Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Palestinian opinion poll: drifting away from a 2-state solution?

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A new poll shows a hardening of Palestinian public opinion regarding the peace process with Israel, and a sharp decline in support for the two-state solution. The poll was commissioned by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and conducted among 1,200 West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinian residents between 15-17 June. It is the first public opinion poll since the kidnapping crisis began.

According to the poll, when Palestinians were asked about the national goals of the Palestinian leadership for the next five years, fewer than 30% of respondents (31% in the West and 22% in Gaza) replied that the preferred goal should be "to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to achieve a two- state solution." A clear majority (60% overall, 55% in the West Bank and 68% in Gaza) stated that the five year goal "should be toward reclaiming all of historic Palestine, from the river to the sea." Previous polls, even after the fruitless conclusion of the last round of talks, still indicated a majority, or at least a plurality, of Palestinians supported the goal of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, alongside Israel. Interestingly, the least popular option, favoured by only 11% in the West Bank and 8% in Gaza, was the one-state solution, according to which "Arabs and Jews will have equal rights in one country, from the river to the sea." The one-state-solution is advocated by many of the leading figures of the so-called ‘pro-Palestinian' BDS, as some secular, liberal and democratic utopia. They claim that Israel is the barrier to this ‘just' and idyllic solution. But, as the results of the poll suggest, it seems that even the Palestinians themselves are not buying in to this idea, demonstrating how divorced from reality it really is. It is quite reasonable to conclude that the BDS campaign, which clearly does not promote a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is not even genuinely promoting what the Palestinians would see as their own interests, as its preferred solution is rejected by the vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Other findings in the poll further consolidate the validity of these conclusions. When asked specifically about their views regarding the two state solution, about one-third (31% overall, 32% in the West Bank and 30% in Gaza) agreed that it should be the end of conflict with Israel, while two-thirds of respondents (64% overall, 63% in the West Bank and 65% in Gaza) agreed that "resistance should continue until all historic Palestine is liberated." In another question, fewer than a third (27% overall, 30% in the West Bank and 21% in Gaza) stated that the two state solution should be the final goal of the negotiations with Israel, while two-thirds (65% total, 62% in the West Bank and 69% in Gaza) stated that if such an agreement is negotiated, it "would be part of a ‘program of stages', to liberate all of historic Palestine."

While these responses indicate a worrying change in Palestinian public opinion, with potentially detrimental consequences for the prospect of negotiation and long-term solutions, other public opinion trends expressed in the poll are more reassuring. Most surprisingly, according to the poll, Hamas does not seem to be gaining popular support following the kidnapping. When asked about their preferred candidate for the Palestinian Presidency, a plurality of respondents both in the West Bank and Gaza expressed their support for either incumbent Mahmoud Abbas (29% overall, 28% in the West Bank and 32% in Gaza), or other Fatah figures, such as Marwan Barghouti (11% overall, 14% in the West Bank and 8% in Gaza) and Muhammad Dahlan (10% in total, 20% in Gaza and 3% in the West Bank), among others. Hamas leaders, in comparison, were rated very poorly, the two leading figures, Ismail Haniyeh (8% overall, 7 in the West Bank and 11% in Gaza) and Khaled Mashal (2% overall, 1% in the West Bank and 3%in Gaza), only managing to reach a combined support of 9% of the respondents in the West Bank, and 15% in Gaza. These figures could suggest that most of the Palestinian public does not wish to see the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.

At the same time, the poll suggests that the Palestinian public does not seem to support large scale violence against Israeli targets, despite the expressions of support for the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens in the West Bank. Respondents instead expressed support for non-violent tactics. When asked whether the Palestinian leaders should maintain the ceasefire with Israel in Gaza and the West Bank, the overall answer was a definite yes- 70% of Gazans and 54% of West Bank respondents either agree or strongly agree that the ceasefire should continue (total 60%). The rejection of violence in Gaza was also expressed in the respondents' support (57% in Gaza, compared with 46% in the West Bank) for Abbas' call for Hamas to abide by the Quartet conditions- renounce violence, honour previous agreements with Israel and recognize Israel. Hamas, judging by its actions, is not going to abide by the wishes of the Palestinian public, not even those living under its control in the Gaza strip. In fact, the recent escalation in shelling from Gaza indicates the exact opposite- it is still very much committed to violence and terrorism, as its leaders implied when Hamas accepted the unity deal with Fatah.

Popular resistance, such as demonstrations, strikes, marches and refusal to cooperate with Israel, is viewed favourably by respondents (66% overall, 62% in the West Bank and 72% in Gaza) as having a positive impact on the prospects of a settlement to the conflict.

Future polls would be necessary in order to confirm the trends and changes in Palestinian public opinion, and whether it is a temporary shift, influenced by current events (the kidnapping and the IDF's military operation to find the abducted teens). Yet according to the poll data, it would seem that while the long term goal of a negotiated two-state solution, based on mutual compromises, is losing popularity, the Palestinian public prefers more pragmatic, less destructive means when pursuing its goals.