The Israeli - Palestinian Conflict as Presented In The Palestinian’s Public Opinion

A Paper Presented by:
The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO)

On May 26 - 28, 2002 In Vail, Colorado, USA

Prepared by:
Dr. Nabil Kukali; President
Dr. Walid Shomaly; Director of Public Relations

July 22, 2002
Introduction :
Undoubtedly, the Palestinian public opinion plays an essential role in any future Israeli - Palestinian settlement, for it will include painful concessions on the part of the Palestinians. Therefore, in seeking a settlement in the entire Middle East in general, and a resolution for the Israeli - Palestinian conflict in particular, an extra attention should be given to speculations as to what might be accepted or rejected by the majority of the Palestinian population, while negligence of this opinion will have a negative impact. However, the Palestinian Authority (PA) would be under suspicion if it made concessions and decisions without having the support of the majority, especially after the last Israeli incursion to the Palestinian territories and the siege of President Arafat as well as the calls for reformation within PA institutions. Palestinians now look with skepticism at the verdict made by Arafat regarding the trial he held in his compound in Ramal Rahba’am Zeevi, and his decision regarding the destiny of those who were cordoned off in the Church of Nativity.

Palestinians are still skeptical about real achievement of peace, for accelerating developments in the region since the beginning of the Intifada in September 2000, may have enormous effects on their readiness to give further concessions, since they already accepted to have only 23% of the historic area of Palestine.

Palestinians enjoy a margin of democracy that peoples in surrounding countries do not enjoy. Therefore, the Palestinian public opinion plays an essential role in giving legitimacy to the PA.

Objective :
The main objective of this paper is to highlight tendencies of Palestinians regarding the following issues:
1. The peace process
2. Future Israeli - Palestinian relationship.
3. Palestinian - Israeli conflict that
includes: a. The Intifada
b. Suicidal attacks
c. Israeli deadly attacks to Palestinians
d. Siege, and security belt imposed on Palestinian territories.

Methodology :
This paper is based on data provided by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), which we represent, as well as on data provided by other Palestinian and Israeli pollsters.

Data Analysis:
Analysis to Palestinian trends will lead us to the conclusion that a dovish trend in the Palestinian public opinion was obvious, and was crystallized since the signing of Oslo agreements. This can be seen through readiness to support the peace process, to recognize the state of Israel, and to seek coexistence and cooperation on all levels. Since 1993, a majority of the Palestinians had this trend since the percentage of those who supported the peace process reached about 60% in 1995. However, this percentage remained high in the next few years despite some fluctuations especially in the aftermath of Al-Aqsa tunnel events in 1996, and the building of Har Homa settlement in late nineties.

In order to probe tendencies of the Palestinian public throughout successive years, some essential questions were repeated in a sequence of polls, which made it easier to remark change. However, the percentage of those who supported the peace process showed a remarkable decline until it reached below 30%. This is ascribed to the political turmoil and violence that dominated the region since September 2000. In addition, security and economical siege imposed by Israel and the latter’s procrastination in the implementation of signed agreements have further aggravated the situation, which in turn reflected on the Palestinian’s support to the peace process. On the economical level, the Palestinian community has suffered from a great loss and many employees and workers lost their work. Throughout the long years of occupation, Israel has diligently worked to link the Palestinian economy and to make it highly dependent on its Israeli counterpart. Polls revealed that 64.9% of the Palestinians have evaluated their economical condition as bad, and only 5% of them have said that they live in good financial conditions. In the light of the drastic deterioration in there living and economical conditions, Palestinians lost all hope in peace. A recent study carried out by Palestinian and International experts reveals that the total Palestinians loss until May 19, 2002 has mounted to US $ 9.75 billion dollars. This along with the feeling of frustration, and giving up hope in achieving peace had helped Palestinian opposition to the peace process dominate. This became obvious since the beginning of the Intifada that entailed economical siege, security belts, asassinations, and rising numbers of dead and wounded. As a consequence, 81% of the Palestinians supported suicidal attacks in August 2001 especially after the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa, the Secretary General of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), as well as the killing of Hamas leaders in Nablus that also claimed the lives of two children brothers.

