Israel Report

June 2001         

What the Palestinians Think

By Ze'ev Schiff - June 27, 2001

Many things have changed in Palestinian society since Arafat launched the military campaign against Israel. Everyday life has changed in many aspects, and so have public opinions and positions.

Israelis diligently used to read public opinion polls conducted by Palestinian research centers or experts; today such polls are rare, and hard to carry out properly because of the closure imposed by the Israel Defense Forces on Palestinian towns and villages. Nevertheless, even if the scientific accuracy of these polls is now somewhat faulty - they are still worthy of our attention. Results of the latest poll conducted this month to examine Palestinian opinions on relations with Israel were published this week by the Jerusalem Media Center, headed by Rassan al-Hatib. It is the 41st such poll carried out by the center.

There is no good news in the results of this poll, although 38.1 percent said they still support future peace agreements with Israel. Like many Israelis, most Palestinians (53.9 percent of those polled) oppose the Oslo Accords. A very high percentage of Palestinians - 79 percent - continue to support the Intifada, representing a rise from 70.1 percent in December 2000. Furthermore, 68.6 percent say they now support suicide attacks against Israelis, compared with 66.2 percent in April, and only 26.1 percent in March 1999.

These figures naturally reflect a high level of frustration among Palestinians, who now believe that only the use of force will enable them to achieve national goals.

But most troubling is the way in which the Palestinians polled see the goals of the current Intifada. One could assume that a vast majority would have replied that the aim of the current conflict is to end "the Israeli occupation" and set up a Palestinian state, as declared by the Palestinian leadership.

But only 45.6 percent gave that answer, while 41.2 percent said that the goal of the current Intifada is a "complete liberation of Palestinian land" - "complete liberation," in other words the destruction of the state of Israel.

Some 9.2 percent believe that the Intifada's goal is to achieve a tactical improvement in conditions for negotiating with Israel.

An additional expression, which effectively means an end to the state of Israel, was used in another question included in the survey. In that question, participants were asked to express their opinion about the possibility of solving the conflict and military confrontation by setting up a "binational state" on the entire territory of Palestine.

This tendency toward expanding the goals of the current Intifada is also apparent in the attitudes exhibited toward the Jewish settlements in the territories. On this issue - which is a central goal of Palestinian propaganda - the Palestinians have already clinched a significant achievement, in the Mitchell Committee's demand to freeze all settlements, even with regard to their natural growth needs. Furthermore, this freeze is supposed to only be part of confidence-building measures, while the future of the settlements is left by the Mitchell Committee to the final status negotiations.

Yet, even if an end is put (to use the terminology of the pollsters) to the settlements in general - 67.1 percent say that they do not agree to stop the Intifada. Only 25.1 percent say that if "the Jewish settlement" is stopped, the Intifada can come to an end.

In light of these answers - specifically the view which sees the goal of the current Intifada as the liberation of the entire territory of Palestine - the Palestinian claim that Israel is responding to the Intifada with too much force and causing undue suffering is surprising.

It is strange that the Palestinians on the one hand wish to bring an end to the state of Israel, while on the other hand complain about its anger and response.

Finally, the Palestinians have a clear answer to one question troubling many Israelis.

Is Arafat in control of what is happening in the Palestinian Authority? Some 71.6 percent believe that he has full control.

©2001 - Ha'aretz

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