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OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

What are the Palestinians thinking?

A new survey exposes the harsh reality.

Palestinian Bedouin attend a festival to mark Land Day in Deir al-Balah camp, in the Gaza Strip, March 27, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinian Bedouin attend a festival to mark Land Day in Deir al-Balah camp, in the Gaza Strip, March 27, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of the Initiative for Palestinian Authority Accountability and Reform in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; a senior legal analyst for Human Rights Voices; and a member of the Israel Defense and Security Forum.

A new study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) provides a window into Palestinian opinions on a host of subjects. The results are very worrying, and must be taken into account before formulating any policy about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The following are some of the central findings of the survey:

Who do the Palestinians want to lead them?

The clearest findings of the new survey are that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas would not be reelected, and that in his place the Palestinians hope to see one terrorist or another at the helm.

Contrary to P.A. law, which stipulates that a person can serve as P.A. chairman for a maximum of two four-year terms, Abbas is now in his 18th year. Bowing to international pressure, Abbas did call P.A. parliamentary elections in 2021, only to cancel them when he understood his Fatah party would lose to Hamas.

The PCPSR study shows that Abbas was merely delaying the inevitable. Palestinian politics is dominated by two parties—Fatah, headed by Abbas, and Hamas, an internationally designated terror organization, headed by Ismail Haniyeh. According to the new survey, if Abbas were to face off against Haniyeh today for the position of P.A. chairman, Haniyeh would win 54% of the vote, while Abbas would receive only 38%.

In a contest between PA. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Haniyeh should Abbas step down, Haniyeh would win 60% of the vote while Shtayyeh would gain only 33%.

The “good news” is that were Marwan Barghouti to run against Haniyeh, Barghouti would win 59% of the vote while Haniyeh would only win 37%. The problem with this scenario is that Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences for his part in the murder of four Israelis and a Greek Orthodox priest.

As regards the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)—the P.A. parliament—the survey’s findings provide a false sense of hope.

In the last PLC elections—held in 2006—Hamas won an outright majority in both Gaza and the areas of Judea and Samaria under P.A. control. According to the new survey, if new elections were held for the PLC today, “with the participation of all factions that participated in the 2006 elections,” Fatah would win 42% of the vote while Hamas would win 36%.

However, this assumes that only one, unified Fatah list would compete against Hamas, as was the case in the 2006 elections. The problem with this scenario is that in the run-up to the Abbas-canceled 2021 elections, Fatah splintered into three separate lists.

Accordingly, assuming that the same situation will repeat itself ahead of any future election, it is irrelevant to look to answers based on a question “with the participation of all factions that participated in the 2006 elections” to understand the outcome of future elections. The more relevant analysis would be to assume that Hamas would still win 36% of the vote, while the “Fatah” votes would be divided among the various “Fatah” representatives. In this scenario, it is rather unlikely that any one Fatah representative would indeed win more seats than Hamas.

Israel-Palestinian relations

The survey’s findings also present an interesting insight as to how the Palestinians view their relationship with Israel.

While many international actors, including the United States and the European Union, constantly voice their support for the so-called “two-state solution”—creating a new “State of Palestine” comprised of the Gaza Strip, some or all of Judea and Samaria and some or all of Jerusalem—only 40% of Palestinians support the idea.

Conversely, only 32% of Palestinians support the “one-state solution” with “equal rights” for all citizens.

Sixty-seven percent of Palestinians support the suspension of the PLO’s recognition of Israel and 61% support the decision to end the implementation of agreements with Israel, including security coordination.

When asked about the most effective means of “ending the Israeli occupation and building an independent state,” 68% of Palestinians chose violence. Forty-four percent chose armed struggle, i.e.  all-out terror similar to that the P.A. launched in its 2000-2005 terror campaign, while 24% chose “popular resistance” (the P.A. euphemism that includes sporadic terror attacks like shootings, stabbings and vehicular assaults). Only 25% of the Palestinians chose the path of negotiations.

