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Palestinian Opinion Poll

31 December 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Sometimes the news is a bit optimistic but buried deep in the media.  In the last paragraph of a major feature article in last weekend’s Ma’ariv were the results of a Palestinian opinion survey done by Dr. Khalil Shkaki.  Of those surveyed 83% favor a cease-fire with Israel while “only” 48% support continued terror attacks against civilians inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders.  Positive ratings for PA Chairman Yasir Arafat are down to 48% while 89% demand the much spoken of reforms in the Palestinian Authority.  Sounds somewhat encouraging even if there are contradictions. 

Palestinian society is far from democratic leaving the survey results suspect.  In non-democratic societies opinion polls most often reflect what the public believes the poll-takers want to hear.  Yet there does appear to be an honest shift.  During the summer months there was contradictory duel support for an Islamic cease-fire or hudna and for terror attacks against Israeli civilians.  Both ranged between two-thirds and three quarters.  That poll was taken during the hudna.

The fairly successful Israeli battle against terror, the building of the security fence and the unilateral two-state solution of a demilitarized, truncated Palestinian state presented by Ariel Sharon may be forcing the average Palestinian to give up the armed struggle.  Furthermore the PA rules only in name and people are searching for a better future.

That is not to belittle those who demand a continuation of terror attacks, but it does tell us that 31% of the same 48%, or two-thirds of the group are in complete contradiction to themselves.  Emotionally they demand continued conflict, yet consciously they want an end to the violence.  The same contradiction goes for Arafat and the PA.  Corruption is rampant and reforms are demanded yet Arafat is still supported by almost half, even if close to twice that amount insist on reforms.  Here is another battle between heart and mind where reality is overcoming emotion. 

But being non-democratic one should not expect great changes any time soon.  Arafat and his supporters are still in power and the armed struggle continues.  The same clique continues its rule (Arafat for 8 years and the Palestinian Legislature for 7.5) despite Abu Mazen’s government which came and went and the present totally ineffective Abu Ala regime. 

There is no reason for any great optimism but if the opinion poll is accurate, this may be a promising start.