What do Palestinian Arabs really think about Jews, Israel and peace? If ever the devil was in the details, it was when Washington Post Deputy Editorial Page Editor and columnist Jackson Diehl wrote about a public opinion survey of Palestinian attitudes last summer. Commissioned by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and overseen by the institute’s David Pollock, it found “a stunning 70 percent” of eastern Jerusalem Arabs “say they would accept the formula of ‘two states for two people’” according to Diehl (“Barriers to peace in Israel,” October 26 print edition).
Diehl added that “a big majority, 62 percent, says they think Israel will still exist in 30 or 40 years.” Further, “in the West Bank a majority is still ready to accept a two-state solution, with no right of return for Palestinians to Israel.”
And then the caveats began to multiply, beginning with the usually well-informed Diehl himself. His column acknowledged of Palestinian Arabs that “many still hope to destroy Israel in the long run” and noted “Pollock says that even in Jerusalem, 55 percent say that they still wish to someday ‘liberate all of historic Palestine,’ though not necessarily by killing or expelling Jews.”
Then came a “wait-a-minute” October 31 letter to the editor about the column from Pollock himself. He wrote, “My surveys show that the majority of West Bank Palestinians today, unlike those in Jerusalem, really are quite uncompromising, with plenty of encouragement from Fatah.” Fatah (a reverse Arabic acronym for Palestine National Liberation Movement and also a word meaning “victory”—the group’s logo still shows a map of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip under crossed rifles) is the main party in President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority administering the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).
Not exactly, not if a two-state solution means making peace with Israel as a Jewish state, abandoning future claims against it and considering the conflict ended. In fact, a November 4 essay by an leading Israeli political scientist, based on a review of hundreds of Palestinian public opinion surveys over more than 20 years, found “farfetched … the idea that Israeli leaders, by modifying their rhetoric or restraining the reactions of the security forces, can appreciably dampen Palestinian support for violence.” More on that below.
After journalists cited the WINEP-commissioned poll, CAMERA contacted Pollock’s office for the full results (“Most Palestinians want economic cooperation with Israel, poll shows,” CAMERA, Aug. 5, 2015). They indicated, among other things, that most Jerusalem Arabs will accept “two states for two peoples,” but think Jews have no rights to the land, will not consider the conflict over once there’s a Palestinian state, believe that even after two states are negotiated, “resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated,” and currently support “armed struggle and car attacks.”
While highlighting Palestinian Arabs’ desire for economic ties to Israel, CAMERA also noted that “58 percent of West Bankers and 65 percent of Gazans polled said even if a ‘two-state solution’ is negotiated, ‘the struggle is not over and resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine [Israel] is liberated.’ In other words, Palestinian Arabs in both areas want to see Israel destroyed. Fifty-six percent of the respondents in the West Bank and 84 percent in Gaza support the use of violent attacks to achieve this end. Despite this pronounced support for violence, 74 percent of West Bankers and 83 percent of Gazans say ‘Hamas should maintain a ceasefire with Israel.’”
Beyond the WINEP survey, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research polls West Bank and Gaza Strip Arabs quarterly. The poll conducted in September, a few weeks before Diehl’s column, was not encouraging.
According to “An Inconvenient Truth: Palestinian Polls,” posted at First.One.Through, the PCPSR surveys “show a growing support of attacking innocent Israeli civilians. In December 2013, the percentage of Arabs supporting unprovoked attacks was 34 and 58 in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. Those figures jumped to 48 percent and 68 percent … in September 2014 and then to 50 and 70 percent in September 2015. Over all, a clear majority of 57.2 percent of Palestinians was in favor of terrorism as of September 2015, up from 42.9 percent in December 2013.”
Rather, “Palestinians have always been afraid of Israeli intentions” regarding the land and Temple Mount/al-Aqsa mosque. For example, in December 2014, “66.2 percent of West Bank Arabs, and 38.8 percent of Gazans thought that Israeli intended to completely destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. In the most recent September 2015 poll, these figures dropped [emphasis in the original] to 60 and 33.4 percent, respectively.”
As for a two-state solution, “it has never been a particularly popular dream of the Palestinians. In March 2014, a slim majority of 51.2 percent … supported the idea. In the last poll of September 2015, 47.9 percent” favored it. Those that do back it “believe it can best be accomplished through violence.”
