Hussein Ibish

New Palestinian poll
offers hope

A new Palestinian survey suggests most want peace with Israel, not another uprising.

Palestinians wave their national flag out of a hole in the West Bank separation barrier. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Amid the growing chaos developing in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, fears are intensifying about the potential for another intifada. So far, the violence on both sides seems relatively sporadic and unorganized, although some of the culprits of the hit-and-run attacks on the Jerusalem light rail system have been operatives of Islamic Jihad and Hamas. And the violence on the Israeli side seems to include the usual harsh enforcement of law and order by occupation authorities, combined with vigilante actions, especially provocations at East Jerusalem holy sites. So while there are groups on both sides working hard to try to inflame the situation, so far the tensions are contained and not in any sense indicative of a broader, generalized uprising.

However, there's also no question that tensions are intensifying. The stakes are being raised, particularly with regard to holy places, and also Palestinian motor vehicle attacks against Israeli pedestrians. What this obviously reflects is a sense on the part of some extremist groups on both sides that they can make political games out of fanning the flames of tension.

The bad news is that their efforts appear to be gaining ground. Tension is rising almost daily, as is the level of violence. The good news is that a broad uprising is not being embraced by the Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem, largely because of strong memories of how counterproductive the second intifada was.

This reticence based on memory, however, is gradually and visibly weakening because a new generation of youth is arising that does not clearly remember the periods before, during and after the second intifada. They do not carry with them the psychological scars of that conflagration and are ready to try their luck at confronting the occupation. Rebellion under colonial circumstances is invariably a cyclical one. One generation becomes exhausted, but another arises that is ready to endure the same experiences without anticipating what they will be like.

Nonetheless, this radicalized youth, on its own, doesn't seem enough, yet, to spur the development of a third intifada. It does seem to be coming, sometime in the foreseeable future, and, astonishingly, Israel doesn't seem to be taking any firm measures to try to ameliorate or forestall the conditions that are giving rise to it. The Israeli government, seems, to the contrary, to be satisfied with the notion that the unarmed and occupied Palestinians can simply be crushed.

Yet each time this is also more damaging for Israel and intensifies the profoundly unhealthy and dangerous relationship it has with millions of Palestinians living under its rule. So, in effect, neither party knows how to get out of the dance of death in which they are trapped, at the moment at a fairly low level, but one that can erupt into far more generalized mayhem.

In this context, it's worth taking a good look at the most recent Palestinian public opinion poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), which surveyed a random sample of 1000 Palestinians in mid-October. Its findings demonstrate, rather starkly, the grim reality we face and the real potential for moving forward that is lying fallow at the moment due to the policies of virtually all leaderships.

After the war in Gaza this summer, Hamas received an inevitable bump in the polls. Many people misinterpreted this as a fundamental shift in Palestinian attitudes. But what it was always more likely to be was a nationalistic hiccough, dramatic but short-lived. At many public forums and venues I ventured that we wouldn't be able to tell what the long-term consequences would be until about four months after the end of the conflict. This rather random figure was drawn from many sources, including the experience of Hezbollah after its last war with Israel.

And now, for the first time, Palestinian political opinion appears to have returned to the status quo ante. 35.8% report they would vote for President Mahmoud Abbas as opposed to 28.3% supportive of Hamas leader Ismael Haniyyeh. Hamas' bump in the polls appears to be over, and this constitutes something of a return to normal. Indeed, there is every possibility that as winter continues to set in and reconstruction in Gaza limps along poorly, Hamas' popularity will continue to suffer.


The only way to offset that is to continue to foment unrest in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. And, indeed, Hamas claimed responsibility for the last major hit-and-run attack on Israeli pedestrians by a Palestinian motorist. Before that, it was an Islamic Jihad operative from the hotbed East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. So these attacks are in some cases spontaneous and in other cases efforts by militant groups to foment more tension in order to bolster the case for their approach of armed confrontation and violence.


And, indeed, 50% of Palestinians report they were expecting more violence, and they were correct in that expectation. This is not to say that they were endorsing violence. There is nothing in the poll that suggests that. Rather that they were realistic enough to understand that the current situation is, in fact, a violent one that is likely to give rise to additional violence. And so it has proven. Thus far the violence is contained, but the West Bank, and particularly occupied East Jerusalem, is smoldering and the wrong set of circumstances could ignite a huge conflagration.


The most interesting result of this poll, though, is that a solid 54.3% of Palestinians continue to support a two-state solution with Israel. This remarkable figure demonstrates that those living under occupation recognize that the only plausible way to end that is to have a two-state peace agreement with Israel and that their only real option for freedom, independence and first-class citizenship in the real world is through the development of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.


This shows enormous patience and maturity on the part of the Palestinian people living under occupation. It should also be a lesson to those "pro-Palestinian" voices outside of the occupied territories who dismiss the two-state solution as dead, insufficient, unachievable or undesirable. Those living under occupation certainly seem to desire it, even at a moment when it seems most remote and difficult to achieve.


The bottom line is this: Israel is dealing with an occupied population that is being goaded by both Israel's own occupation policies and the behavior of Jewish extremists, especially in Jerusalem, and by outbursts of violence by Palestinian extremists, into adopting a confrontational line towards Israel. But they're not doing that. Instead, they are declining to engage in a third intifada and instead are clinging to the idea of a two-state solution.


How long this will continue, no one can guess. But we are clearly living on borrowed time. The Israeli government, and most of its society, doesn't appear interested in this reality. But it really is striking that people who have every reason to despair, continue to hope; who have every incentive to turn to violence are, in the main, declining to do so; and instead continue to hope for a peaceful future with their occupiers and their oppressors.


The Israeli government presently is responding with settlement expansions, tirades against Abbas, denunciations of Palestinian culture as inherently hateful and anti-Semitic, and allowing Jewish religious extremists to conduct all kinds of provocations at holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem. What they want or expect to happen is almost impossible to imagine. But these policies are going to make it very difficult for the Palestinian majority, which continues to hold out for peace with Israel and to resist the siren song of intifada, to continue with those perspectives for that much longer.


If this poll is anything to judge by, Israel has a lot to work with if it wants to create a better relationship with the Palestinian majority. Sadly, at present, they appear to be making no effort whatsoever to do that. To the contrary, Israel's policies are playing directly into the hands of those Palestinian extremists who are bound and determined to create a third, and devastating, intifada sometime in the foreseeable future. It can still be avoided, but it requires everyone, and especially the Israeli government, to change their policies. Otherwise, everyone will have to live with the consequences.


Hussein Ibish is a columnist at NOW and The National (UAE). He is also a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. He tweets @Ibishblog

Violence is contained, but the West Bank, and particularly occupied East Jerusalem, is smoldering and the wrong set of circumstances could ignite a huge conflagration. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

The Israeli government, seems, to the contrary, to be satisfied with the notion that the unarmed and occupied Palestinians can simply be crushed.

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