Palestinians cool on two states, warm to armed intifada, poll finds
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Palestinians cool on two states, warm to armed intifada, poll finds

Hamas gains ground in West Bank as Palestinians despair of the PA and increasingly support its dissolution; two-thirds support Abbas resignation

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Palestinians singing nationalistic songs near Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on Land Day, March 30, 2015. (Elhanan Miller)
Palestinians singing nationalistic songs near Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on Land Day, March 30, 2015. (Elhanan Miller)

A major study of Palestinian public opinion has found that a majority no longer supports the two-state solution, rejects negotiations while settlement construction continues and supports an armed uprising against Israel.

The study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research of 1,270 adults in the West Bank and Gaza between September 17 and 19 found most Palestinians increasingly wary of stagnant peace efforts amid ongoing settlement construction, unhappy with their own leadership and distrustful of Israeli promises to keep the Temple Mount status quo.

A two-to-one majority of those polled (66 percent to 32%) rejects returning to “unconditional negotiations with Israel if that means no cessation of settlement activities,” the survey found. An “overwhelming majority” of 88% supported taking Israel to the International Criminal Court over settlement construction, according to the study.

At the same time, a slight majority of 51% said it opposed the two-state solution, while 48% supported it. The figure marks a slight increase in opposition to the idea since June, when 48% opposed the outcome and 51% supported it.

The survey, which consisted of face-to-face interviews with 1,270 adults in 127 randomly selected locations in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, carried a margin of error of 3%.

While roughly half support the two-state solution, two-thirds, or 65%, said they no longer believed it was practical due to settlement expansion, a 10-point jump in just three months. Just 32% said it remained a viable prospect.

Yet this skepticism does not translate into support for a shared state. Just 30% support a one-state solution with equality for Arabs and Jews — a drop of 4 points since June — while 69% oppose it.

Illustrative image of Arab youth hurling stones at Israeli security forces during clashes in East Jerusalem. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Illustrative image of Arab youth hurling stones at Israeli security forces during clashes in East Jerusalem. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Support for armed conflict as “the most effective means of establishing a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel” rose from 36% in June to 42% in the latest poll. Just 29% said negotiations were more effective.

While support for armed conflict is on the rise, distrust of Israeli intentions is pervasive. According to the study’s authors, fully 85% of respondents believe “that Israel’s long-term aspiration is to annex the lands occupied in 1967 and expel their population or deny them their rights,” while just 15% said “Israel’s long-term aspiration is to ensure its security and withdraw from all or most of the territories occupied in 1967.”

While a majority of Palestinians – 59% – say Hamas won the summer 2014 war with Israel, the figure was vastly higher in the West Bank (69%) than among Gazans who actually experienced the war (42%)

Asked about the long-term aspirations of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Palestinian views were decidedly more trusting. Nearly two-thirds — 64% — said the PA wanted “to recover all or parts of the land occupied in 1967.” A total of 26% answered one of two options — either “to conquer the state of Israel” or “conquer the state of Israel and kill most of the Jews.”

Fully 40% of Palestinians “support a mutual recognition of national identity of Israel as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people,” even as a majority — 58% — oppose such recognition.

In the end, if peace talks remain stalled, fully 83% support joining additional international bodies and treaties, 63% an expansion of “popular non-violent resistance,” 51% the “dissolution of the PA,” and 57% “a return to an armed intifada.” Support for the PA’s dissolution rose five points since June, while support for an armed intifada rose eight points.

Fatah declines, Barghouti shines

Two-thirds (65%) of respondents said they wanted PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resign, while just 31% say he should stay. An equal number — two-thirds — said they did not believe his recent threats to resign.

Abbas’s popularity continues to decline in the West Bank, from 44% in June to 38% this month. The PA leader’s Fatah faction also saw a decline in popularity. Among respondents who said they will vote, 39% said in June they would vote Fatah; 35% said so in the latest poll. Hamas held steady at 35% in both polls.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 22, 2015. (AFP/Majdi Mohammed/Pool)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the Executive Committee of the PLO in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 22, 2015. (AFP/Majdi Mohammed/Pool)

A major theme of the study showed Palestinians tended to be more dissatisfied with the particular Palestinian faction under which they lived.

Thus, Hamas’s support has declined in the Gaza Strip from 39% to 34% over the past three months, while Fatah’s declined — from 44% to 37% — but remained ahead of Hamas in the Hamas-ruled territory. In the West Bank, meanwhile, Hamas’s support rose from 32% to 35% since June, while Fatah, which controls the PA government in the West Bank, dropped slightly from 36% to 34%.

Similarly, while a majority of Palestinians — 59% — say Hamas won the summer 2014 war with Israel, the figure was vastly higher in the West Bank (69%) than among Gazans who actually experienced the war (42%). The overall number also marks a 10-point decline from last September, when 69% said Hamas had won. Fully 60% said they were dissatisfied “with war achievements compared to the human and material losses sustained by the Gaza Strip.”

