It should be a bombshell but so far the story has been ignored. The day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lamented the faltering efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, a public opinion poll reveals that approximately two-thirds of the Palestinian public wants Mahmoud Abbas, current president of the Palestinian Authority, to resign. The same poll reports that a majority (53 percent) of Palestinians support an armed intifada against Israel and that two-thirds of the respondents believe that a two-state solution is no longer viable.
These facts are crucially relevant in light of the concerns Sec. Kerry raised during his December 28, 2016 speech in which he condemned Israel for building homes in the West Bank, declaring such construction could make a two-state solution impossible if it is not stopped.
In many journalistic quarters, Kerry’s speech was met with applause because it fits in with the pre-existing narrative that Israel is largely responsible for a lack of peace and for the failure of the Palestinians to achieve statehood. This “blame Israel” narrative enjoys support from scores of commentators and journalists despite the fact that Israel has made multiple offers to PA leaders since the end of the First Intifada. One of the most egregious examples of this phenomenon was a Dec. 29, 2016 piece written by Thomas Friedman from the New York Times, in which he accused Israel of “driving drunk in the West Bank.”
But a public opinion poll released by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research headquartered in Ramallah on December 29, 2016 reveals a much more complex and troubling picture. The picture that emerges from the data is that Mahmoud Abbas lacks the legitimacy he needs to negotiate a settlement with the Israelis even if he wanted to.
Not only does a slight majority of the Palestinian public support another round of violence similar to the Second Intifada, even larger majorities think the PA is corrupt and wants Abbas out of power.
The polling data also indicates that contrary to their obligations under the Declaration of Principles signed in the early 1990s, Palestinian leaders have failed to prepare the people they lead for peace with Israel, a reality underscored by the stabbing intifada that cost dozens of Israelis their lives in 2016.
Highlights of the Poll
Sixty-four percent of respondents want Mahmoud Abbas to resign.
To make matters worse, 76 percent of the respondents believe the Palestinian Authority is corrupt, but only 36 percent of the respondents say that people in the West Bank can safely criticize the PA. “This percentage rises to 41 percent among West Bankers and drops to 27 percent among Gazans,” the report states.
Regarding the peace process, only 33 percent of the respondents believe that negotiation is the way to go, while 37 percent believe that armed resistance is the best choice.
Elsewhere, the poll reports that 53 percent of the respondents support a return to an armed intifada. Seventy-three percent oppose Mahmoud Abbas speaking to the Israeli Knesset and 52 percent of the Palestinians interviewed believe that Israel intends to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and replace it with a Jewish temple. Apparently, the anti-Israel incitement broadcast by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has a real impact.
Interestingly enough, 53 percent of the respondents want President-elect Donald Trump to involve himself in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
All of these results, plus others recounted in the poll, raise serious questions about the ability of Palestinian elites to credibly negotiate with Israel and to sell any agreement to the people they govern. One obvious question would-be peacemakers have to address is “If the PA is regarded with such mistrust and fear by the people it is charged with governing, why do so many people expect Israel to negotiate with it?”
Even Palestinians Admit PA Does Not Acknowledge Israel’s Right to Exist
This question is given more force by a little acknowledged finding issued by the PCPSR in March, 2016. In a survey conducted in February of that year, 58 percent of the Palestinians reported that they do not think that the Palestinian Authority acknowledges Israel’s right to exist. This assessment is not offered by Israelis, but by Palestinians. (See page 13 of the report and look at question GS-15 for proof.)
Despite the troubling implications of the data, journalists have largely ignored the poll. A Nexis search of English speaking newspapers for the title of the organization and the name of the researcher responsible for writing the report (Khalil Shikaki), reveals the poll has only been mentioned in a couple of newspapers, most notably the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune (which republished the LA Times article). In the piece published on Dec. 29, Joshua Mitnick reported the following:
A poll this month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found a nearly 10-percentage-point jump over the last three months of Palestinians who say the two-state solution is no longer viable. Support for a one-state solution has advanced in the same period to 36% from 32%.“This is a major change, a significant erosion in the viability of the two-state solution,” Khalil Shikaki, the director of the polling center, said in a lecture at the Jerusalem Press Club. “Today, we don’t have majority support for the two-state solution. What has gone up is support for the one-state solution.”
Mitnick’s coverage details only one aspect of the poll — declining support for the two-state solution on the part of the Palestinians — an important issue to be sure, but it does not mention the tarnished legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas.
One of the primary goals of journalism is to give people living in democracies the information they need to govern themselves and their communities.
Sadly, all too often, modern journalism has descended into a realm in which reporters fail to provide crucial information that voters and policy makers need to make crucial decisions and is now, in the words of one acerbic commentator, David Burge, “about covering important stories. With a pillow, until they stop moving.”
The problems in Palestinian society that undermine the prospects for peace with Israel — problems that have persisted for decades — are not going away no matter how assiduously journalists work to ignore them.