‘Most Palestinians believe Israel wants to destroy Al-Aqsa’
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‘Most Palestinians believe Israel wants to destroy Al-Aqsa’

Fearful of Israel and distrustful of their own leadership, 43% of Gazans and 23% of West Bankers seek emigration, poll finds; 77% back rocket attacks on Israel; Hamas popularity soaring

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Muslims pray on the Temple Mount at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, July 28, 2014. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Muslims pray on the Temple Mount at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, July 28, 2014. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Four months after Operation Protective Edge, Palestinian support for violence against Israel is at a peak, with most Palestinians believing that Israel has concrete plans to destroy the Muslim structures on the Temple Mount and replace them with a Jewish temple, a new Palestinian poll has found.

Khalil Shikaki, director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), told journalists at the Jerusalem Press Club Sunday that Palestinian attitudes toward Israel have hardened more dramatically in the wake of Operation Protective Edge than after the two previous military operations in Gaza, in 2008 and 2012.

Fearful of Israel and distrustful of their own leadership, 43 percent of Gaza residents and 23% of West Bankers said they are seeking emigration abroad.

In a poll conducted by PSR among 1,270 Palestinians during the first week of December 2014, 86% of Palestinians said that the Temple Mount (known in Arabic as al-Haram al-Sharif) is “in great danger,” with 77% believing that Israel intends to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and replace them with a Jewish temple, and 21% opining that it intends to divide the plaza into Jewish and Arab domains, with a synagogue planned for the Jewish area.

Half the respondents believed Israel would succeed in implementing its plans.

Only 6% of respondents thought that Israel intends to leave the status quo on the mountain as it has been since 1967, with Jews banned from prayer on the site.

Tensions surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem have flared since the brutal killing of Palestinian teenager Muhammed Abu Khdeir last July, allegedly by a group of Jews avenging the killings of three Israeli teens by a Hamas cell the previous month, coupled with increased interest by right-wing Israeli parliamentarians in Jewish prayer rights in the sacred site. In October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced, following diplomatic pressure from Jordan (which considers itself the political custodian of Jerusalem’s Islamic sites), that he did not intend to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. Netanyahu has repeated on several occasions that Israel has no plans to alter arrangements at the site.

Khalil Shikaki, the Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research at his office in Ramallah, June 14, 2011 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Khalil Shikaki, the Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research at his office in Ramallah, June 14, 2011 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

“This is the first time our survey focused on Jerusalem,” Shikaki said. “The answers reflect the high level of tension in the city.”

The poll found that support for Hamas and its strategy continues to be higher than support for Fatah both in Gaza and the West Bank. If national elections were to be held today, Hamas would win a majority of seats in parliament and its former prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, would defeat PA President Mahmoud Abbas by a landslide, Shikaki said.

While Abbas received relatively high approval ratings of 50% before the summer, by December they plummeted to 35%, even lower than in September (39%). Haniyeh’s popularity exceeds Abbas’s by a greater degree in the Fatah-dominated West Bank (53% vs. 41%) than in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip (54% vs. 44%), the survey found.

Fatah leader and convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti, jailed for his involvement in five murders during the Second Intifada, is much more popular than Abbas, and would defeat the PA leader by nine percentage points in a three-way race with Hamas (Haniyeh would still win, with 40%). But if Barghouti were to run against Haniyeh alone, he would win by 52% to 43%, the poll found.

A Palestinian man stands behind a poster depicting jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, Ramallah, February 28, 2012 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
A Palestinian man stands behind a poster depicting jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, Ramallah, February 28, 2012 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

“Currently, I believe it is Abbas and not Hamas who is vetoing new elections,” Shikaki said, weighing in on the intra-Palestinian debate surrounding who is to blame for stalling the democratic vote scheduled for the end of 2014, under a reconciliation deal reached between the rival factions last June.

The Palestinians questioned in the survey continued to overwhelmingly support violent tactics against Israel. Seventy-seven percent said they supported rocket attacks into Israel as long as the Gaza blockade isn’t lifted. Nearly half the Palestinians polled opposed disarming Gaza’s military groups.

“Overall, the findings indicate that — in Palestinian eyes — violence works and diplomacy is a failure, and a third intifada is the best way to go,” Shikaki said.

But the poll also found Palestinians are deeply pessimistic about their own political system. In September 2014, 53% of Palestinians said they were optimistic about the prospects of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Those numbers plummeted to just 40% in December, with 58% saying they were pessimistic.

For Abbas, the perception of government corruption in the West Bank should be a serious cause for concern. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they believed the Palestinian Authority to be corrupt, and just 20% said that press freedom exists in the West Bank (the figure for Gaza was just slightly higher, 21%).

Despite the bleak responses, Shikaki said that Palestinian views were largely influenced by their perception of the Israeli ones. A quarter of the respondents who rejected the components of the Clinton parameters — presented by the former US president as the most likely outline for a peace deal in late 2000 — said they would change their mind if Israel agreed to them.

“Despite the hardening of views on the surface, the change may have to do with the public’s perception of the Israeli intentions,” Shikaki said.

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