Monday, December 21, 2009

A new poll offers insights into what Palestinians most want

[Another grueling day of 'the occupation.' Pre-Christmas shopping in Ramallah.]

The great disconnect

As Israelis continue to brawl over a settlement construction moratorium that Western powers denigrate as insufficient and Palestinians dismiss as worthless, the West Bank's Palestinian Arab population has reason to feel contented.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has told Western media outlets that the West Bank economy is experiencing an upswing, and that next year could see double-digit growth.

Some 47,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel or in Israeli enterprises within the West Bank. About 1,500 VIP business people (selected by the PA) have the right to cross between Israel and the West Bank at any time. Arab citizens of Israel have been encouraged to resume commerce with their West Bank brethren. Crossing points have been upgraded; crossing hours between the West Bank and Jordan have been expanded.

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works.

Four EU-funded electrical substations are on the drawing boards. A second Palestinian cellular phone company is now online. People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

HAS THE relative prosperity of West Bankers made them more inclined to compromise with Israel? Not really.

The latest survey of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headed by Khalil Shikaki, found that most Palestinians would not mind if Abbas retired; they think his talk of doing so is mere posturing.

Sixty-one percent of Palestinians say that Fatah and Hamas are jointly responsible for the continued split within the Palestinian polity. Reuniting the West Bank with Gaza is the Palestinians' top priority, with most saying this goal is more important than maintaining the cease-fire with Israel.

At the same time, if elections were held today, Abbas would receive the support of 54% of the Palestinian electorate compared to Ismail Haniyeh's 38%. Haniyeh's overall popularity among Gazans stands at 43% - not much lower than President Barack Obama's among Americans (49%).

But roughly 40% of eligible voters say - given a choice between Haniyeh and Abbas - they'd stay home.

What if younger blood were injected in the race? What if the man Yasser Arafat entrusted with running Fatah's terror campaign under the Tanzim brand were the moderates' standard bearer? Answer: Marwan Barghouti would take 67% of the ballots compared to 28% for Ismail Haniyeh - while participation would shoot up to 73%.

Were parliamentary elections held today, Fatah would garner 43% versus 27% for Hamas. Broken down by region, Fatah would win 41% of the West Bank and 46% of Gaza; Hamas would capture 23% of the West Bank and 34% in the Strip.

Most illuminating is the rating personal/family safety and security get. In the West Bank the comfort level is 63% (up from 58% four months ago). In the Gaza Strip, 65% of respondents said they felt safe and secure (compared to 63% four months ago).

This comfort level relates not to the economy, but to an end of the Hobbesian lawlessness that prevailed as a result of the second intifada. Gazans are as grateful to Hamas as West Bankers are to Fatah for returning normalcy to their lives - though Gazans acknowledge they have paid a greater human-rights price for their calm.

FROM AN Israeli viewpoint, the heartbreak is that despite a massive investment of resources by the EU and US, accompanied by essential Israeli cooperation, the relatively well-off West Bankers hanker after the imprisoned Barghouti, partly because he refuses to rule out a third paroxysm of violence.

The core attitudes of West Bankers and comparatively deprived Gazans are not poles apart, with so many believing that violence pays. Economic well-being, then, does not obviate political frustration.

Tragically, Palestinian "moderates" are doing precious little to lessen the dissatisfaction of their people, because they have failed to candidly discuss the compromises necessary to achieve viable aspirations.

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