PSR - Survey Research Unit: Public Opinion Poll # 3

Public Opinion Poll # 3


19-24 December 2001

These are the results of opinion poll # 3, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy & Survey Research, between 19-24 December 2001. The poll deals with the ceasefire, immediate return to negotiations, support for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and domestic affairs. The total sample size of this poll is 1357 from Palestinians 18 years and older, of which 851 in the West Bank and 506 in the Gaza Strip. The margin of error is + 3% and the non-response rate is 3%.

Table of Contents:


(1) Ceasefire and Return to Negotiations

The main conclusion of this poll with regard to the intifada and negotiations is the shift of about 10% of the population towards more support for a comprehensive and immediate ceasefire and more support for an immediate return to negotiations compared to the situation that prevailed last July in the aftermath of the release of the Mitchell Report. This development may have been caused by four factors: the Powell statement of Novemeber 19 providing some political horizon, the increase in international pressure on Arafat and the Islamists after the Haifa-Jerusalem suicide attacks, the decline in confidence in the intifada's ability to continue to serve the national interest, and the fear of internal infighting, some of which was taking place in Jabalia in the Gaza Strip during the peioid in which the poll was being conducted.

The survey shows that 60% of the street, compared to 50% last July, supports the comprehensive and immediate ceasefire declared by Yasir Arafat in December. Moreover, 71% (compared to 63% last July) support an immediate return to negotiations. There has been a drop in the percentage of those who believe that armed confrontations have helped achieve national objectives which negotiations failed to achieve from 70% last July to 61% in this poll. The fact that such a majority continues to view armed attacks so positively does not contradict with the public support for the ceasefire. It seems to reflect street thinking that the Palestinians have more than one option in the search for their vital needs: ceasefire and negotiations is one while armed confrontation is another.

This may explain the high level of support for armed attacks against soldiers and settlers (92% for each) and the relatively high level of support for attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel (58%). This support however remains hypothetical for now. But not for long, as most Palestinians do not expect the ceasefire to last. Only 21% expect to see continued ceasefire and return to negotiations. This may reflect the lack of trust in the intentions of the Sharon government. This may explain the high level of opposition (76%) to the arrests carried out by the Palestinian security services against Islamists and others.

The poll finds that a majority of 52% agree with the statement issued by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in his November 19 speech regarding the obligations of the two sides, including the US support for a Palestinian state, end of occupation, freeze of settlement construction, implementation of the ceasefire, and putting an end to incitement against Israel. This does not mean that the street has changed its assessment of the overall American policy; 84% still view it as biased in favor of Israel.

Support for ceasefire increases among residents of the West Bank (62%) compared to residents of the Gaza Strip (56%); in cities (63%) compared to refugee camps (53%); among the old (67%) compared to the young (49%); the non-refugees (64%) compared to the refugees (54%); the illiterates (65%) compared to those who hold BA degree (58%); retired persons (75%) and professionals (83%) compared to students (40%); and supporters of Fateh (79%) compared to supporters of Hamas (36%).

(2) Palestinian-Israeli Reconciliation

Respondents were asked for the third time since July 2000 to express support or opposition, and to speculate about the chances, for reconciliation between the two peoples in the aftermath of a successful conclusion of negotiations that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state recognized by Israel. The results show a consistent and overwhelming support for reconciliation but a split in confidence regarding its feasibility. They also show that the Palestinian overwhelming support for reconciliation is based on cold calculations of interests and needs rather than friendship, forgiveness, or tolerance. Moreover, a majority of Palestinians does not believe that a lasting peace is possible between Israelis and Palestinians; a larger majority thinks that most Israelis think similarly.

In the context of an agreement leading to a two-state solution, a majority of 73% would support or strongly support the process of reconciliation, just as it was last July. But only 46% believe that reconciliation is possible, and 41% believe that it "is not possible ever." When asked to speculate about the views of the majority of Israelis regarding the prospects for reconciliation, 54% expressed the belief that they think that reconciliation "is not possible ever."

An overwhelming majority (85%) of the Palestinians support or strongly support open borders to free movement of people and goods in the context of a peace agreement. Similarly, a majority of 66% supports the creation of joint economic institutions and ventures. However, even in the context of a peace agreement, a majority of Palestinians opposes, or strongly opposes, other forms of cooperation and reconciliation. For example, only 29% support the "creation of joint political institutions, such as a parliament, designed eventually to lead to a confederate system;" 36% support "taking legal measures against incitagainst Israel;" 6% suppadopting "school curriculum in the Palestinian state that would recognize Israel and teach school children not to demand return of all Palestine to the Palestinians;" 37% would invite an Israeli colleague to home for a visit; and 35% would accept an invitation to the home of an Israeli colleague. Moreover, only 28% believe that a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible.

Support for reconciliation increases among the old (81%) compared to the young (59%); the illiterates (85%) compared to those holding BA degree (69%); professionals (88%) compared to students (54%); and supporters of Fateh (80%) compared to supporters of Hamas (64%).

(3) Terrorism

The findings show that Arafat's position toward the US campaign against terror is supported by only 36%. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians (94%) is opposed to the American campaign against Ben Laden. The reason for this opposition seems to lie in the finding showing that only 16% believe that Ben Laden was behind the Twin Towers attack of 11 September.

An overwhelming majority, ranging between 91%-98%, views the following Israeli violent acts against Palestinians as acts of terror: the Goldestein massacre of 29 Palestinians in 1994, the assassination of the leader of the PFLP, Abu Ali Mustafa, by Israel, the killing of 13 Israeli Arabs by the Israeli police in the intifada, and the Israeli incursions into area "A" of the Palestinian Authority. Yet, surprisingly, a majority, ranging between 52%-67%, believes that the international community does not view these events as acts of terrorism. This may indicate a growing Palestinian suspicion of the motivation of the international community.