Yet, let us sustain here that it was no less extreme on the Israeli side when an Israeli poll carried out by Maariv in July 2001, revealed that 74% of Israelis supported deadly attacks at Hamas leaders regardless of the fact that children were in the vicinity. Going back to mid - nineties, one can notice that a substantial majority of the Palestinians opposed suicidal attacks. The percentage of those who opposed such attacks in the years 1995, 1996, 1998 were 62.4%, 58.2%, and 63.9% respectively, and that of those who supported them did not exceed 20%, witch gives an indication that Palestinians yearn for peace. However, the percentage of those who supported suicidal attacks has declined to 54% after President Arafat’s call, in his televised speech at Al-Fiter Eid in December 2001, to halt all sorts of military attacks against Israel. Yet, and while Palestinian leadership was committed to a ceasefire, the Israeli government kept escalating the situation by launching deadly attacks that caused the percentage of Palestinians who support suicidal attacks increase to 64.3% in early March of this year (2002). Based on these facts, a major conclusion can be drawn that Palestinians have all along looked at Israel’s intentions for peace with an eye of skepticism. They still remember when Isaac Shamir the Israeli Prime minister then, when he said he would want to protract negotiations for another 10 years, as well as Netanyaho’s tactics to freeze negotiations, and finally Sharon’s empty quiver. Incontinence in Israeli’s intentions is still high and this is shown in a poll where 72% of the Palestinians expressed mistrust in Shimon Peres, during last Israeli elections. Besides their difficult conditions that are characterized by deteriorating economical conditions, siege, Palestinians are living in cantons that are surrounded by Israeli settlements.

As a conclusion, deadly attacks against Palestinians, cessation of the peace process, and deterioration of economical and security conditions comprise the most crucial elements of the Palestinian public opinion, where 79% of the Palestinians consider the continuation of the Israeli siege to the Palestinian territories will lead to an increase in violence. Thus, a halt to such measures is a necessary condition to mobilize the Palestinian Public Opinion in favor of the peace process and ceasing the Intifada. A poll carried out by the PCPO in March 2002, revealed that 66.5% of the Palestinians still support the Intifada. Yet, a most recent poll released on Tuesday, May 21, 2002 by the Palestinian Center for Public Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) reveals that the percentage of those who support suicidal attacks has fallen to 52 percent. A real test for rebuilding confidence between the two parties will be the stopping of violence on both sides, and getting back to negotiation’s table. Israel’s intransigence on one hand, and Palestinian chaotic violence on the other hand, will deliver nothing but more tragedies, devastation, and killing. The last poll that the PCPO carried out before and during the last siege of Arafat’s compound in Ramallah revealed some positive attitudes towards Israeli people, in that 48.6% of Palestinians believe that both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace and security.

We believe that if Israel, the party that is calling the shots, takes positive measures towards the peace process and makes Palestinians believe that peace is prevailing soon by accepting the Saudi initiative, Palestinian tendencies will swiftly grow positive towards peace and coexistence.

Although occupation cannot be divided into two categories, namely, malignant and benign, yet seeds of cooperation and coexistence were planted throughout those long years of occupation. We believe that Israelis and Palestinians have to give up dreams and deal with reality in order to build a new Middle East, so that they will be envied rather than pitted by living in a multicultural and multi-religious region. Globalization is making the world smaller, and information revolution has reduced it to a computer screen.

Finally we want to quote Nelson Mandella’s aphorisn when said to his comrades: “ in order to get rid of our enemy we must make him a friend”.

Contact Persons:
Dr. Nabil Kukali, Dr. Walid Shomaly
Tel: 02 2774846
Fax: 02 2772034