Tuesday, June 04, 2019

04-Jun-19: What do Palestinian Arabs think?

The PA Cabinet, presided over by prime minister Rami Hamdallah in 2017
Knowing what the Palestinian Arabs think - not what their elites say they think or what outside reporters guess their opinions are but what they tell trusted fellow Palestinian Arabs who happen to be professional pollsters about the things they actually believe - is a subject always worth revisiting.

Most of our previous poll-centered posts have been based on the published data of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), headed by Dr. Khalil Shikaki. Click here to go to those previous posts - we started analyzing them in 2011. We do that again below.

But first, stop and note an Associated Press report issued this afternoon that drives home something every Palestinian Arab knows but that gets poorly reported for reasons obvious to anyone who pays attention to how the Palestinian Arab conflict with Israel is covered in the news. (That's not meant as a compliment to reporters or editors.)

Key quote:
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg of corruption in the Palestinian Authority, considering that we couldn’t have access to more important information,” said Majdi Abu Zeid, a researcher at the anti-corruption watchdog group Aman. The leaks coincide with a report by Aman finding that the government has improperly filled senior government jobs without advertising them, appointed officials’ relatives to senior posts and refused to disclose budgets of the presidential office and security forces.
The AP headline almost buries what the story really stands for: "A secret pay raise by Cabinet angers Palestinian public":
  • The pay raise was awarded to themselves by the members of the shadowy cabal around Mahmoud Abbas in 2017, and made retrospective all the way back to 2014. A real killing for the fat cats and only the thinnest of camouflage to explain themselves now that  they have been caught.
  • This happened when Abbas' prime minister was Rami Hamdallah. Described in June 2013 as "a British-educated academic and political independent" as well as a moderate and pragmatic when he took office, he was said to be an interim appointee. But he filled the role for six years, being replaced in April 2019. Evidently he's possessed of the sort of pragmatism that appeals to the PA's president-for-life.
  • An angry "Palestine public" is a phenomenon worth understanding. Our sense, looking at polling data, has long been that the Palestinian Arabs are consistently a great deal angrier with their corrupt and self-serving political elites than the news industry wants to report. And for perfectly sound reasons.
Now to the most recent published data from Dr Shikaki's authoritative PSR.

It's derived from interviews conducted in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and in the region controlled by the Palestinian Authority (Judea and Samaria are our preferred terms) between March 13 and 16, 2019. The data are summarized in a report called Public Opinion Poll 71, published online on April 9, 2019. Total sample size was 1,270 adults interviewed face to face in 127 randomly selected locations. Margin of error: +/-3%.

Produce vendor, Palestinian Authority [Image Source]
Some findings that got our attention:
  • Elections: The Palestinian Arabs are starved for opportunities to vote for their rulers. Little wonder that more than seventy percent of them say they want elections for both parliament and president. But life and reality have made them realistic: 46% believe no elections of either kind will take place in the foreseeable future. It helps to know that Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority on January 9, 2005 for a four-year term that doesn't look like ending in his lifetime. The last time Palestinian Arabs got to vote for a parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council, was a year after that, on January 25, 2006. But they haven't lost their interest: if they could vote for a parliament and all Palestinian factions were able to run, 70% say they would go vote. Fatah would lead with 39%; Hamas would get 32%; the other parties would share 8%; 18% can't decide right now. (Yes, this doesn't add up to 100% but the prospects of it happening are tiny anyway.) 
  • Leaders: Satisfaction with the performance of Abbas as president is 40% among residents of the "West Bank" and 24% in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. In the extremely unlikely event of a two-horse race election for president, Abbas gets 51% of the vote and wins, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas gets 41%. Convicted murderer and loathsome prisoner Marwan Barghouti ["18-Apr-17: So what, in reality, is Marwan Barghouti?"] would be a stronger theoretical candidate for president than Abbas, scoring 64% to Haniyeh's 33%. 
  • Prime Minister: Without consulting Hamas, Abbas appointed Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister, replacing Hamdaleh, in mid-April 2019. Asked by the pollsters and although he's barely managed to do anything yet, about the same number of Palestinian Arabs (38%) were satisfied with the new guy as dissatisfied (40%). What do they base their opinions on? That's beyond our capabilities.
  • PA prosperity: The Palestinian Authority has been an economic basket case since its inception, and has done almost nothing since then to show it can do better. Quite the opposite. Abbas underscored this when he declared  a year ago during a meeting with families and relatives of Palestinian “martyrs” and former security prisoners (meaning terrorists): "Even if we have only a penny left, we will give it to the martyrs, the prisoners and their families,.. We view the prisoners and the martyrs as planets and stars in the skies of the Palestinian struggle, and they have priority in everything." Palestinian Arabs understand him: asked in March, 69% worried that the PA will not be able to keep paying salaries; the PA itself is by far the largest employer in the PA. More than half (54%) of all Palestinian Arabs worry that it will entirely collapse. There's no sign at all that this worries Abbas. Meanwhile, as the International Labor Organization noted here, "The unemployment rate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) has risen to the world’s highest level, at 27.4 per cent in 2017."
  • Whose fault? Asked who should be blamed for the awful state of the Gaza Strip (it's axiomatic that someone has to be), more than a third of all Palestinian Arabs (37%) voted for Israel. 25% blamed the PA and its president. The smallest vote, 21%, was expressed by those who somehow imagine it's the fault of Hamas who after all have only controlled Gaza since 2007 after winning the 2006 elections there and then violently overturning Fatah's control.
  • Image Source: Reuters
  • Corruption and fear: Two-thirds of all West Bankers say the PA cannot be criticized - meaning you don't do it if you know what's good for you. Asked "Do you think that there is corruption in PA institutions of the Palestinian Authority?" (probably sounds less clumsy in Arabic), 85% of West Bankers said yes. In Gaza, 76% said yes to the same question. Far as we can tell from the report, the Gazans were not asked about corruption in Hamas. Or if they were, the results were not published. Why? It's the Middle East.
  • Peace - and will there be a Palestinian state? A serious number, 39% which is higher than the last poll by 5 percentage points, say their preferred way of moving past today's reality is “reaching a peace agreement with Israel”. 30% say "armed struggle against the Israeli occupation” and 11% say “waging non-violent resistance”. Armed struggle gets relatively more support among those polled in the Gaza Strip (38%) compared with the West Bank (25%). 
  • Peace plans: 83%, an astronomical number, say the Trump Administration is not serious about its peace plan. 64% even oppose resuming dialogue between the Palestinian Arab leadership and the US. Opposition to such talks is stronger in the West Bank (70%) than in the Gaza Strip (54%). It's worth recalling that the Trump plan and all its details are still unannounced which obviously makes it easier to reject.

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