May 22, 2002
A majority of Palestinians (66%) supports the Saudi peace initiative, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state, an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, and full normalization between Israel and the Arab states, according to a new opinion poll released yesterday by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR).
The survey also found that support for suicide attacks declined from 58% last December to 52% in May, although 67% of Palestinians still believe that violence has helped achieve Palestinian national rights in ways that negotiations could not. Over 90% of those polled want the Palestinian Authority to reform its institutions and hold elections.
The poll, which has a 3% margin of error, was conducted between May 15-18, when 1,317 adults were interviewed face to face in 120 locations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The support for the Saudi peace initiative is important, since it shows that Palestinians are much more dovish when it comes to their long-term expectations than appears from their support for violence, PCPSR director Khalil Shikaki told The Jerusalem Post. He said both Israeli and Palestinian polls show that anger and frustration lead "Palestinians to support suicide attacks and Israelis to support F-16 attacks on Palestinians," while both people are realistic and dovish when it comes to the long term. The majority on both sides supports an agreement along the lines of two states within borders mutually defined along the 1967 lines and full normalization and peace between Israel and the Arabs, he added.
Shikaki does not believe the decline in support for suicide attacks inside Israel indicates that more Palestinians now think these attacks are counterproductive. Instead, he attributed the decline of support to public statements against these attacks by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian officials and far less glorification of these attacks in the Palestinian media over the past weeks. If the media continue to tone down their support and present these attacks as suicide attacks instead of martyrdom, support may continue to decline; otherwise, it will soon increase again, he said.
Attitudes on arrests of militants have not changed since December. A large majority of 86% still opposes arresting anyone who carries out attacks against Israelis.
The poll showed that reforms of the PA and new elections are two of the main concerns of Palestinians these days, with 91% supporting fundamental changes in the Palestinian Authority, 85% supporting unifying the security services, 95% wanting ministers to be dismissed, 83% supporting holding elections in the next few months, 92% wanting a constitution; and 89% wanting a democratic system with periodic elections, an independent judiciary, free press, and political parties.
Shikaki said the strong desire for changes is a direct result of Operation Defensive Shield. "The people saw that their king was naked," he said, pointing out that Palestinians gave low ratings to the performance of Arafat, the PA, and its security services during the IDF operation.
The poll also found that 65% oppose an agreement reached in order to end the siege of the headquarters of the Preventive Security Service of Jibril Rajoub in Beitunya. Shikaki said the reason for the dissatisfaction is opposition to any deal that hands over Palestinians to the IDF. Many see it as a conspiracy between the members of the PA's security services and Israel, he added. Rajoub agreed to a US-brokered deal to allow some 200 of his men and their families leave the compound and return to their homes, while the IDF arrested several wanted militants in the compound. Rajoub argued that he did the only responsible thing to save the lives of his men, after the IDF had surrounded and shelled the security compound prior to the deal.
Similarly, 58% oppose the agreement that ended the siege of the Church of the Nativity, since it involved deporting 13 gunmen who had been holed up in the church for 39 days to Europe.
In contrast, only 49% object to the deal that ended the siege of Arafat's compound in Ramallah, since it did not involve surrender to Israel, Shikaki said. The wanted fugitives in Arafat's compound were transferred to a Palestinian jail in Jericho, where they are being held under US and British supervision.
Arafat's popularity rating was 35%, compared to 36% last December and 33% last July. Before the intifada, some 46% of those polled supported the Palestinian leader.
Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, who before the intifada had only marginal support, is now the second most popular Palestinian, with a rating of 19%. Palestinians said his role in organizing the intifada and his imprisonment by Israel have increased his support among the people.
Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yasin received a popularity rating of 13%.