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Public Opinion Poll December 2004

Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Joint Poll

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Joint Palestinian - Israeli Public Opinion Poll, December 2004

(1) Palestinian Elections

  • The poll shows that if presidential elections were to be held today, the results would be close with Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin) receiving 40% of the votes and Marwan Barghouti receiving 38%. Mustafa Barghouti would receive 6% while all the other candidates would receive a total of 3% for all of them combined. 13% have not decided yet. The poll shows Abbas winning in the Gaza Strip (48% vs. 34% for Marwan Barghouti), but Marwan Barghouti wins in the West Bank (40% vs. 35% for Mahmud Abbas). These results represent the voting intentions of those planning to participate in the vote on January 9, 2005. The findings show that the level of non participation is going to be low (10%).
  • Mahmud Abbas is seen as the candidate most capable of reaching a peace agreement with Israel, improving the economic conditions, and enforcing law and order. Marwan Barghouti is viewed as the candidate most capable of protecting the right of return. The public evaluation of the ability of the two candidates to maintain national unity and prevent internal infighting is similar for both.
  • If Hamas nominates Mahmud Zahhar as its candidate in the presidential elections, 28% say they would vote for him. And if the competition for the presidency is between Zahhar, Abbas, and Marwan Barghouti, 34% prefer Barghouti, 29% Abbas, and 24% Zahhar. The overwhelming majority (83%) of those who selected one of the three believe that the person they have chosen would be able to lead the Palestinian people under the current conditions.
  • 30% want to see Marwan Barghouti becoming the head of Fateh, while 26% want to see Mahmud Abbas and 7% want Farouq Qaddoumi as head of the movement. In the Gaza Strip, support for Abbas as head of Fateh reaches 31% (compared to 22% in the West Bank) and for Barghouti 28% (compared to 31% in the West Bank), and for Qaddoumi 5% (compared to 9% in the West Bank).
  • The poll shows a significant increase in the popularity of Fateh from 29% last September to 40% in this poll. The increase is higher in the Gaza Strip, from 24% to 38%. The popularity of Hamas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined drops from 22% last September to 18% in this poll. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ popularity drops from 30% to 22%. The total level of support for all Islamists (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and independent Islamists) drops in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from 32% to 24% during the same period.

(2) Israelis’ Assessments of the Coming Palestinian Elections

  • The Israeli public is following the coming elections in the Palestinian Authority (PA) with much curiosity and interest. While aware of Marwan Barghouti’s popularity in the Palestinian race, only 24% of the Israelis think that Barghouti should be released from prison if a compromise solution with the Palestinians necessitates it. 72% of the Israelis oppose such a step.
  • Three quarters of the Israeli public believe that orderly elections in the Palestinian Authority will be beneficial for Israel while only 12% believe they will be detrimental. 70% of the Israelis will see orderly elections in the Palestinian Authority as a step forward toward democracy there and 72% believe that a democratic Palestinian regime will increase the chances for peace.
  • More generally 81% of the Israeli public believe that major political reforms and greater democracy in the Palestinian Authority are important or very important for making progress in the peace process. However Israelis’ expectations that a democratic system will eventually be established in the Palestinian Authority or a future Palestinian State are quite low. 57% believe that the chances for this to happen are very slim or slim, 32% give it a medium chance and only 10% think it is highly probable. As to the current situation, about three quarters of the Israeli public think that the current state of democracy and human rights in the Palestinian Authority is bad or very bad.

(3) A Post Arafat Era

  • Evaluating Arafat’s contribution to Palestinian society, over 80% of the Palestinians are satisfied with his contribution to promoting the status of the Palestinian cause, with his contribution to protecting Palestinian rights vis-à-vis Israel, and with his contribution in providing basic services such as health and education. 65% are satisfied with his contribution to democracy in the PA and with his contribution to instituting law and order. 54% are satisfied with his contribution to ending the Israeli occupation and 51% with his contribution to fighting corruption in the PA.
  • In the post Arafat period, more Palestinians believe that the situation will be better rather than worse in the following areas: provision of basic services such as health and education, building public institutions able to enforce law and order, and building an Authority with democratic governance. More Palestinians believe that the situation will be worse rather than better after Arafat, when it comes to the areas of protecting Palestinian rights in negotiations with Israel, in promoting the international status of the Palestinian cause, and in fighting corruption in the PA. Palestinians are split half about the future being better or worse on the issue of ending the Israeli occupation.
  • Half of the Palestinians expect Arafat’s death to weaken Fateh while one quarter expects it to strengthen Fateh.
  • 72% believe that Arafat died of poison and most of those believing in this (64%) believe that Israel is the party responsible for the poisoning while 22% believe that a Palestinian party is responsible.

