Wednesday, June 15, 2016

15-Jun-16: What do the Palestinian Arabs think?

Gazan Palestinian Arabs dance for joy as word gets out of a terrorist
massacre in a Jerusalem synagogue, November 18, 2014 [Image Source: AP]
Unless you make an effort to be informed on these matters, it can seem confusing to get a grasp on the views Palestinian Arabs hold. In reality it's not that hard to get it right. We do wish more people tried.

The perceived difficulty doesn't stem from a lack of credible, unbiased data. Plenty of it is out there, and has been for years based on polls conducted by professional Arab organizations using solid polling techniques and respectable science.

The problems - and there are plenty - start with the fact that analysts tend to attribute views to the Palestinian Arabs based on speeches of prominent figures, interviews with officials and (forgive us) a degree of wishful, or even malicious, thinking. They end up being certain of things that look suspiciously unsupported. And those packaged statements of sentiment tend to get adopted at large because so many want them to be true.

For us, examining the data is better. 

We have posted here several times about poll data in the past and despite all the political correctness in the air, we believe it's hard to avoid reaching concrete fact-based conclusions. See:
For those of us hoping for peaceful relations and better lives for everyone impacted by the conflict, what the data show is depressing, frustrating, even chilling. Perhaps that's why they are quoted so rarely and taken into account so little. But that's self-defeating.

Here's the latest installment.

The current views of Palestinian Arabs are captured in a study that was released just a few days ago by a respected source. It's Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No. 60, made public last week by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), whose head is Dr. Khalil Shikaki. (PSR's previous findings take a central role in those earlier posts we listed above.) 

This latest poll was carried out between June 2 and June 4, 2016 via face-to-face (as distinct from phone) interviews among 1,270 adult Arabs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 127 randomly selected locations. (The margin of error is 3%.)
Shikaki [Image Source]

Leaving aside the numbers, the findings are sometimes expressed in ways that obscure rather than clarify. For instance, when the summary at the top of the report says the poll data show "a continued and significant drop, particularly in the West Bank, in support for stabbing attacks...", many will feel a flutter of optimism in our breasts. But then you look at the numbers and reality smacks you over the head. The pollsters measure a thing they awkwardly term "Support for use of knives in the current confrontations with Israel". On that, indeed, there's been a drop in the past 90 days. It's come tumbling down from 44% to 36% among West Bank Arabs. And from 82% to 75% in the Gaza Strip. 

Yes, technically a fall. But a solid majority continues to rule. 56% of the Arabs on the other side of the fence favour stabbing Jews to death (a blunter term - but frankly a more accurate one). 

Underlining the seriousness of that Palestinian Arab devotion to murder, support for a specific terror assault - the cowardly bombing attack on a Jerusalem city bus ["21-Apr-16: The Hamas jihadists claim the Jerusalem bus bombing as one of their own"] in the Talpiot neighbourhood of the capital, injuring some 20 ordinary Israelis - got support from 65% of the Palestinian Arab respondents. 

Translated into the realities of our daily lives: two out of every three Arabs we meet in Israeli hospitals and on our light rail commute are with the bombers. 

Amazing. Also appalling. And whether you're sympathetic to those voices or hostile to them, you cannot ignore them - especially if they live in your cities and country, travel on the same roads you do, and frequent the same universities and hospitals and public transport and pizzerias.

If there's some logic to favoring bombings over knifings, the pollsters did not explore it or reveal what they learned. (We will get back to the distinction between general support and enthusiasm for a specific outrage in a few paras.)

Israelis frequently get told that Mahmoud Abbas, the extremely long-serving president of the Palestinian Authority. is a peace partner, the peace partner. This happens even though there has never been the smallest bit of actual evidence that he wants to reach a compromise settlement with the Israelis or capable of doing that given the belligerence among the people he rules. Israelis, acutely aware that Abbas is in the twelfth year of his four year elected term with no sign of anyone being able to get rid of him, see him as a man seriously lacking in support from his own ranks. 

Consistent with one after another past polls, the latest Palestinian Arab opinion poll numbers show
two thirds demand Abbas resignation, Fatah has not gained any additional support during the last three months, and a majority of Palestinians believes that the PA has become a burden on the Palestinian people... Level of satisfaction with the performance of president Abbas stands at 34%...
Dissatisfaction is related to the sense that Palestinian Arabs live lives mired in official corruption: 80% of them say they believe the PA's institutions are corrupt. The signs are they are astute enough to understand that press freedom is not going to make things better. Only 17% say there is press freedom in the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, belief in freedom of the local press stands at 16%.

