Sometimes one needs to listen to the “other side” on issues political. Not doing so can place one in a mind-set which is based on a false premise. The invitation to a press conference to hear Political Scientist Dr.Khalil Shikaki , who is the Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, seemed the right opportunity to hear “if anything has changed” on the Palestinian streets.
Dr. Shikaki’s center invested considerable time and resources to measure the reaction of the Palestinian public 24 hours after the announcement on December 6, 2017 by President Donald Trump, that the United States now finally recognizes that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and thus will move its embassy there from its current location in Tel Aviv.
A number of interesting opinions were surveyed with fairly dramatic results.
- Arab public opinion regarding Abbas’s leadership had already been waning. After the announcement by Trump, 70% of the Palestinians polled, said they feel that Abbas has failed them and they want him to resign.
- The recent polls show that 50% the Palestinian public now believe that violence is more beneficial to attaining their goals, than diplomacy. They feel “diplomacy” has failed them…hence they may as well be violent. My response to this portion of the poll is to ask why the Palestinian public does not comprehend that the 20 years of so-called diplomacy was actually intended to fail from the beginning? It pre-supposes that the Palestinian leadership actually wanted a “ Peace Accord,” when it now appears that was never the case. That was not addressed in the current poll.
- The Palestinian survey pointed to the international players who now side with Israel and the US- ( Jordan, the Egyptians, and the Saudis) – and determined that 70-80% of their public now perceives those countries to no longer be trustworthy to protect Palestinian interests.
- As of the day after the US announcement, 86% of Palestinians polled no longer believed that any plan presented by the United States could meet their basic needs to create a state. Half also believed that Mahmoud Abas would accept any plan presented to them by the US. Hence his lack of popularity.
- I asked why Jerusalem being acknowledged as Israel’s capital was so threatening to Palestinians, who could presumably declare the same for themselves after a negotiated peace which potentially could include a portion of Jerusalem for themselves. The response from Dr. Shikaki was that the current recognition presumes that areas which the Palestinians want for their own, will remain in Israeli hands. ( perhaps the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter?)
- When asked about” reconciliation” between the different Arab factions in Gaza, most of those Arabs surveyed did not believe that security in Gaza can be maintained. When asked whether they would want the different armed factions in Gaza to hand over their arms to one central authority, 70% of the Palestinians polled did not want that to happen. With that kind of a response, there is little hope of law and order in the future within Gaza’s borders.
- The poll determined that while Arab women are mostly religious, they do not support violence. This is an apparent anomaly as the religious Palestinians including the women support Hamas. Hamas supports violence. This is one area in which religious Arab men and women differ substantially.
- The poll also determined that the biggest advocates of violence are Arabs between the ages of 18 and 22. Shikaki explained that these young people do not have a memory of what befell the Arab population in previous wars and after different Intifadas, hence their lack of an understanding of consequences makes them more aggressive and active supporters of violence.
- The pollsters also determined that the Palestinian public does not depend on its own television and radio stations for news and opinion. Apparently 90% of the Arab public depends solely on social media for information and incitement. The social media, Dr. Shikaki explained , is far more poisonous than Arab television. The remaining 10% who use television as their news source, prefer Al Jazeera to their local political newsfeeds. It may be that in this media environment, Al Jazeera provides the more balanced news analysis. Unfortunately — only a maximum of 10% of their population receive their message at all.
After hearing all the polling results (which are available on the organization’s website online), it was time to reassess. First, I would like to suggest that any poll taken only 24 hours after the December 6th announcement would be measuring extreme emotions and anxiety on the part of the Arab public. I suspect the same poll taken in 30-days’ time would have less extreme results.
Next, it is important to look at the premises made when questions are asked in a poll. For example, when asked if in a future two-state solution, Palestinian Arabs could envision Israelis having the right to reside in their country, their leadership has responded that would be fine if it would be reciprocal. Israeli Arabs on the whole would like to remain in Israel as legal residents. But when analyzed, the reverse application, we were informed, would be very different. Under no circumstances could the Palestinians allow “settlers” to live in the new “Palestinian state” but they would “allow” Israelis to buy property there and move there if they saw fit to do so. This is what is called a “disingenuous equivalency.” They would expect Israeli Arabs to have the right to stay in Israel, but Israelis would not have the equivalent right to stay in their homes should the lands end up in Palestinian hands after negotiations.
When polled, Palestinians did not believe that their educational system taught them to hate. They believed the reverse: That Israeli schools taught Jewish children to hate their Arab “cousins”. Even with the display of the texts of Arab school books and the videos of pre-school children dressing up as terrorists, in order to kill Jews, the Palestinians look away from their own responsibility in this matter. Nowhere has it been documented that Israel creates children intent on murdering their Arab brothers. The converse is seen to be true. Most Israeli young people are concerned for a future for themselves and for the Palestinians- in order to live in peace and with security in the future. How is it possible that the Palestinians can deny their own preparation of their youth for Jihad in the name of Islam?
Palestinians polled claim that they would want their future state to be a Democracy, but 2/3 of those polled also admit that this will not happen. It is a pipedream for them, by their own admission.
All-in-all it is fair to say that the Trump declaration on Jerusalem greatly distressed the average person on the Palestinian street. It appears that they had concluded that they were close to getting a deal of some description which would have yielded them a state of their own. They believed the public posturing created by Abbas through his machinations in the United Nations. Most of that illusion has now been dashed to smithereens.
While those aged 18 to 21 may still prefer violence, and will continue to try to perpetrate it, there is a very large Arab population not in that age range which are going to need to face some harsh realities in the months ahead. What progress they had presumed to have been made, has been turned on its heels. Unless a new leadership comes to the fore, there is little hope for the average Palestinian that his needs will indeed be addressed -or his life improved in the days ahead.