Palestinian Public Opinion Polls on the Peace Process
The Center for Palestine Research and Studies (CPRS) has been conducting regular public opinion polls to document important phases in the history of the Palestinian people and to record the reactions of the Palestinian com¬munity with regard to current political events. The first poll was carried out in September 10-11, 1993, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, two days before the Declaration of Principles (DOP) was signed. That poll found that a majority of respondents (64.9%) were enthusiastic about the forthcoming signing of the agreement.
The center's latest poll (February, 1995), however, confirms a trend of declining public support for continuing negotiations in the peace process. An unprecedented number of Palestinians (81%) support halting the nego¬tiations. This figure reflects the perception among West Bank and Gaza res¬idents that Israel is not complying with the agreements, as shown by the procrastination in transferring authority to the PNA, continued land appropriation in Jerusalem and other areas, continued settlement activity and deteriorating economic conditions, especially as a result of the closure imposed by Israel on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Results also underline the growing feeling that the negotiations have not been fruitful and that there is a need to find other means to achieve Palestinian goals.

Conditional Support

The poll conducted in September, 1993, made some things obvious: the majority of Palestinians, irrespective of political affiliation, believed in the need to use democratic dialogue, and not violence, to change public opin¬ions (the exception was a small percentage of Gaza residents). A majority of those surveyed (64.9%) supported the Gaza-Jericho First agreement and only 27.9% opposed it. Yet even then, there were definite reservations (59.9%) about delaying the discussion of the issues of Jerusalem, the settle¬ments and the refugees to a later stage. In fact, widespread support for the negotiations was conditional on the discussion of these issues. A year later, the failure to address these thorny subjects has proved a major cause for the impasse facing the negotiations today.
This is clearly evident in the most recent poll, conducted on February 2¬4, 1995. Important events preceding this poll include the Beit Lid bombing which killed 21 Israelis, mainly soldiers, and the subsequent Israeli deci¬sion to seal off the West Bank and Gaza Strip and delay prisoner release; the expansion of settlement activity; and a rise in unemployment to an overall 51 % (57% in the Gaza Strip, 48% in the West Bank), compared with 32% in the preceding month.

Continuing the Negotiations

While 14.1% favor continuing the negotiations, an unprecedented majori¬ty of 81.3% of the Palestinians oppose ongoing talks, as long as settlement activity continues. (In February, 1994, following the massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, 55.5% opposed continuing the negotiations). In the poll conducted in December, 1994, 38.7% of respondents expressed their support for continuing the negotiations with Israel, compared with 31.5%, who advocated suspending the negotiations until Israel complies with the terms of the agreements signed with the Palestinians. A further 20.6% supported halting negotiations permanently.
This 30% increase in the number of those who call for the suspension or halting of negotiations is a sign that the DOP has not achieved what it was supposed to, and that Israel has yet to comply with the terms of the agree¬ment, particularly with its implementation "on the ground." By and large, Palestinians are skeptical about Israel's sincerity in seeking peace. Some 72.3% of respondents expressed doubts about that commitment in a poll that the CPRS conducted in November, 1994. Most Palestinians support the negotiations in principle, which may reflect a perceived lack of alternative

Prospects for a Palestinian State

55.3%, however, still believe that the peace process which started at Oslo will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, 6% more than in September, 1993, while 32.6% said they did not expect that outcome. Some 62.4% of those surveyed in Gaza gave a positive response, while only 50% of those questioned in the West Bank did so, which might be attributed to the presence of the PNA in Gaza, and the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Military Operations against Israelis

Lack of real change has bred frustration among Palestinians. In the most recent poll, 46% said they supported military operations against Israeli tar¬gets, 33.5% opposed them, and 20.5% were undecided. As expected, the greater percentage of support came from the opposition: 71.8% of Hamas supporters and 62.2% of Islamic Jihad supporters were opposed. It is note¬worthy that a large percentage of support for military operations also exists among Fatah members (39.8%), an indication that elements of the mainstream might be losing patience with the stalled negotiations and looking for alternatives. The opposition to military operations is equally divided between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There was a similar result in November, 1994.


64.3% of those surveyed, mostly West Bank residents, saw separation between Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as Israeli retaliatory collective punishment, which again reflects skepticism about Israel's inten¬tions. Only 15.8% see separation as a first step by Israel toward accepting the establishment of a Palestinian state. 19.9% are undecided.

Elections of the PNA President

When asked about hypothetical elections, respondents expressed the great¬est amount of support for PNA head Yasser Arafat, especially in Gaza. He is followed by Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, populist figure Haidar Abdel Shafi and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader George Habash, in that order. The results of this poll corresponded large¬ly with those of two
previous polls (in November, 1994 and December, 1994). In the three months prior to the poll, Arafat's popularity rose con¬tinually (44.2% in November, 1994, 48.5% in December, 1994 and 53.4% in February, 1995), especially in the West Bank, as had the popularity of Fatah, which reached an all-time peak of 49.5%. Curiously, support for Hamas dropped from 16.6% to 14.4%.
Some 79% support the holding of general elections and 77.1% said they intended to participate in them.

Growing Frustration

The questions posed in the polls have not always been consistent, and so comparison is not always possible. However, one significant change in public opinion is obvious since the first poll was conducted more than a year ago. Lack of progress on the ground has led to growing frustration among the Palestinians and to an erosion in public support for the peace process, as seen in the over 80% opposition to continuing the peace nego¬tiations as long as Israeli settlement activity continues. From the 64.9% of those who supported the negotiations in September, 1993, the figure fell to 38.7% in December, 1994, and to 14.1% in February, 1995.
A further factor contributing to Palestinian disenchantment with the peace process is the deterioration in economic conditions. In September, 1993, 65.4% expressed optimism at the prospect of improvement in eco¬nomic conditions; in February, 1995, they are facing an overall figure of 51 % unemployment, largely as a result of the closure imposed by Israel on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Prior to the signing of the DOP, Palestinians could look forward to the day when an agreement with Israel would mark the beginning of the end of Israeli Occupation, with the realization of their aspirations as a logical conclusion.
An agreement has been signed. So far it has failed to deliver. The polls cited here reflect that frustration, indeed growing desperation, that there may be nothing, in this peace process, for which to hope.