An overwhelming majority, ranging between 81%-87%, does NOT view the following Palestinian violent acts as acts of terrorism: the assassination of the Israeli Minister Ze'evi by armed PFLP men, the shooting at Gilo in Jerusalem by armed Palestinians, the killing of 21 Israeli youths at the Dolphinarium club in Tel Aviv by a Palestinian suicide bomber, and the killing of 3 Israelis in Nahari in Israel at the hands of an Israeli Arab suicide bomber. Yet, an overwhelming majority, ranging between 88%-92%, believes that the international community does view these events as terrorism

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority (ranging between 81%-87%) does not view Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians or politicians as terrorism, 37% does agree that there are circumstances under which use of terrorism to achieve political goals would be justified. It is noticeable that while the majority of Palestinians does not agree that Palestinian attacks on Israelis are terrorist acts, an even larger majority (91%-98%) does agree that Israeli attacks on Palestinians are acts of terror. For example, while 98% view the 1994 Baruch Goldstein massacre against Palestinians as terrorism, 82% does not agree that the killing of 21 Israeli youths by a Palestinians in a Tel Aviv night club was an act of terror.

But the Palestinian position is split on events not linked to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The findings show that 41% does view the attack on the Twin Towers on 11 September as an act of terrorism. Similarly, 46% agree that the bombing of the Pan Am jet over Lockerbie in Scotland was an act of terror. A majority of 62% agrees that the distribution of Anthrax envelopes in the US is an act of terror.

It is obvious that the Palestinian perception of terror focuses on the aims of the perpetrators rather than their methods. In this case, any violent act aimed at ending Israeli occupation, regardless of the means, is not likely to be viewed as terror, while all violent acts of the Israeli occupier are seen as acts of terror. For example, while 94% would view an Israeli use of chemical and biological weapons against Palestinians as an act of terror, only 26% would view the same exact attack as an act of terror if it was carried out by Palestinians against Israelis. The findings indicate that 45% of the Palestinians are indeed concerned about a possible Israeli use of such weapons.

Finally, the poll finds that more people (43%) tend to believe that the September 11 attacks will delay a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis than those (18%) who believe that the attacks will speed up the peace process.

Support for Arafat position toward the American campaign against terror increases among holders of BA degree (41%) compared to the illiterates (33%), professionals (50%) compared to students (32%); those who do not observe any religious rules and traditions (67%) compared to those who do observe all religious rules and traditions (30%); those with the highest income level (44%) compared to those with the lowest income level (34%); and supporters of Fateh (52%) compared to supporters of Hamas (20%).

(4) Arafat's Popularity, Political Affiliation, Corruption and Democracy

Arafat's popularity increased from 33% in our last poll in July 2001 to 36% in this poll. Arafat did not lose support over the ceasefire decision and the subsequent arrest of Islamists and other militants. Arafat may have gained some sympathy during the past few weeks in response to Sharon decision to prevent him from visiting Bethlehem during Christmas. The public may be responding negatively to Sharon's attempts to delegitimize the Palestinian president. It is also possible that the trend of continued decline in Arafat's popularity may have finally ended. His popularity on July 2000 stat 46% compato 71% in January 1996.

Support for Fateh remained essentially unchanged at 28%, while the popularity of the Islamist groups dropped slightly from 27% last July to 25% in this poll. This indicates that the continued decline in support for Fateh may have also stopped. Fateh's popularity stood at 55% in January 1996. The rise in support for the Islamists may have also stopped. In July 2001, the popularity of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Islamists reached 27% compared to 17% in July 2000. In this poll, the Islamists received the support of 25% of the Palestinians. Some Palestinians may be blaming the Islamists for the loss of international support in the aftermath of the suicide attacks in Haifa and Jerusalem three weeks before the poll was taken. Others may be blaming the Islamists for the bloodshed in Jabalia in the Gaza Strip which resulted form internal infighting during the period of the in which the poll was conducted.

The findings indicate that well-known Palestinian figures, like Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin) and Ahmad Quari (Abu Ala'), may have lost much of their popularity dropping to less than 2% for each. But the rising figure seems to be Fateh leader Marwan Barghouti, who received the support of 11%. His name did not show up at all before the start of the intifada in September 2000. Hamas leader Ahmad Yasin received the support of 14%, Haidar Abdul Shafi 11%, Saeb Erikat 9%, compared to 7% last July, and Hanan Ashrawi 9%, compared to 1% last July. The increase in Ashrawi's popularity may have been the result of her appointment as the spokesperson of the Arab League and the resulting media exposure. It should be noticed that while in the last survey respondents were not given a list of name to chose from, this time a list was presented. The list was compiled based on the responses to the same questions last July.

The results indicate a persistent negative public perception of governance in Palestine despite a drop in the perception of PA corruption from 83% in the last poll to 74% in this one. An increase occurred in the percentage of those who believe that corruption will increase or remain the same in the future, from 57% to 60% during the same period. Positive evaluation of Palestinian democracy remains low, at 23%, while the percentage of those who believe that people cannot criticize the PA without fear decreased from 51% in July 2001 to 49% in this poll.

Finally, after making a slight change in the question related to preferences for a future Palestinian political system, the results changed dramatically. In our last survey we asked respondents to tell us which political system they would prefer for Palestine after the establishment of the state. At that time, one of the answers, "an Islamic system as in Iran," received the support of 46%. In this poll, the same answer, after dropping the adjective "an Islamic system" to read "as in Iran" received only 17%.

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