Wednesday, June 16, 2021

16-Jun-21: What do the Palestinian Arabs think now?

Image Source: Red Cross
There's unique value to Palestinian Arab polls of Palestinian Arab public opinion. 

They often come with internal contradictions and unanswered ambiguities. But at least they don't suffer from, or impose on their readers, the wishful thinking and projection that make some outside analyses, especially from far-away reporters and columnists with axes to grind, misleading and worse.

We have reported here for years about the results of periodic polling done by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), headed by a respected professional, Dr. Khalil Shikaki. We know Shikaki only by his work and reputation; there is no personal connection between us.

Before getting into the details and the data, it's worth repeating what we wrote in one of our previous posts about Palestinian Arab opinion polls ["04-Apr-18: Here's (one view of) what the Palestinian Arabs want"]:
Palestinian Arab polls of Palestinian Arab opinion can be valuable tools for understanding what they think at any given time. And no less importantly, how accurate the assessments of what they want for the future are. And to be blunt about this, they're 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. That's why we have chosen from time to time to publicize here the results of opinion polls conducted by relatively respected organizations within Palestinian Arab society.
PSR Public Opinion Poll Number 80 was released yesterday. It reports on polling conducted on a sample of 1,200 adults interviewed face to face in 120 randomly selected locations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between June 9 and 12, 2021. The margin of error is plus/minus 3%.

The press release summarizing its findings starts with uncommonly strong language, speaking of "a paradigm shift in public attitudes against the PA and its leadership and in favor of Hamas and armed struggle". 

In these current fraught times, you would think this would get significant headline treatment. But the PSR polls almost never do. Here are some of the key findings.

Political leadership

  • PSR found widespread public discontent with how President Mahmoud Abbas, now 85 years old, leads them. Abbas was elected on January 9, 2005 to serve as President of the Palestinian National Authority (usually called the PA) until January 15, 2009. More than sixteen years after taking charge, he gives no indication that he's ready to relinquish control. Quite the opposite.
  • Abbas announced on January 15, 2021 that elections would take place for the no-longer-functional Palestinian Legislative Council on May 22, 2021. These were going to be followed by presidential elections on July 31, 2021. Based on reports we saw, there were few observers who believed they were actually going to happen.
  • And on April 30, 2021 ["Palestinian leader delays parliamentary and presidential elections, blaming Israel" via Reuters] the skeptics were proven right. It was all Israel's fault, naturally - because everything bad in their world is the fault of the Jews..
  • Now notice that, as the poll shows, two-thirds of Palestinian Arabs reject Abbas’ decision to postpone the elections. To us, this is a big deal. While the Western media are busy swallowing Abbas' chronic blame-all-problems-on-the Zionists, Abbas' subjects understand the games that are being played and don't like them. 
  • The same proportion, two-thirds, say the reason the elections were postponed is not because of Zionist dirty doings but rather (which is obviously the case) that Abbas "was afraid of their outcome, not because Israel has prevented the holding of elections in East Jerusalem." His placing the blame on Israel is the subject of an April 27, 2021 Associated Press report ["Egyptian officials: Palestinians plan to call off elections"] in which the obvious is pointed out: that the Israeli role is nothing more than "a pretext for Abbas to cancel a parliamentary election that his Fatah movement is expected to lose badly. Fatah has split into three rival lists, paving the way for Hamas to emerge as the biggest party in parliament."
  • The latest PSR data bear this out. A clear majority prefer Hamas leadership over Fatah under Abbas. More concretely, if presidential elections were held today on a head-to-head basis between two candidates, Mahmoud Abbas would get 27% and lose massively to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh who gets 59%. Three months ago, a PSR poll predicted Haniyeh at 46% and Abbas at 47%. This is not what Abbas wants to hear.
  • Nor is this: In a hypothetical two-horse race between Haniyeh and convicted and imprisoned-for-life terrorist Marwan Barghouti who personally paid for the guitar bomb that murdered our daughter (among a long list of additional crimes for which he is in prison), Barghouti would win 51% to 42%. But note, which PSR does not, that in a previous poll three years ago, the malodorous Mr Barghouti did considerably better than this month. 
  • Abbas does worse in the West Bank than he does in Gaza. In Gaza, Abbas would get 30% of votes (44% three months ago); Haniyeh gets 60% (56% three months ago). In the West Bank which Fatah/PA/Abbas nominally control, Abbas gets just 25% (52% three months ago) and Haniyeh gets 59% (38% three months ago).
  • What's more, there is "widespread public discontent with the performance of the PA government and leadership as well as Fatah during the [recentconfrontations and the war."
  • Overall, support for Hamas electorally and in general has increased dramatically at the expense of Fatah: "A majority of the Palestinians think that Hamas is more deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people" than Fatah under Abbas’ leadership.
  • Asked about the ability of the current PA government headed by Prime Minister (since April 2019) Mohammad Shtayyeh, to improve economic conditions, 62% expect failure.