Abbas: A steady two-thirds of his constituency want to see him quit
and go home and take the corruption with him [Image Source]
Who will replace Abbas when, as he must, he eventually goes? Here's the current field: 
  1. Marwan Barghouti 30%
  2. Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas) 22%
  3. Rami al Hamdallah 6%
  4. Khalid Mashaal 5%
  5. Mustapha Barghouti 5%
  6. Mohammad Dahlan 5%
  7. Saeb Erekat 2%
  8. Salam Fayyad 2%
Any Israeli government making concessions to a political figure as despised and disregarded as Abbas is would be accused - justifiably in our eyes - of reckless mismanagement of their electoral mandate. 

The pollsters examined how Palestinian Arabs view next steps, on the demonstrably safe assumption of an "absence of peace negotiations". "Return to an armed intifada" gets 54%, compared with 56% three months ago. Are we closer to, or further away from, things getting worse?

More than half (56%) want the Palestinian Authority to abandon the Oslo agreement today (63% held that view 90 days ago). Walking away from the Oslo agreement gets slightly more support among West Bank Arabs (57%) than among Gazans (55%).

(And this side-issue: Which US presidential candidate is seen as better for the Palestinian Arabs? 12% say Clinton. 7% go for Trump.)

We quoted Dr Daniel Polisar when we last wrote about PSR opinion poll data [see "03-Nov-15: What do they mean when the Palestinian Arabs say they oppose terror?"]. We felt his views added a lot to our understanding, so we went looking again just now at his most recent analysis. 

Writing in the wake of last week's terror attack on the Sorona Market complex in central Tel Aviv ["Palestinian public opinion is behind Tel Aviv terror attack", Times of Israel, June 10, 2016], Dr Polisar makes some sharp observations about how Palestinian Arab public opinion has evolved in the past years. In our words, a summary of his views:
  • There is a clear pattern of what he terms "sympathy and even adulation" among ordinary Palestinian Arabs for bloody attacks directed at Jews. How this works - at the "in principle" level and when actual terrorist outrages are done - is truly disturbing.
  • In PSR’s September 2004 survey, in-principle support for armed attacks on Israeli civilians stood at 54%. When asked how they felt about a specific bombing attack carried out in Be'er Sheba a few weeks before the poll, an attack in which 16 Israelis were murdered, support for that specific outrage sky-rocketed to 77%. 
  • PSR's June 2006 poll found about a slightly higher level of general support for terror attacks on Israeli civilians: 56%. Questioned again about one specific terror bombing in Tel Aviv two months before, with a death toll of 11 Israelis, support zoomed to 69%.
  • PSR's March 2008 poll found general support for terror attacks on civilians reached an all-time high of 67%. There had been two Arab-on-Israel terror attacks just before the polling interviews. One was a bombing on Israelis in Dimona during February: 78% said they were in favor of that. Then there was a much more lethal terror attack on a high school for religious boys in Jerusalem [see "9-Mar-08: Terrorism. Their world. Our world."]: eight Israeli children were murdered. Support for that specific atrocity (unarmed children! in their school!) was measured at the stratospheric level of 84%. 
  • PSR stopped asking about specific terror attacks after that. (Perhaps they were embarrassed. Perhaps the results generated negative feedback.) 
  • Since August 2014, PSR has done eight more polls, each one including a question about Palestinian Arab attitudes to “attacks against Israeli civilians within Israel”. Each time, the majority expressed support.
In the March 2016 poll, the last time this question was asked, 60% of Palestinians backed Arab-on-Israeli-civilian terror attacks. Dr Polisar notes, and most of us would probably agree, that there are
good reasons to expect, or at least to hope, that support for a concrete case of violence would be lower than for attacks against civilians in general. After all, it is one thing to favor in principle the use of bombs or guns against Israeli civilians and something else, after seeing coverage of the grisly results of a particular suicide-bombing, to declare one’s support. But in practice, the opposite effect can be observed...  Disturbingly, this pattern has been consistent during the past decade and a half, with only a brief exception, as high percentages of Palestinians have supported terror attacks on Israeli civilians in general, while even higher percentages have backed specific bombings and shootings that killed and wounded Israelis.
Here's what we said when we last looked at the poll numbers. We believe, and the polling data bear it out consistently over years, that when columnists and analysts speak of the desire of Palestinian Arabs to live in peace, to get on with ordinary, quiet, constructive lives - as compelling as this interpretation is, the data don't support it. It's, to put it kindly, wishful thinking unsupported by any evidence and contradicted by what we can measure based on Arab pollsters. 

Anyone paying attention to the incitement pumped, generation after generation, into their communities and heads will not be surprised. What the people living on the other side of the fence are saying is clear, credible and measurable. Being optimistic about the prospects for the sort of painful compromise that leads to peaceful relations is counterfactual and foolish, as much as we wish it were otherwise

That's a message we wish the public figures pushing their literally-hopeless "peace plans" would internalize. (And no, we have not given up hope of something better ahead, but specific things must happen first, all of them connected to how Palestinian Arab children are educated.)

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