Tuesday, 14 May 2013

No prospect for peace: Two-thirds of Arab-Palestinians support “armed struggle”

[Updated article].

The latest Middle Eastern PEW study focuses to a large extent on the perception of Barak Obama and his prospective role in the Israeli-Arab conflict. 

The PEW study also revealed some notable findings about the opposing sides involved in the conflict. One of the more expected but still sobering findings was the confirmation that, unlike Israeli’s, a large majority of Arab-Palestinians do not favour peaceful methods to achieve independent statehood. From the report:
Israelis, on balance, believe a way can be found for an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with their country. Palestinians, on the other hand, overwhelmingly do not think this is possible, and a plurality believes armed struggle rather than negotiations or nonviolent resistance is the best way to achieve statehood.

A question of “armed struggle” or terrorism

Armed struggle” in this instance can be understood as a politically inoffensive terminology that in effect translates as terrorism, when confronted with the reality of the conflict to-date.

Arab-Palestinian violence, particularly the actions of disciplined paramilitary groups, traditionally assault the Jewish civilian populace rather than the Israeli military. Aiming at easy “soft targets”, particularly those that are civilian (in an effort to intimidate) is the principle defining characteristic of terrorism. Thus terrorism contrasts starkly with other forms of paramilitary activity and resistance.

For example, during the Second Intifada, which constitutes the last great united Palestinian “armed struggle”, 80% of those killed on the Israeli side by Arab-Palestinians were in fact civilian. Afghanistani/Iraqi insurgents killed civilians in similar proportions.
Palestinians are more likely to say armed struggle is the best way for their people to achieve statehood (45%) than they are to say negotiations or nonviolent resistance offer the best prospect for the creation of a Palestinian state (15% each). Another 22% volunteer that a combination of these three approaches would be most effective.

Source: Pew Research

In effect 67% of all Palestinians support armed struggle because 45% support it completely, whilst another 22% support it combined with political actions.

Indeed PEW received similar percentage results in 2011 concerning supportive views of suicide attacks in defence of Islam:
Palestinian Muslims, however, remain an outlier on this question: 68% say suicide attacks in defense of Islam can often or sometimes be justified, a level of support essentially unchanged from 2007.
Earlier in May, poll results indicated that 40% of Arab-Palestinians believe suicidal attacks in defence of Islam are justified. In this instance the question of justification explicitly referred to the assault of civilian targets.

Whilst those of a pro-Palestinian persuasion may take the opinion that the survey indicates a lack of faith in the present Palestinian leaders, the survey results of the same PEW poll makes it clear that this is not the case (see section entitled “The popularity of Palestinian factions amongst the populace”).

The reality is that there is strong sentiment against even a resumption of peace talks, as indicated by the widespread riots in June-July 2012. It does not bode well for Palestinian Street giving any sort of peace process a chance.

Seeking pan-Arab military assistance?

The PEW study also found that a broadly similar percentage (three quarters) of Arab-Palestinians believe that the Arab world is not doing enough to assist them in achieving independent statehood:
When asked whether Arab countries are doing too much, too little or enough to help the Palestinian people achieve statehood, three-quarters in the Palestinian territories say they are doing too little; 16% say other Arab nations are doing enough and 5% believe they are doing too much to help Palestinians achieve statehood.
Assistance to achieve statehood can of course be given in various non-violent ways. However, when viewed with regard to a sizeable majority of Arab-Palestinians supporting violence to achieve the same goal of nationhood, it can clearly be inferred that that a majority of Arab-Palestinians likely support some form of pan-Arab military aid. Iran and Syria’s assistance to Hizbullah and Hamas, which are both combative belligerents against Israel, has a principally military dimension.

The finding has a degree of ambiguity but it may even reflect some desire for outright pan-Arab inter-state war with Israel. This was a common populist expectation in the Middle East some decades ago. For example, Israel’s response to Fatah’s attacks, prior to the Six Day War, triggered violent mass protests throughout the Arab world.

Indeed Abbas advised Arab leaders that the PLO is ready to make war on Israel if the rest of the Arab world does the same:
If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor. But the Palestinians will not fight alone because they don't have the ability to do it.

The popularity of Palestinian factions amongst the populace

Perhaps surprisingly, Arab-Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, have a largely positive view of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This popularity may have been bolstered by his successful move for “Palestine” to controversially gain observer status at the United Nations General Assembly last year, a unilateral move which breached the spirit of the Oslo Accords/Resolution 242.
Palestinians express mostly positive opinions of Abbas; 61% have a favorable view and 34% have an unfavorable view of the Palestinian president. Abbas is viewed favorably by majorities in both the West Bank (57%) and Gaza (68%). His party also receives positive ratings among Palestinians; 69% have a favorable view of Fatah, while 27% express unfavorable opinions.
PEW also found that leading terrorist groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas are less popular than Abbas’ Fatah/PLO faction. However, this finding may not be seen as a positive. 11% fewer Arab-Palestinians now hold negative opinions of Hamas since the last poll was taken by PEW. It is a sizeable change:
…a majority of Palestinians (56%) holds favorable opinions of Islamic Jihad, while about a third (35%) gives the militant organization negative ratings.

Opinions of Hamas are more mixed, with 48% of Palestinians viewing the extremist group favorably and 45% saying they have an unfavorable view of Hamas. In 2011, when Pew Research last asked Palestinians about Hamas, more held negative views (56%) than expressed positive opinions (42%)…
Despite changing views, such a show of support for Fatah may nonetheless encourage Abbas to hold long-delayed elections later this year.

Perceptions of Israeli’s and Arab-Palestinians in the West

The PEW survey also focused on the contrasting international support for Arab-Palestinians and Israel.

As has long been the case, the vast majority of Arab nations are extremely hostile to Israel, whilst the United States of America still holds a firm support for the State, despite the intensive efforts of Arab-Palestinian supporters to chip away at what is an essential block of support for Israel’s existence.

Elsewhere in the Western World, opinion of the two sides of the conflict varies quite considerably:
Views are more mixed in France, Germany and Russia. For example, 40% of French respondents sympathize more with Israel, while 44% say their sympathies lie with the Palestinians. Similarly, in Germany and Russia, about as many side with Israel as side with the Palestinians, but substantial numbers in these countries do not sympathize with either side in this conflict (31% and 42%, respectively).
The image PEW presents is one that may give a small ray of hope to those that support Israel because broad public stances on the conflict have not dramatically changed since 2007, despite the high-intensity campaigning by Western pro-Palestinian supporters:
For the most part, there has been little change in perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years.
In mainland Europe, the image is varied. Germany has seen a notable increase in support for the Palestinian cause, whilst in France support for Israel has surprisingly increased in recent years. Russia has a sizeable pro-Israel support base despite decades of hostility from officialdom within the USSR.

The report finds that almost twice as many British people support the Palestinians over that of Israel. The finding reinforces the view that the British stand out as perhaps the most anti-Israel collective in the Western world, where many British academics, journalists and politicians have taken a leading and longstanding role in Israel’s delegitimisation.

This article was also published at Crethi Plethi.

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