As a whole, the Palestinians appear to support neither a “two-state solution” nor a “one-state solution.” While not specifically asked, or answered, these responses would tend to suggest that the majority of Palestinians support only the creation of one Palestinian state in which Jews would not have equal—or any—rights. It would also appear that most Palestinians believe that the use of violence and terror is the best and preferred means to achieve their goals.

What role does the Palestine Liberation Organization serve?

In the past, the PLO touted itself and was widely recognized as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people.” However, as Palestinian Media Watch has already exposed, Palestinian support for the PLO has been dwindling for many years.

According to previous PCPSR surveys, in 2006, 69% of Palestinians polled still saw the PLO as the “sole” Palestinian representative. That support had dropped to 58% in 2018 and to 54% in 2019. The new PCPSR survey shows a continued loss of popular Palestinian support, with only 51% of those asked seeing the PLO as their “sole legitimate representative.”

Some of the waning support could be grounded in the fact that most of the Palestinian public does not support the recent appointments of the Abbas loyalists and confidants to senior PLO positions. For example, only 24% of those asked support the appointment of Rouhi Fattouh as the speaker of the PLO’s National Council; only 26% support the election of Hussein al-Sheikh—who sees himself, and is also seen by others, as a potential replacement for Abbas—to the Executive Committee.

The loss of support for the PLO should have immediate consequences. For example, Israel signed the Oslo Peace Accords (the generic name given to a series of agreements signed between September 1993 and September 1995 that gave rise to, inter alia, the Palestinian Authority) with the PLO. If the PLO no longer represents the will of the Palestinians and no longer enjoys their support, then what will Israel gain from continued negotiation with it?

Similarly, the P.A. leadership has been urging the Biden administration to reopen the PLO offices in Washington, D.C., that were closed under the Trump administration. U.S. law, in force since the mid ‘80s, designates the PLO as a terror organization. For years following the Oslo Accords, successive U.S. administrations waived the provisions of the law and allowed the PLO to have offices in D.C. in order to promote and forward the peace process. While other provisions of the law prevent reopening the PLO offices, the fact that the PLO no longer truly represents the Palestinian people is and should be a substantial factor to be considered.

The PLO already includes internationally designated terror organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Worryingly, Palestinian support for the PLO would increase if the organization widened its membership to include Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, both of which are internationally designated terror organizations.

As PMW has already noted, there are a number of international actors who support “Palestinian reconciliation,” i.e. Fatah and Hamas bridging their differences in order to provide a united front against Israel. While this notion itself—giving legitimacy to the homicidal Hamas—is outrageous and immoral, the additional “good news” of the new PCPSR survey is that only 20% of Palestinians believe that P.A. Prime Minister Shtayyeh is capable of organizing such a “reconciliation.”

This Palestinian skepticism reflects the fact that there really is no ideological difference between Fatah and Hamas regarding the goal of destroying Israel; the fundamental rift between them is based solely on who controls the P.A. and its billions of dollars of income.

How do the Palestinians view the P.A.?

According to the PCPSR survey, the “perception of corruption in the P.A.” stands at no less than 84%. Most Palestinians (55%) believe that the P.A. is a burden on the Palestinians, and 49% believe that dissolving it would be the best method to break the current political impasse.

The prime goal of the P.A. should be flooding Israel with ‘refugees’

When asked what the most vital goal for the Palestinians should be, 33% answered that “the first, most vital goal should be to obtain the right of return of refugees to their 1948 towns and villages.”

As PMW has shown, the P.A. uses the demand that Israel be flooded with millions of so-called “Palestinian refugees” as a means to bring about the destruction of the Jewish state. For Israel to agree to this demand would constitute national suicide.

In other words, one in three Palestinians believes that the most vital goal for the Palestinians is the destruction of Israel.

Speaking of Israel’s destruction, the PCPSR survey found that 73% of Palestinians believe the Koran prophesied the state’s eventual demise.

IDF Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position, he served as director of the Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.

This article was first published by Palestinian Media Watch.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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