Significantly, “Palestinians, particularly those in the West Bank, have been getting their news from social media in much greater numbers.” First.One.Through concluded “today’s violence is erupting due to [Palestinian] concerns over safety, and fueled by the credibility and incitement of Palestinians on new media.”
On October 27, CAMERA provided the above information to Diehl and suggested his “Barriers to peace in Israel” commentary drew positive conclusions from ambiguous if not negative data.
Less caveat to Diehl’s column and more contradiction of it was Daniel Polisar’s November 2 essay in MOSAIC Magazine, “What do Palestinians Want?” Polisar reviewed more than 330 public opinion surveys conducted by four major Palestinian research institutes, including Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, for the past t
He focused on three questions: What do Palestinians think of Israel and of Jews? How do they view the Jewish claim to at least a part of the land of Israel, and especially Jerusalem? What do they believe about the legitimacy, efficacy, and desirability of carrying out terrorist attacks against Israelis?
In 25 relevant surveys, an average of 59 percent of West Bank and Gaza Strip Arabs believed Israel’s goal was “extending the borders of the state of Israel to cover all the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and expelling its Arab citizens.” This, Polisar noted, “despite the fact that in the past quarter-century, not a single Israeli Knesset member, respected public figure, or major media personality has advocated such a view in public or is reliable claimed to have expressed it in private.”
Similarly, “51 percent assert that Israeli will ‘destroy al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and build a synagogue in their place.” Again, Polisar added, “a position with no basis in the policies of any of the parties in Israel’s governing coalition or opposition is assumed by an absolute majority of Palestinians to reflect” Israel’s true intentions.
Large Palestinian majorities believed Jews lack a historical tie to the land of Israel or Jerusalem, but 90 percent erroneously said “Palestinians have a long history in Jerusalem going back thousands of years.”
Palestinian respondents saw Israeli Jews as violent and untrustworthy, but clever and strong. This “matches up with Palestinian assessments of Israel’s outsized power and diabolical nature in its past behavior and future intentions,” Polisar said.
Violence against such people was appropriate. During the second intifada, 54 percent of Palestinian respondents told a 2001 poll that terrorism was never justified in the pursuit of political goals. But the same survey found that while 98 percent described Baruch Goldstein’s murder of 29 Arabs in 1994 as terrorism, “only 15 percent were willing to label as terrorism a 2001 attack by Palestinian suicide bombers that killed 21 Israelis at the Dolphinarium night club in Tel Aviv.” Such acts were more likely to be defined as “resistance” or “military operations.”
Among respondents in a number of Muslim and Arab countries, “Palestinians were always the leaders in seeing suicide bombings and similar attacks as justified. On average, 59 percent saw them as being justified often or sometimes; no other Arab or Muslim public came close.”
Last December, well before this fall’s eruption of stabbing, shooting, vehicular and other attacks by Arabs against Jews, Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research noted an increase in attempts to stab or run over Israelis and asked “do you support or oppose these attempts?” According to Polisar, “78 percent were supportive, only 20 percent opposed. Though the question has not been repeated since then, there is no reason to believe the response today would be substantially different.”
Among Polisar’s conclusions: “Palestinians view Israeli words and deeds through a powerfully distorting lens. A half-century of Israeli restraint at the Temple Mount has failed to convince most Palestinians there is no plan to replace the mosques on Haram al-Sharif with a Jewish house of worship. A decade-and-a-half marked by prolonged and intense bouts of violence has persuaded Palestinians that the use of force generally helps them …. [C]onfrontations between the West and the Arab/Islamic world has ingrained in most Palestinians a belief that attacking Western or Israeli targets, far from constituting terrorism, is legitimate resistance.”
All this and more means attitudes underlying the belief that terrorism is really “resistance” “have developed and become entrenched over a period of decades.”
Altering them would require “Palestinian leadership to recognize the dangers posed to its own self-interest by the current volatile circumstances and to take a firm and consistent stance against violence.” Arab governments opposed to Islamic extremism, including Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia also have an interest in playing a constructive role, Polisar said. So did the United States and Western Europe, beginning with “vociferously condemning” anti-Israel violence and penalizing the Palestinian Authority and Hamas if attacks continue.
CAMERA called Polisar’s essay to Diehl’s attention in a November 4 letter. The Post’s deputy editorial editor responded to neither CAMERA letter. Just so. As Polisar wrote, until Palestinian “attitudes are recognized for what they are, without blinking and without excuses,” they are likely to remain entrenched.