets worse...
  • Non-violence? Now bear in mind that "popular non-violent resistance" is an expression that means something quite different for the Palestinian Arabs and their advocates - including their president - than for most other people. Abbas and people around him use it to refer to lethal measures like hurling rocks at Israelis and their vehicles: non-violent resistance in  their lexicon includes rock hurling, knifings and vehicle-rammings. That's plainly terrorist violence, whatever advocates for the Palestinian Arabs claim, and it means that nearly two-thirds of the Palestinian Arabs are for it. 
  • An "overwhelming majority" are "worried about the future of liberties in Palestine". Contributing factors, over and above the decades of heavy-handed, thuggish rule by a self-preserving clique of aging Abbas/Arafat regime kleptocrats (our observation, not PSR's) include a marked rise in PA arrests of reporters and "activists"; a new presidential decree enacting an oppressive piece of regulation that they call a "cybercrime law"; and upcoming changes to the PA's Law of the Judiciary. 
  • Related to the first point: A large majority of Palestinian Arabs (85% of West Bank Arabs) now say they are afraid to criticize their PA masters. Fully half of them believe Abbas' PA has become "a burden on the Palestinian people". 
  • This is evidently affecting their political outlooks. If presidential elections were held today, the Hamas candidate "Haniyeh would win against Abbas. Findings also indicate a decline in support for Fatah, particularly in the Gaza Strip where Hamas is more popular. In the West Bank however, Fatah remains more popular than Hamas." Just 3 months ago, PSR found that each candidate had the same level of support if this were a two-horse race. No longer. 
  • But even before they get to elections, there's no doubting the appetite for immediate political change: "67% of the public want president Abbas to resign... Three months ago, 62% said [this]... Demand for Abbas’ resignation stands at 60% in the West Bank and 80% in the Gaza Strip."
  • Gaza is one big set of problems for Fatah and its leader: "It is certain that [Mahmoud Abbas, president-for-life of the PA] would lose any presidential elections in the Gaza Strip to Hamas’ Ismael Haniyeh". 
  • Worth recalling that the last time Palestinian Arabs were given the chance to vote for a president was in January 2005 when Abbas won; he has held tenaciously on to power ever since. The only previous presidential election, dominated by Yasser Arafat, was in 1996.
  • For the rather touchy Abbas and his hangers-on, there's more bad news and it involves Abbas' fiercest rival: "Fatah is fast losing its popularity in the Gaza Strip, standing at 28% today compared to 40% only nine months ago. Those who still support Fatah in the Gaza Strip are shifting loyalty to Mohammad Dahlan whose popularity among Gazans has more than doubled during the past nine months, from 9% to 23% today, while his popularity among West Bankers did not change, remaining hardly at 1%."
  • In a three-way race, the convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti who lives in an Israeli prison cell, would easily beat both Abbas and Haniyah.
  • Support for violence against Israelis has risen over the previous poll, "despite the fact that a majority remains opposed to it", partly because of "the lack of trust in diplomacy. Findings show that about three quarters believe that the Trump Administration is not serious about Palestinian-Israeli peace making and an even higher percentage believes that the Administration is not an honest broker and that it is biased in favor of Israel".
  • When they watch television, here's where they tune in: Al Jazeera (Qatar-owned, Qatar-based) 20%; Ma'an TV 14%; Hamas' Al Aqsa TV 13%; Palestine TV (controlled by the PA) 12%; Filasteen al Youm/Palestine Today 11%; Al Arabiya (Saudi-owned, Dubai-based) 6; Hamas' Al Quds TV 4%; al Mayadeen (satellite-news station based in Beirut) 3%.
  • The popular perception of corruption in the PA and its institutions is now at 77%. This is actually something of an improvement; in a 2014 PCR poll, it stood at 81%.
  • On the list of "Most vital Palestinian goals and problems", the top item with 40% support is the need "to end Israeli occupation". A mere 12% think the "first and most vital goal should be to establish a democratic political system that respects freedoms and rights". The most serious problem confronting their society today is poverty and unemployment (26%) with "the spread of corruption in public institutions" second at 25%.
  • The violent confrontations that took place on Jerusalem's Temple Mount in July 2017 in the wake of the brazen and cold-blooded killing of two Israeli Druze security men [see our post] occupied much of the thinking of the Palestinian Arab public. In PSR's words and despite those other concerns we just listed, the "the installment of metal detectors at the entrance to al Haram al Sharif gates were the most important event during the period in question". 
  • As for Israel's decision to quickly remove them, a minuscule 7% of Palestinian Arabs attribute this to King Abdullah II of Jordan despite Jordan's not-so-subtle PR efforts to grab the limelight, as in this Arab media quote: “Without the Hashemite custodi­anship and the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites, the holy sites would have been lost many years ago.” (Those of us old enough to remember life in Jerusalem pre-1967 recall how the Old City of Jerusalem was under illegal Jordanian military occupation from 1949 until freed in the Six Day War.)
There's not much here to feel good about. As their own societies - both Fatah and Hamas - explore new kinds of tyranny, between one-third and two-thirds of them hold tight to a vision of more violence as a solution to their problems. The future of their children, meanwhile, along with their health, their schools, their environment and their economy remain mired in self-inflicted gloom, failure and inertia.

PSR 65 was based on a sample size of 1,270 adults interviewed face-to-face (not by phone) in 127 locations selected randomly. The statistical margin of error is 3%. 

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