That dissatisfaction does not stop a full 67% of Palestinians from supporting continued rocket fire from Gaza at Israel as long as the territory remains blockaded by Israel.

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

The study asked about the popularity of the octogenarian Abbas’s potential successors. The leader by far is Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti, currently serving multiple life terms in an Israeli prison over murder convictions. Barghouti won 32% of respondents in a crowded list. Next in line came Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh at 19%, followed by the technocrat (and current PA prime minister) Rami Hamdallah with 8%. Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal and Fatah’s former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan tied with 6% each. Third-party activist Mustafa Barghouti took 5%, Abbas confidant and peace negotiator Saeb Erekat 4% and former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad 3%.

Fully half of Palestinians say Israel will succeed in implementing its purported plans on the Temple Mount

In a two-way race between Abbas and Hamas’s Haniyeh, the Hamas leader would win 49-44, a marked improvement for him from a study in June that put him at 46% to Abbas’s 47%. The study found further strengthening of Hamas support in the West Bank: Haniyeh would do better against Abbas in the West Bank (49-42) than in Gaza (48-48) in an election held now.

The jailed Barghouti would do better than Abbas, the poll found, beating Haniyeh 55-39 in a two-way race.

Two-thirds (65%) of the Palestinian public support a long-term Hamas truce with Israel in exchange for ending the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Fear and loathing in the PA

The PA is not popular, the study found. A majority — 53% — believes the PA “has become a burden” for the Palestinians, “and for the first time since we started asking, a majority now demands the dissolution of that authority.” Just 40% view it as an “accomplishment.” The figures mark a decline in popularity since June, when 48% called the PA a burden while 46% said it was an accomplishment.

The reason for the PA’s unpopularity may lie with the pervasive feeling of insecurity reported by respondents. Fully 81% said they worried “that they would be hurt by Israel or that their land would be confiscated or homes demolished,” the study found.

Palestinians carry the body of one-and-a-half year old Ali Dawabsha, killed in an apparent 'price tag' attack, during his funeral in Duma village near the West Bank city of Nablus, Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinians carry the body of one-and-a-half-year-old Ali Dawabsha, killed in an apparent ‘price tag’ attack, during his funeral in Duma village near the West Bank city of Nablus, Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Fully two-thirds (68%) say the protection of Palestinians against terrorism by extremist Jews is not the responsibility of the Israel Defense Forces, but of the PA — and 67% say the PA is not doing all it can to fulfill that responsibility.

Nearly half of West Bank residents (48%) say they would volunteer for unarmed civil guard units in their towns and villages to defend against violence from Israeli extremists.

Palestinians have an unflattering view of press freedoms in their territories. In Hamas-ruled Gaza, just 19% say the media is free, while in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank, just 23% say the same. Only a minority — 29% in Gaza and 31% in the West Bank — say they can criticize their government without fear.

As tensions on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount heat up, with Israelis accusing Palestinians of initiating the violence, an overwhelming majority of Palestinians say they believe the al-Aqsa complex atop the holy site is “in grave danger,” the study found.

Still image taken from a video released by an Israel Police spokesman apparently showing Palestinians gearing up for a confrontation on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Sunday, September 13, 2015. (screen capture: Israel Police)
Still image taken from a video apparently showing Palestinians gearing up for a confrontation on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, September 13, 2015. (screen capture: Israel Police)

Fully half — 50% — said they believed Israel intended to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine and replace them with a Jewish temple, another 21% said Israel intends to split the plateau and build a synagogue alongside the Muslim sites, and a further 10% said Israel wanted to change the five-decade status quo on the mount by allowing Jewish prayer there. Just 12% said Israel wanted to maintain the status quo.

Nor are Palestinians convinced they can protect the holy site from Israel’s purported intentions: Fully half say Israel will succeed in implementing its purported plans; 48% say it will fail.

Left behind by more than occupation

Palestinians seem to have accepted the widespread view that Israel and Sunni Arab states are in an unstated alliance against growing Iranian influence in the region. More than half, 58%, say the alliance exists despite the continued occupation; just 31% said Arab states would not ally with Israel until the conflict with the Palestinians was resolved. Fully 80% said the Arab world was “too preoccupied with its own concerns, internal conflicts, and the conflict with Iran and that Palestine is no longer the Arab’s principal or primary issue or cause,” the study reported.

The largest majority for any question was obtained on the question of the Islamic State: 91% said IS is a “radical group that does not represent true Islam.” Just 6% said it does represent true Islam — more in Gaza (9%) than in the West Bank (4%). More than four-fifths (83%) support the Arab and Western campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq.

Asked to prioritize the problems faced by Palestinians, 48% of respondents put the Israeli occupation as the first problem that required addressing, but only 28% said it was the most serious challenge facing Palestinian society. One-quarter (26%) said the most serious problem was poverty and unemployment, 24% said it was corruption in public institutions, 16% said it was the blockade of Gaza and 5% said it was Palestinian disunity.

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