BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Palestinians are increasingly anxious for the future and are hesitant on a return to negotiations with Israel in the wake of the success of right-wing parties in Israel’s recent elections, a public opinion survey released Tuesday showed.
Around 47 percent of respondents across the West Bank and Gaza said that in the wake of the elections — which saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declare his wholesale opposition to the existence of a Palestinian state — they expect “increased confrontations and worsening security conditions,” while only 18 percent expected the opposite.
The poll was conducted between March 19-21 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, and appeared to show growing pessimism toward all political actors even as ratings of President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party showed slight improvements.
A slight majority of Palestinians said they supported the two-state-solution but sixty percent said they believed Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem had made it an impossibility.
Fully 77 percent of Palestinians surveyed said they were “worried” they would be hurt by Israel, their land would be confiscated, or their homes would be demolished.
Regarding the best options available to Palestinians for achieving the goal of a two-state solution, opinions were divided.
Around 37 percent of respondents said they thought armed resistance was most effective, 29 percent preferred negotiations, and 30 percent argued that supporting popular non-violent resistance was the most effective option.
Palestinians’ pessimism regarding the security situation was mirrored in widespread opposition to a return to a negotiations with Israel, which have been widely criticized by the public in the past as ineffectual.
Thirty-six percent of respondents completely opposed a return to negotiations while 42 percent supported a return to negotiations “only if Israel agrees to freeze settlement.”
Support for Hamas declines, but support for armed struggle remains high
At the same time, however, Palestinian pessimism toward Israel did not manifest itself in greater support for Hamas or other groups militantly opposed to negotiations.
Reflecting a broader cynicism among the Palestinian public, support for Hamas and Hamas political leaders has dropped slightly since last summer, when a bloody Israeli offensive against the group in Gaza that left more than 2,200 dead led Palestinians of all stripes to rally behind the group.
“Findings show a significant decline in the belief that Hamas had won the 2014 Gaza war and the level of satisfaction with the outcome of the war drops considerably,” the report said.
“Despite this, support for launching rockets against Israel if the siege and blockade over Gaza do not end remains very high. Similarly, support for an armed intifada — which witnessed some decline — remains high. Hamas’ armed approach remains preferable to the public and the majority supports implementing it in the West Bank.”
At the same time, the survey showed that Palestinians overwhelmingly supported President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to apply for membership in the International Criminal Court ahead of a suit against Israel for committing war crimes, a tactic that has widespread support among Palestinian political parties.
The public also supports recent statements by top Palestinian officials suggesting that the Palestinian Authority will end security coordination with Israel, though few believe that the PA will follow through.
On the issue of the boycott off Israeli products, the report highlighted widespread support for local initiatives and opposed Abbas’ reluctance on the topic.
“The public is opposed to the confiscation or destruction of boycotted products found in Palestinian shops; instead, it supports enacting a law banning displaying them in shops or alternatively waging a popular campaign to convince the public to stop buying these products,” the survey said.
Marwan Barghouthi remains most popular leader
With respect to individual political leaders, survey respondents said that if elections were held today between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh, they would each receive a nearly equal number of votes. Three months ago, support for the Hamas leader was about ten points higher compared to Abbas.
Jailed political leader Marwan Barghouthi remained the most popular Palestinian leader by far between the three, with surveys showing that he could easily beat Haniyeh (by nine points) and Abbas (by 20 points) in a head-to-head electoral march.
If the context included all three, he would still win with 37 percent, though the survey suggested Haniyeh would receive 35 percent. Support for Abbas, meanwhile, hovered at 25 percent.
Over 69 percent of respondents said they hoped elections would take place within six months.
Overall, only about 40 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction with Abbas’ job performance, compared to 35 percent three months ago and 50 percent immediately before Israel’s assault on Gaza.
In general, Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza expressed deep pessimism about the state of affairs in Palestine, with positive evaluation of conditions in Gaza at around eight percent and in the West Bank at 30.
Forty-five percent of Gazans polled said they were trying to immigrate, compared to 25 percent in the West Bank.
PA seen as corrupt, repressive
The survey said that perception of corruption in PA institutions was at 77 percent, while only 23 percent said there was press freedom in the West Bank.
In Gaza, perceptions of press freedom were slightly lower at 18 percent, though the same percentage in both areas — 33 percent — said they could criticize the authorities without fear.
Regarding the Islamic State group active in Iraq and Syria, overwhelming majorities in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip strongly rejected the group and its claims to represent Islam.
Over 86 percent believed IS to be a “radical group that does not represent true Islam.”
Similar numbers oppose the right of IS supporters to demonstrate publicly in Palestinian areas, reflecting widespread opposition not only to the group itself but also to expression of support by others.
The total size of the survey sample was 1,262 adults who gave their answers in face to face interviews across the West Bank and Gaza.
The poll only took into account those Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and does not include the opinions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the 1.2 million Palestinians living inside Israel, nor the approximately 5.5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide.