The Gaza Disengagement: Palestinian Perceptions and Expectations?
A public opinion poll was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) between September 7-9, 2005, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The focus was on the Palestinian perception of the meaning of the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the context of the implementation of the Israeli disengagement plan, and public expectations of the day after, with a focus on the future of the peace process. The poll also dealt with voting intentions and considerations in the upcoming Palestinian elections, as well as domestic Palestinian conditions. The total size of the sample was 1368 adults interviewed face to face in the West Bank (892) and the Gaza Strip (476) in 120 randomly selected locations. The margin of error is 3 percent.
Three main findings emerged:
1. The Palestinian public views the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip as a victory for armed resistance to occupation; it gives Hamas most of the credit for this achievement.
2. In the meanwhile, with the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip underway, public top priorities are shifting: focus is now placed on matters of reconstruction and state-building, such as economic conditions, corruption, and law and order.
3. The change in priorities is weakening interest in armed resistance and increases demands for its cessation. Moreover, the change in the hierarchy of priorities is weakening the electoral appeal of Hamas and strengthening that of Fateh in anticipation of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
It is evident that the unilateral nature of the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip has generated conflicting dynamics: on the one hand, a greater appreciation of the role of violence, and thereby the need to keep the armed pressure on Israel and to protect the arms of the resisting groups; on the other hand, a greater optimism about the future and the critical and urgent need to begin the process of reconstruction and state-building, and thereby the need to maintain the existing ceasefire and the consolidation of Fateh's position.

Prevailing Conditions on the Eve of the Israeli Disengagement from the Gaza Strip

Findings show significant increase in the percentage of those who see the Israeli disengagement as a victory for armed resistance from 72 percent in our last survey in June [2005] to 84 percent in this present survey. The largest percentage (40 percent) gives Hamas most of the credit for this achievement, while only 21 percent give the credit to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and 11 percent to Fateh. Belief that Hamas deserves most of the credit increases among women (44 percent) compared to men (36 percent), among holders of the preparatory certificate (47 percent) compared to holders of a university degree (32 percent), among housewives (45 percent) compared to employees and farmers (29 percent each), among those would definitely refuse to buy a lottery ticket (45 percent) compared to those who would definitely agree to buy one (32 percent), among those working in the private sector (40 percent) compared to those working in the public sector (29 percent), among the married (42 percent) compared to the unmarried (33 percent, and among Hamas supporters (69 percent) compared to supporters of Fateh (24 percent).
Despite the high public appreciation for armed resistance and for Hamas, findings show a majority opposition to continued armed attacks. Sixty-two percent oppose (and 35 percent support) the continuation of armed attacks from the Gaza Strip after a full Israeli disengagement from that area. Opposition to armed attacks from the Gaza Strip after the Israeli disengagement is greater in Gaza than in the West Bank (65 percent and 60 percent respectively). Findings also show that that a majority of 77 percent support the continuation of the current ceasefire while only 22 percent oppose its continuation. This attitude is reflected in the opposition of 56 percent (and support of 37 percent) to the suicide attack that took place in August 2005 in Beersheba. Opposition to armed attacks is also reflected in the majority support (60 percent) for the collection of weapons from armed factions in the Gaza Strip; 37 percent oppose such a step. Percentage of support for the Gaza collection of arms is equal in the Gaza Strip to that of the West Bank but it increases among those definitely wishing to buy lottery tickets (73 percent) compared to those definitely opposed to buying lottery tickets (46 percent), and among Fateh's supporters (74 percent) compared to Hamas' supporters (43 percent).
The high positive evaluation of the role of violence, while simultaneously opposing its continuation, reflects a shift in public priorities towards a focus on reconstruction, where poverty and unemployment come at the top of the public list of priorities (40 percent) followed by the occupation and corruption (25 percent each) and internal anarchy (8 percent). In June 2005, these percentages stood at 34 percent for poverty and unemployment, 33 percent for the occupation, 24 percent for corruption, and 8 percent for internal anarchy.
Similarly, findings show strong support (73 percent) for the establishment of a Palestinian state (with the 1967 lines as its borders) that would start in the Gaza Strip and gradually extend to the West Bank. The idea of a Gaza-first state received identical support in the West Bank as in the Gaza Strip. But it found greater support among those intending to vote for Fateh in the upcoming parliamentary elections (82 percent) compared to those intending to vote for Hamas (67 percent). It is important to point out that the question clearly identifies the borders of the state as those of the 1967 and, therefore, some or all respondents might have assumed that no further negotiations would be required to determine the final borders of the state. In other words, one should not assume that support for this Gaza-first state is automatically equivalent to support for the state with provisional borders referred to in the Road Map.
The Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip has created an optimistic atmosphere, particularly in the Gaza Strip. For example, findings show optimistic expectations regarding future improvement in the economic conditions among 64 percent of the public, progress in the peace process among 57 percent, links between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between 57 percent, the view that the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip is the beginning of the end of the Israeli occupation among 56 percent, and the view that further disengagements will take place in the West Bank in the future among 60 percent. But pessimism remains high, particularly in the West Bank, regarding the possibility of continued Israeli control over the Rafah crossing and thereby the transformation of the Gaza Strip into a big prison (among 57 percent) and the expectation that the Israeli disengagement will be followed by internal infighting (among 60 percent). It is worth noting that the poll was conducted during the period in which Musa Arafat, security advisor to the PA president, was assassinated in the Gaza Strip.

The Future of the Peace Process after Disengagement

Findings show strong support (69 percent) for comprehensive final-status negotiations with the aim of reaching a permanent-status agreement rather than an interim or gradual solution which receives the support of only 25 percent. They also show that support for the Road Map remains unchanged at 57 percent and opposition at 40 percent. But support for final and comprehensive negotiations does not mean optimism about their outcome with the current Israeli government of Ariel Sharon. Indeed, 68 percent believe an agreement with Sharon is not possible while only 30 percent believe that such an agreement is possible. Nonetheless, if a compromise agreement is reached with the current Israeli leadership, 53 percent of the Palestinians believe that Sharon is strong enough to be able to convince the Israelis to accept it. Moreover, 50 percent of the Palestinians believe the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, is strong enough to convince the Palestinians to accept it.
A compromise agreement acceptable to 63 percent of the Palestinians is one based on a mutual recognition of identity whereby a Palestinian state is established next to the State of Israel and all final-status issues are resolved. Israel in this case, would be recognized as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people. Opposition to this compromise reaches 35 percent. (In December 2004, identical results regarding this compromise were obtained.) If a two-state solution is reached, 75 percent of the Palestinians would support reconciliation between the two peoples. Support for facets of reconciliation varies with 87 percent supporting open borders for labor and goods between the two states, 70 percent supporting joint economic ventures and institutions, 38 percent supporting enacting laws prohibiting incitement, 36 percent supporting joint political institutions aiming at creating a confederation between the two states, and 10 percent supporting textbooks that would recognize the State of Israel and would not call for the return of all Palestine to the Palestinians.

Voting Intentions and Considerations in the Upcoming Legislative Elections

Findings show that 74 percent of the Palestinians will participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections in January 2006. Voting intentions among the likely participants indicate an increase of Fateh's support from 44 percent in June 2005 to 47 percent in this poll, and a drop in Hamas' support from 33 percent to 30 percent during the same period. Eleven percent will vote for other factions and groups and 11 percent remain undecided. From among eight vital considerations in voting for election lists, # 1 is the ability to fight corruption receiving 24 percent, # 2 the name or affiliation of the list with 19 percent, # 3 the ability to improve economic conditions with 15 percent, # 4 the ability to reach a peace agreement with Israel with 14 percent, # 5 the ability to maintain national unity with 10 percent, # 6 the ability to enforce law and order with 8 percent, # 7 the ability to protect refugee rights in negotiations with 6 percent, and finally # 8 the ability to insure the continuation of the intifada with 4 percent.
Hamas is the most able to fight corruption (receiving 46 percent vs. 37 percent for Fateh) and to insure the continuation of the intifada (receiving 62 percent vs. 24 percent for Fateh). Fateh is perceived as the most able to improve the economy (receiving 46 percent vs. 31 percent for Hamas), to push the peace process forward (receiving 64 percent for Fateh vs. 21 percent for Hamas), to protect national unity (receiving 46 percent vs. 37 percent for Hamas), to enforce law and order (receiving 54 percent vs. 31 percent for Hamas), and to protect refugee rights (receiving 44 percent for Fateh and 37 percent for Hamas).
In a closed question, in a contest for the position of PA president between Mahmoud Abbas (Fateh), Mahmoud Zahhar (Hamas), and Mustafa Barghouti (others), Abbas comes first with 44 percent, followed by Zahhar with 21 percent, and Barghouti with 19 percent. In a closed question, in a contest over the position of vice president, Marwan Barghouti receives the greatest level of support with 24 percent, followed by Mahmoud Zahhar with 14 percent, Ismail Haniyyah with 13 percent, Mohammad Dahlan and Mustafa Barghouti with 9 percent each, Farouq Qaddoumi with 8 percent and, finally, Ahmad Qurai and Saeb Ereikat with 6 percent each. In a closed question, in a contest over the position of prime minister, Marwan Barghouti comes first with 30 percent, followed by Zahhar with 22 percent, Mustafa Barghouti with 17 percent, and Qurai and Dahlan with 8 percent each. Public satisfaction with the performance of PA president Mahmoud Abbas increased from 60 percent in June 2005 to 64 percent in this poll.

Domestic Conditions and Political Sympathies

Findings show that an overwhelming majority (87 percent) believe that corruption exists in PA institutions. A majority among those (61percent) believe that this corruption will increase or remain the same in the future. Only 33 percent believe that corruption will decrease in the future. The percentage of those who believe corruption does not exist in the PA does not exceed 9 percent.
Findings also show that about two-thirds (64 percent) believe that these days they and their families lack security and safety, while only 36 percent say they now have security and safety. A clear difference exists between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with more Gazans feeling safe and secure than West Bankers (55 percent to 25 percent respectively).
As for the status of democracy in the Palestinian areas, 32 percent (compared to 37 percent in June 2005) give it a positive evaluation.
Popularity of Fateh today stands at 39 percent compared to 41 percent in June 2005. Fateh's popularity in the West Bank is almost identical to its popularity in the Gaza Strip (38 percent and 40 percent respectively). Hamas' popularity dropped from 30 percent to 27 percent during the same period. Hamas' popularity is higher in the Gaza Strip (32 percent) compared to 25 percent in the West Bank.