But polls show that Palestinians can quickly change their minds
Despite the eruption of bloody clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem over the weekend, support by Palestinians for armed struggle against Israel has seen an unprecedented demise over the past decade, a new poll shows.
Support for armed resistance is at a 14-year low as more and more Palestinians say they prefer using strikes, boycotts and demonstrations over rockets and suicide bombings to pursue their cause, according to a poll released by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC).
Periods of stagnation in the peace process have traditionally boosted support for armed struggle, but the pollsters said they were surprised find was that that even though virtually no peace talks have been conducted in three years Palestinians were less inclined than ever to favor violence.
“This change from high support for armed struggle to low support took as long as 11 years and this is because of their experience. The Palestinians have seen that the last wave of violent confrontation and armed resistance, the Second Intifada, wasn’t very useful to the Palestinian cause and also because the Palestinian leadership now is committed to non-violence,” Ghassan Khatib, director of Palestinian Government Media Center, told The Media Line.
According to the poll, just 29.3% of Palestinians polled today support so-called military operations against Israelis. This is down from 84.6% in September 2001 in the midst of the Second Intifada.
Ironically, the poll came as the annual Israeli intelligence assessment reportedly warned that the stalled peace process was liable to push the Palestinians to turn increasingly violent.
Clashes on Jerusalem’s volatile Temple Mount erupted on Friday and rioting spread over the weekend, with Israeli police killing a young man near Ramallah. The disturbances has since simmered down, but they have sparked speculation that the Palestinians are on the verge of launching a Third Intifada.
The JMCC poll noted that two major shifts in support for armed struggle in late 2001 and 2004 illustrated that the Palestinian public can quickly change its mind.
“The Palestinians, like all Arabs, are a very emotional people,” Munther Dajani, a professor of political science Al-Quds University near Jerusalem, told The Media Line.
Dajani said he didn’t believe the report about Israel expecting the Palestinians to launch a violent Third intifada.
“That is wishful thinking by their military and politicians because whenever they have economic problems, they like to change the focus and push the conflict with the Palestinians,” he said. “They know this conflict is asymmetrical.”
The asymmetry is most likely what led to a drop in support for armed conflict, which the JMCC has measured since 1997. Then, support for armed conflict began at a low mark with some 40% of respondents saying they thought military operations were an appropriate response for gaining statehood versus 47.7% opposed.
After peaking in 2001, support for armed resistance began a steady decline and dropped dramatically after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in November 2004. It rose again following the December 2008-January 2009 Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in which over 1,300 Palestinians were killed.
“There appears to be a correlation between the numbers of Palestinians killed in the conflict with Israel and Palestinian support for military operations against Israel. Often, when Palestinian casualties increased, support for military operations also increased,” the poll said.
It did, however, detail that in Gaza support for military operations during the invasion four years ago dropped as they sought calm, while it rose among the Palestinians in the West Bank.
“The death toll plays both ways,” Hillel Cohen, a professor on Palestinian affairs at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “It creates a will for revenge, but it also creates fear. You are seeing today that less Palestinians are involved in armed conflict and you can assume that the atmosphere is less supporting for them.”
Khatib of the media center said the trend is largely due to the current Palestinian leadership’s efforts to “create a culture of non-violence and educate people on the significance of legal non-violence.”
“We lost more than we gained using violence, especially during the last wave of confrontations,” Khatib said.
The poll found that there was little difference between gender and location, but that political factions were a significant factor. Those who support Hamas, which has a more radical view of the conflict with Israel, were more supportive of armed resistance. But even Hamas is starting to see the light when it comes to non-violent resistance. Speaking on the issue in an interview late last year, the Islamic groups leader, Khaled Meshal, said Hamas would focus on non-violent actions to unify Palestinians.
While not completely renouncing the use of violence against Israel, Meshal told the Associated Press that popular protests have “the power of a tsunami,” pointing to the recent waves of demonstrations across the Arab world.
Furthermore, the poll found that the 20-30% of Palestinians that say they trust no political faction are less supportive of military operations than the general public.
“After the Second intifada there could be heard this voice that said ‘if we are defeated it doesn’t mean we are passive, but rather that we need to find other ways to resist’ and that became more popular,” said Cohen, author of The Rise and Fall of Arab Jerusalem.
The poll was conducted with 1,200 randomly chosen Palestinian adults in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem. It had a three percentage point margin of error.
“The Israelis claim we have an inciteful media. They are wrong. I think the educational institutions, the Palestinian media and the leadership are playing a very positive role in harnessing the Palestinian people to seek a peaceful solution and not through armed conflict,” Dajani said.