Palestinian Arab Gazans with no work - 2017 [Image Source]

  • What are Palestinian Arab society's preferred courses for getting out of what their report calls the current status quo. 27% of them say “reaching a peace agreement with Israel” (down from 36% three months ago) - not much of an answer without some explanation of how this gets done but it's the answer the pollsters chose to offer. But then a major larger group amounting to 39% say waging “an armed struggle against the Israeli occupation” (sharply up from 26% three months ago). 11% prefer waging "non-violent resistance”. 18% say the status quo isn't actually that bad and prefer to keep it.
  • Asked about the desirability of re-engaging with the United States now that Trump has gone and the Democrats under Biden are in charge, 54% don't want it to happen. 
  • The US and Europe speak often and enthusiastically about a two-state solution. But support for the concept (which was not defined in the poll for reasons not explained in the PSR report) was a mere 39%., almost identical to what it was three months ago. A whopping 58% of Palestinian Arabs say they oppose it.
  • Support for a return to armed confrontation and intifada rose sharply to 60%. Support for a resumption of negotiations with Israel and the belief that negotiation are the best way to end "occupation" fell.
  • Which side "won" the May 2021 battle between Hamas forces in Gaza and the IDF? The Palestinian Arab public has a breathtakingly clear view on this: "An overwhelming majority... (77%) believes that Hamas has come out a winner in its last war with Israel while only 1% think Israel came out a winner."
  • 72% think those 4,300+ Hamas rockets were launched at Israeli towns and homes "in defense of Jerusalem and al Aqsa Mosque". 
  • Of the various groups "most willing to defend Jerusalem and its holy places", Hamas gets a 29%, rating and Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah/PA a dismissive 3%.
  • 60% of those polled believe the participation (presumably the civil disobedience, riots, armed and unarmed attacks on Israelis) of "the Palestinian citizens of Israel in the recent confrontation was driven, first and foremost, by their desire to defend the holy sites." 
  • 94% "are proud of the performance of the Gaza Strip during the May confrontation with Israel while 6% say they are not."
  • Asked whether they have a positive view of life ("positive evaluation of conditions"), only 8% of people in the Gaza Strip say yes. In the West Bank, it's a whopping 24%.
  • 26% of all Palestinian Arabs "want to emigrate due to political, security, and economic conditions". Breakdown: in the Gaza Strip it's 42% (slightly up on three months ago when it was 40%). In the West Bank, it's 15% (sharply down on 23% of three months ago). 
  • Based on viewing habits of the past three months, by far the most watched TV channel for Palestinian Arabs is Aljazeera TV (Arabic of course) with 36% of respondents. Next came Al-Aqsa TV with a mere 13% and six others with far smaller audiences.
Corruption in Palestinian Arab institutions
  • Is there corruption in PA institutions? 84% say yes.
  • Is there corruption in Hamas institutions? 57% say yes.
  • Can you criticize PA institutions without fear? 46% of West Bankers say yes. 
  • Can you criticize Hamas institutions without fear? 50% of Gazans say yes.
Rewards for Terror
  • This being a Palestinian Arab survey of Palestinian Arab views, no one should be surprised that the poll avoids asking whether the Palestinian Authority's notorious incentive payments program for imprisoned or dead terrorists ("Pay to Slay" or less colorfully Rewards for Terror) ought to continue. Of course (we say) they want it to continue. 
  • Instead, based on the responses, the PSR poll question is apparently this: Should those payments "to the families of martyrs and prisoners [be] based on need assessment and number of family members rather than on the act committed by the martyr or the number of years in jail"
  • Payments according to how sickening the act of terror was and how long the prison sentence, assuming the terrorists were caught, tried and convicted, is how it works today. Adjusting it to take account of the terrorist family's actual needs is the far-fetched proposal offered by the poll question. 
  • The result is absolutely (and disturbingly) clear: 70% are opposed to the suggested change. They're happy with how things are today - more dead and injured Israelis means more cash from the chronically insolvent PA budget and they see nothing wrong with that.  Abbas and his cronies, unable to build or run their own education system, their own decent health-care system, their own industrial infrastructure to create employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for a society with a staggering unemployment rate of 38% among the crucial youth cohort aged between 18 and 29 (2019 data) - instead simply spend the foreign cash the PA gets from foolish government officials in Europe and elsewhere. It's an easy decision.
  • A significant footnote: The 2019 unemployment rate (official Palestinian Authority figures) among that same youth cohort in Gaza stood at an unbelievable 63%. It's a piece of information to keep in mind when we see coverage of masses of Gazans being herded to protest rallies and wildly violent "protests" in the vicinity of the border with Israel.  
There's much to ponder in these findings, perhaps the most significant part of it being that Palestinian Arab leadership is neither building a credible alternative to peace with Israel nor doing anything to moderate their society's passion for war, confrontation and self-delusion.

It's a depressing picture for anyone who gives a damn.

Click here for the full list.

[For Polish-speaking readers, a version translated into the Polish language is online at the Listy z naszego sadu site - dziękuję ci bardzo, Małgorzata.]

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