by Jamil Rabah
Various surveys have been conducted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to determine the type of government system the Palestinian people would prefer in a future Palestinian state. These have invariably indicated a high preference for an Islamic-style state. This type of answer, however, is vague and can give rise to a range of interpretations. An Islamic state might refer to the Iranian model, or, perhaps, the Saudi Arabian system. For others, an Islamic state might point to one that adheres strictly to the principles of Islam, one that is free of corruption, and where justice and tolerance are the governing tenets. In other words, an Islamic state could mean different things to different people.
In order to avoid such pitfalls and to more accurately gauge Palestinian preferences, it was considered more advisable to ask the Palestinian respondents after which country in the world they would like Palestine to be modeled. Thus, their answer would give a good indication of their choice and whether they would opt for a democratic state.
The following analysis is based on a survey conducted by the Institute of Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, and is part of the eighth report produced by this institute on Palestinian perceptions about their living conditions. (1)
The respondents were asked several questions pertaining to various political issues. The question dealing with how the Palestinians would like the future state of Palestine to look was open-ended. The respondents were allowed to name any country as their model of preference. This paper will focus on this particular question which has also been examined according to a number of independent variables, such as political affiliation, age, income, employment status and place of residence.
The Respondents in General
As Table 1 (below) indicates, 58 countries and entities were mentioned by the respondents. Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the ones most frequently cited with 9 percent each, followed by France, with 8 percent, then the U.S.A., Jordan and Iran, each with 7 percent, and 7 percent said they would like Palestine to be modeled after the Islamic caliphate system.
Interestingly, a number of respondents (6 percent) said they would like Palestine to be modeled after Israel.
The above list of countries was then classified into seven different categories to allow for practical analysis:
* Arab states
* Western states
* Islamic caliphate
* Islamic non-Arab states
* Communist countries
Following this classification, it emerged that 44 percent of the respondents would like Palestine to be modeled after an Arab government, 31 percent said they would like Palestine to emulate a Western system of government, 10 percent cited Islamic non-Arab states, 7 percent showed a preference for an Islamic caliphate, and 2 percent chose Communist countries, as indicated in Figure 1 ( below).
It is worth noting that the countries most frequently cited are those with immediate proximity to Palestine (Jordan, Egypt, Israel), or those Palestinians visit often, such as Saudi Arabia, for pilgrimage or for work. In-depth analysis of the data further showed that 76 percent of those who selected Jordan were from the West Bank and 60 percent of those who chose Egypt came from the Gaza Strip. As for those who preferred Saudi Arabia, 57 percent were from the Gaza Strip compared to 41 percent from the West Bank.
According to Region and Place of Residence
No significant difference was noted between the inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip regarding their preference for either an Arab or a Western system of government. The main divergence came in East Jerusalem, where a majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites chose a Western system of government for Palestine to emulate. When it came to the refugee camps, the data indicated that the Gaza Strip refugee camps stood out as the place where respondents were least likely to opt for a Western-style model for Palestine. While only 22 percent of the respondents cited a Western government, the percentage rose to 32 among West Bank refugee camps, as shown in Figure 2 (below).
According to Income and Employment Status
When it comes to the level of income and employment status of the respondents, a striking discrepancy was found between the economically better-off and the low-income group in the choice of a model. As Figure 3 (below) illustrates, the highest preference for the respondents classified above the poverty line was the Western system of government with 42 percent and nt for an Arab state model.
Conversely, the preference for a Western-style government among respondents from below the poverty line and outright hardship cases dropped to 23 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
When the data was analyzed according to the employment status of the respondents, it emerged that 41 percent of those with full-time employment preferred a Western system of government for Palestine and only 36 percent an Arab system. Expectedly, among the respondents not fully employed or those unemployed, an Arab system of government was chosen over a Western one.
According to Age and Education
The type of government system chosen by Palestinians was also found to be influenced by the age of the respondents and even more so by their level of education. As illustrated in Figure 4 (below) the preference for an Arab-style government was higher among the older generation than among the younger. Whereas 49 percent of the above 50-year-old respondents said they preferred an Arab government model, the percentage dropped to 38 among the 18-24 age group.
The gap also widened when the responses were analyzed according to their level of education. While only 17 percent with a lower level of education said they preferred a Western-style government in Palestine, 38 percent among the more highly educated would like to see a Western system of government. Those with a medium level of education came between these two extremes as shown in Figure 4. Accordingly, it can be inferred that the higher the education level of the respondents, the more likely they are to prefer a Western-style government for Palestine.
According to Leadership and Factional Trust
When the preference for a system of government was cross-checked with the faction the respondents trust most the choice of an Islamic system was found to be most prevalent among supporters of religious factions as expected. As Figure 5 shows, the respondents who called for a caliphate system in Palestine came mainly from among those trusting Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Even when respondents named non-Islamic states, such as Iran, as their preference, it was noted that they came mainly from those supporting the religious organizations. That said, it is interesting that a significant proportion of respondents – almost one-quarter — from among Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters mentioned a Western system as their model of choice.
Very few respondents trusting Fateh, on the other hand, chose non-Arab Islamic states or an Islamic system of government based on the Islamic caliphate. The majority (54 percent) cited an Arab government as the model they would like Palestine to follow.
The type of system Palestinians would like to see adopted by their state is also influenced by which leadership Palestinians trust most. Upon examination, it was noted that the preference for a Western-style government was significantly higher among the respondents trusting Yasser Arafat compared to, for example, those trusting Sheikh Ahmad Yassin who, incidentally, was assassinated by the Israelis only days after the finalization of the field work for this report. Whereas 34 percent of those trusting Arafat said they would like Palestine to be modeled after one of the Western countries, the proportion of the respondents trusting Sheikh Yassin was exactly half.
The Palestinian public’s choice of a system of government they would like to see implemented in the future Palestinian state is clearly influenced by a number of factors, including education, employment and income, among others.
In any event, a substantial percentage of respondents showed a clear preference for a Western-style government. Such a choice is, undoubtedly, based on certain expectations that a Western model is purported to provide or deliver. This approach can only be interpreted as a sign of political maturity among the Palestinian public. It obviously points to a high degree of appreciation for the values inherent in a democratic system, and flies in the face of the many negative portrayals of the Arab public, including allegations of its rejection of democratic values.
(1) The study, entitled Palestinian Public Perceptions on Their Living Conditions, was published in December 2004. It is authored by R. Bocco, M. Brunner, I. Daneels, J. Husseini, F. Lapeyre and J. Rabah.The report is the eighth of its kind and is based on a public opinion poll, conducted in February 2004, of a randomly selected sample of 1,500 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.