Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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What Do Palestinians Think?

by Elliott Abrams
September 11, 2011

In this year of the Arab Spring, the views of Arab citizens are supposed to be taken into account instead of the desires of their autocratic rulers. A curious exception is Palestinians, who have no formal way to express their views; their rulers in Hamas and Fatah keep canceling or delaying elections.

So the only way to gauge what they think is through opinion polls, imperfect as they are. And here we find a remarkable gap between what the PLO/Fatah leadership is up to and the actual desires of real live Palestinians.

Two significant examples have recently appeared. First there is public opinion with respect to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s current UN gambit. A poll this month reveals that there is not very enthusiastic support:

The Preferable Option:
Upon answering the question: “Which, in your opinion, is the preferable option for the future of Palestine? Is it going to the United Nations for the recognition of the Palestinian state without concluding a peace agreement with Israel, or going back to the negotiation table with the Israelis for the sake of a permanent peace with them and then resort to the UN?”, (35.4%) said “going to the UN for the recognition of the Palestinian state without concluding a peace agreement with Israel”, and (59.3%) see as preferable option “going back to the negotiation table with the Israelis for the sake of a permanent peace with them and then resort to the UN”, whilst (5.3%) said “I don’t know.”

So Abbas’s move in the UN is not only not compelled by public opinion but not even much supported by it.

Another poll, taken earlier this year, is even more significant. It reveals that much of the PLO rhetoric and of the received wisdom about Jerusalem has no echo among the Arabs who live there. Here is part of the summary:

  • According to face-to-face surveys conducted according to the highest international standards, more Palestinians in east Jerusalem would prefer to become citizens of Israel rather than citizens of a new Palestinian state. In addition, 40 percent said they would probably or definitely move in order to live under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule.
  • Three-quarters of east Jerusalem Arabs are at least a little concerned, and more than half are more than a little concerned, that they would lose their ability to write and speak freely if they became citizens of a Palestinian state rather than remaining under Israeli control.

The author of the paper, Dr. David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, summarizes one of his conclusions as follows:

“For people who tend to assume that a fair and practical solution for the Jerusalem issue is for the Arab neighborhoods to become part of Palestine and the Jewish neighborhoods to become part of Israel, these findings suggest that this could be somewhat problematic from the point of view of the people who actually live in east Jerusalem.”

That’s putting it mildly. The paper is well worth reading, and sets the actual opinions of real live Palestinians in Jerusalem against the rhetoric, ideology, and demands of their rulers in Ramallah and received opinion in most Western capitals. It would be ironic indeed if a partition of Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine saw tens of thousands of Palestinians flee “their” new country. (Would UNRWA adopt them as new Palestinian refugees, by the way?) Unable to cast ballots to determine Palestinian policy, they might vote with their feet. One path out of such a mess would be to ask the 300,000 Palestinians who live in nineteen Jerusalem neighborhoods what they want as part of any future peace deal. We might find that many of them, like Israelis, want a united Jerusalem that is part of Israel. The partition of Jerusalem might be shown by such a vote to reflect the demands of Palestinian politicians rather than the majority of actual Palestinians actually living there.

All such polls are a reminder that so long as they lack a working system of representative democracy we have no way of knowing what Palestinians really want. In 1974 the UN decided that the PLO was “the representative of the Palestinian people” and the Arab League calls it “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” But it isn’t. We should not accept at face value that Hamas or Fatah spokesmen and officials speak for anyone or anything except their own personal and organizational interests.

 

 

 

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by lord garth

    One of the extra problems in opinion polls in the mideast is the large number of people who actually believe things that are mutually inconsistent.

    For example, there are more than a fewPalestinians (and other mid easterners) who believe that Mossad committed the 9-11 atrocity and also believe that Osama is to be praised for attacking the infidel on 9-11.

    I think this is almost certainly true on this issue. That is, many E Jerusalemites believe that that a Palestinian state is important and just and also believe that they would try to move to Israel because such a state would be unjust and oppressive.

  • Posted by Dan Friedman

    Pay close attention to Abrams in this post. It reveals the exact moment in time when grown men with advanced degrees and an extensive wardrobe of dark suits become pathetic tourists in the shuk.

  • Posted by Israel Pickholtz

    “[M]ore Palestinians in east Jerusalem would prefer to become citizens of Israel rather than citizens of a new Palestinian state. In addition, 40 percent said they would probably or definitely move in order to live under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule.”

    The scenario above is no different from the “right of return” which aims to use d emographics to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.

    There is nothing new in that, except perhaps otherwise sensible people’s failing to recognize it for what it is.

  • Posted by Karin

    Dear Elliot, Palestinians had a very well run and fair election in 2006. They punished politicians they viewed as corrupt (Fatah) and elected ones who had produced results in their communities (yes, a very typical and mature thing to do). Surprisingly to all, Hamas candidates won the majority for these reasons. But the US and Israel decided to punish the Palestinians for this choice. I know you do not agree with this perspective, but most honest observer have reached the same conclusion.

    I am glad to know, however, that you care about what Palestinians want, though. Getting their land back from the settlements and letting their children sleep at night without fear of night raids would rank pretty high, according to what I’ve been told (opinion polls will reflect this) and they also might be a good start toward some kind of meaningful peace process.

  • Posted by Peace Loving Pal

    And who knows more about what Palestinians think than right-wing ultra-Zionist Eliot Abrams? It’s like asking a Klan member what African-Americans think. What a joke.

  • Posted by Brad Brzezinski

    Karin: Yes the Palestinians had an election and let’s say it was fair. It was more than 5 years ago. They must be overdue for another; having one fair election one time is not democracy.

    You also ignore the actions of Hamas since being elected, as well as the fact that Hamas was asked to renounce the heinous parts of their charter. No honest donor can support a government with the aims and rhetoric of Hamas. (The mistake was in allowing Hamas to run at all. I suspect that pressure to allow it came from State and G.W. Bush caved. The UN and the Euros were of course pushing for it as well. They are not honest. The problem has been festering for years as the world continued to fund the P.A. despite their corruption and their deliberate refusal to prepare their people for peace. The resulting choice between them and Hamas was a reflection of long-term policy failure by all involved, with the West particularly culpable.)

  • Posted by ... just mike

    Some humans are walls … others are bridges. Both are composed of the same materials. Both are relatively useful. The differences between the two ultimately lies in the hearts of the engineers.

    In regards to the Palestinian vote:

    You know, comrades,” says Stalin, “that I think in regard to this: I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.

    Regards

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