Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza back Peace Talks with Reservations

Washington, Nov. 19 – A majority of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza favor direct negotiations with Israel, finds a new poll (PDF) sponsored by The Israel Project (TIP), but most are yet to reconcile themselves to the long-term existence of the Jewish state.

The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in early October, shows that 61 percent of Palestinians favor continuing with direct negotiations, and overall 60 percent say they accept a two-state solution. A 54 percent majority also agree peace is possible with Israel.

While Palestinians express support for the peace process and a two-state solution, a majority declines to renounce armed struggle and reveal the view that a two-state solution is more a two-stage solution – a path toward one Palestinian state.

This apparent conflict is extremely nuanced, and there is evidence that opinion can shift through clear communications and detailed plan.

Although 23 percent accept the statement that “Israel has a permanent right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people,” two-thirds opt for the alternative statement that, “over time Palestinian must work to get back all the land for a Palestinian state.”

Additionally, when presented with the proposition that “the best goal is for a two-state solution that keep two states living side by side,” 30 percent agree with 60 percent opting for the alternative statement that “the real goal should be to start with two states but then move it to all being one Palestinian state.”

And when responding to another choice of paired statements, 58 percent choose “this is a time for armed struggle” over “this is a time for engagement with Israel” – chosen by 36 percent. Differences exist between the territories, with support for armed struggle lower in Gaza than the West Bank – 51 percent versus 62 percent respectively.

But what underscores the nuance of Palestinian opinion is that when respondents hear a detailed scenario – where Palestinian institutions are built up in preparation for independence and an agreement with Israel is reached based on clear borders based on 1967 with adjustments – there are dramatic shifts.

In light of this scenario, the acceptance of a Jewish state of Israel rises significantly – from the 30 percent who agree that “the best goal is for a two-state solution that keeps two states living side by side,” to 50 percent who would “favor the Palestinian Authority officially recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as part of a two-state solution.” This breaks down to 57 percent favoring recognition of Israel in the West Bank and 37 percent in Gaza under this situation.

Further, there is support for some conciliatory moves toward Israel: 56 percent in the West Bank and 58 percent in Gaza see importance in ending the practice of naming of streets and squares after “martyrs” who killed civilians, and 51 percent in the West Bank – though only 12 percent in Gaza – favor depicting Israel on maps of the region in schoolbooks and official documents to show it exists.

AND actions that would challenge Hamas – by either pressuring them to renounce terrorism (68 percent overall say this is an important step toward peace) or to end the rocket fire from Gaza (62 percent overall) – receive extremely high ratings.

This is just part of the evidence suggesting Palestinians are moving away from Hamas. Hamas’s favorability declined significantly over the last year; in Gaza, negative feelings toward Hamas climbed 13 points to 56 percent, and in the West Bank, negative judgments doubled to 53 percent.

The anti-Hamas movement also shows in the leadership approval and the vote. Abbas has an overall approval rating of 61 percent as president of the Palestinian Authority. Salam Fayyad, who presides over strong economic growth in the West Bank, has an overall approval rating of 65 percent for his job as prime minister. Both men score higher in Gaza, despite challenges of their legitimacy by Gaza’s Hamas leadership, than they do in the West Bank.

Gazans disapprove of the job being done by Hamas by 56 to 40 percent, with 31 percent saying they strongly disapprove. Asked who they would vote for if elections were held, solid majorities in both the West Bank and Gaza prefer Abbas’s Fatah party over Hamas. In the West Bank, Fatah leads Hamas 50 to 28 percent; in Gaza by 44 to 27 percent.

However, practices like the naming of streets and squares after “martyrs” who killed civilians have become highly politicized, a fact bolstered by the high popularity these individuals have among the Palestinian population overall. Dalal Mughrabi, who directed the 1978 attack that resulted in the death of 37 Israelis and one American, received extremely high favorability rating – a mean score of 74.5, with 76 percent of Palestinian giving her a warm, favorable rating. Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), who planned attacks on Israelis as commander of the armed organization al-Assifa in the 1980s, had similar ratings – a mean score of 71.2 with 77 percent of Palestinian giving him a warm, favorable rating.

Similar to Hamas, Iran’s image is also quite low, especially in Gaza where 27 percent point to the country as contributing to the problems Palestinians face. Iran received quite negative ratings: 55 percent “cool” overall with 39 percent giving it a “very cold” rating, and its president, Ahmadinejad, receives nearly identical marks.

When asked to choose between two statements on Iran, a plurality of respondents (47 percent) agree with the statement that “Iran and its president, Ahmadinejad, care about themselves and their own agenda” with 43 percent saying instead that “Iran and its president, Ahmadinejad, are friends of the Palestinian people.” In Gaza the percentage thinking Iran is a friend to the Palestinian drops to 37 percent.

Pollster Stan Greenberg said the poll presents a mixed bag. “It offers a special window into Palestinian thinking at this critical juncture.  There are some things to applaud, some to note and some things that are concerning,” he said.

“On short-term issues, Palestinians are pragmatic and giving their leaders the space to perform — both in governance and the peace process,” he said.

“Hamas has lost the support of Palestinians. Iran is seen to be opportunistic and has crashed in support,” Greenberg added.

Respondents in the West Bank report many improvements in living conditions including the availability of jobs, in quality of housing and education, and the ability to access electricity.  They also show a diversity of interests for social improvements – when asked the three most desirable priorities, healthcare and jobs tie for first (at 44 percent each), with improving education coming in a close second (41 percent) and solving the water shortage at third (37 percent) – with other factors coming in after.

„Although some of the data is very concerning, we are encouraged by the fact that Hamas approval rates among the Palestinians are significantly down, both in the West Bank and Gaza,“ said TIP Israel Director Marcus Sheff.

„The hostility and misconception towards Israel and Jews among our neighbors shows the urgent need of direct communication between Israelis and Palestinians. In order to change the perceptions we must work with the Palestinian and Arabic media. TIP was the first one to face this challenge and will continue to do so, using new ways, especially new and social media,” he said.

The poll has an n-size of 854 respondents, including 538 residents of the West Bank and 316 from Gaza. Interviews were face-to-face and conducted October 4 through 15, 2010. The survey has an overall margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The Israel Project, Newsletter vom 19.11.2010

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