(4) Increased Realism and Cautious Hope among Israelis and Palestinians

  • With Arafat’s departure from the scene and with the renewed political activity in the region, a sense of increased realism and cautious hope seems to settle in. 61% of the Israelis and 53% of the Palestinians believe that Arafat’s death increases the chances for reaching a political settlement in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and only 7% of the Israelis and 23% of the Palestinians think the chances might decrease.
  • 62% of the Israelis and 52% of the Palestinians believe that it is possible to negotiate now a compromise settlement with the other side’s current leadership. A majority in both publics (52% Israelis and 56% Palestinians) also believe that their current leadership is strong enough to convince its constituency to accept a compromise settlement. 68% of the Palestinians but only 30% of the Israelis believe that the other side’s leadership is strong enough to convince its own public. Israelis’ perceptions of the weakness of the current Palestinian leadership might explain the sharp increase in their willingness to negotiate also with Hamas. 47% of the Israelis support negotiations also with Hamas if required to reach a compromise settlement, while 51% oppose it. This constitutes a sharp increase from March 2004 where only 20% thought Israel should negotiate its withdrawal from the Gaza strip also with Hamas while 77% opposed it. Clearly, the recent decline in suicide bombings inside Israel, together with signs from Hamas that it may become a responsible political actor in the Palestinian Authority, are related to this significant change. Consistent with these accommodating positions, 89% of the Israelis and 80% of the Palestinians support a cease fire while 71% of the Israelis and 80% of the Palestinians support an immediate return to the negotiations table. 76% of Israelis and 83% of the Palestinians expect now negotiations to resume with or without some violence continuing, compared to 63% among Israelis and 72% among Palestinians who believed so in June 2004. This cautiously optimistic mood however is quite fragile and can easily collapse given the serious internal political challenges both leaderships face and the difficult issues they will soon have to face if negotiations resume.

(5) The Quartet’s Roadmap, Sharon’s Disengagement Plan and the Settlements

  • Support for the Quartet’s roadmap is basically stable with a slight increase since December 2002 soon after it has been made public. 63% of the Israelis and 59% of the Palestinians support it compared to 59% of Israelis and 54% of Palestinians who supported it in 2002. Moreover both sides have also become more optimistic about the ability to implement the roadmap after a period of increased doubts. 64% of the Israeli public and 48% of the Palestinian public now believe that the roadmap plan can still be implemented compared to only 43% Israelis and 28% Palestinians who believed so in June 2004.
  • Consistent with the support for the roadmap two thirds of the Israeli public also support the dismantling of most of the settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, while 31% oppose such a step. These levels of support increased gradually since the beginning of the Intifada exceeding 60% since November 2002.
  • In the same vein, a majority of Israelis (62%) support Sharon’s disengagement plan, with 34% opposing it. Support for the plan has slightly decreased since June 2004 when it stood at 66%. The majority of Israelis (63%) also prefer to see the disengagement negotiated with the Palestinian Authority.
  • Once the disengagement takes place Israelis are split half about the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to control matters in the Gaza strip, but only 27% expect Palestinian internal fighting to happen in Gaza following the disengagement. Among Palestinians, 71% of the Palestinians believe that the Palestinian Authority has a high or enough capacity to control matters in the Gaza Strip, but only 29% think it has high capacity and 59% are worried about internal Palestinian fighting after Israel’s disengagement.
  • The framing of intractable conflicts’ outcomes can play a part in their dynamics. It is thus important to track perceptions of such outcomes. Among Israelis, 42% see the disengagement plan as a Palestinian victory compared to 53% who reject this interpretation. Among Palestinians however 75% do see the disengagement plan as a Palestinian victory compared to only 23% who don’t see it as such. As to the ongoing conflict since the beginning of the Intifada, 55% of the Israelis and 44% of the Palestinians think that neither side came out a winner in the ongoing conflict and only smaller percentages think they won (35% Palestinians and 23% of the Israelis). Finally, 61% of the Israelis do not believe that the current Intifada has helped achieve Palestinian national and political goals that negotiations could not achieve, while 64% among Palestinians do believe that armed confrontations have helped them achieve national rights in ways that negotiations could not.
  • Palestinian support for armed attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel drops from 54% last September to 49% in this poll. Opposition to such attacks increases from 44% to 48%. A majority of 58% says that it would support and 38% say it would oppose taking measures by the PA to prevent armed attacks against Israelis if an agreement on a mutual cessation of violence is reached. 82% support such an agreement on mutual cessation of violence.

(6) Expected American Policy in President Bush second term

  • 42% of the Israelis and 32% of the Palestinians believe that the reelection of Bush as US president for another four years will increase the chances for a political settlement of the conflict. 48% of the Israelis and 30% of the Palestinians believe it will have no impact and 13% of the Israelis and 34% of the Palestinians believe it will decrease those chances.
  • As to the American support for Israel, 76% of the Palestinians and 41% among Israelis think that the second Bush administration will be more supportive of Israel during the next four years, 39% of Israelis and 12% of Palestinians believe there will be no change, and 13% of Israelis and 9% of Palestinians believe American support for Israel will decrease.

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