Polls apart: what Palestinian voters really want

Polls apart: what Palestinian voters really want
3 min read
12 May, 2015
Comment: In Palestine, as in the UK during the election, the public narrative often runs counter to prevailing private beliefs, says Karl Sabbagh.
Support for Hamas is growing in the West Bank [AFP]
If the failure of polls to predict the British election taught us anything, it is that there is always more than one narrative in complex societies. There is the 'public' narrative, in which I include polls, and what people actually really think.

The votes cast showed what the people of the UK really thought, rather than what they told the polls.

If an election took place in the occupied territories, there are two areas where I think the views of Palestinians would run counter to the public' narrative - the two-state solution, and the level of support for Hamas. 

Few, if any, Palestinians actually believe in a two-state solution.

That isn't to say that if a carefully worded opinion poll question was made about the issue, you wouldn't find plenty of people saying they would 'prefer' one.

I mean that in their hearts Palestinians know that it is their inalienable right to live wherever they choose, in the land between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean sea.

They have never given up that right and I would be surprised if any of them would do so. Clearly, Palestinians want a one-state solution. 

Why does the idea persist that some Palestinians want two states? There are two reasons. 

One is that it suits the rest of the world, which doesn't want to challenge Israel's right to the land it already possesses.

The other is that, like the innocent man faced with pleading guilty to avoid a harsher sentence, some Palestinians profess to believe in the two-state solution because in practical terms it is better than a no-state solution.

Hamas - more popular than you think

There is another more delicate issue that leads street level opinion to contradict the views of the press. 

On my visit to Israel and the West Bank last month, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was wrestling to form the vile coalition that has now emerged.

I had a series of conversations with 'ordinary' Palestinians.  I don't mean the middle class Ramallah elites, although I spent some time with them too, but with shopkeepers, waiters, taxi drivers, and students.
     One friend said that 90 percent of [Palestinian] students now support Hamas.

Recent student elections at Birzeit University produced an overwhelming pro-Hamas result.

In 2006, for whatever reason, a majority of Palestinian voters supported Hamas in a fair election. 

We also know that, in spite of the clamour among the western powers for 'democracy' in the Middle East, Palestine was one place where this did not apply. 

Far from turning away from Hamas after 2006, support from the people seems to have grown. One friend told me last month that 90 percent of [Palestinian] students now support Hamas, more than ever before. 

"Before long, Hamas will be attacking Israel from the West Bank, with the moral support of most of the population, and those attacks will be far worse, and more widespread, than the Gaza rockets." 

If there is even a small possibility of this happening, Israel should consider very carefully whether it is time to take a new approach towards the Palestinians.

Is it really prepared to scale up the type of disproportionate and illegal attacks it made on Gaza, allegedly in response to six civilian deaths caused by Hamas rockets? 

Killing Palestinians in Gaza is like shooting fish in a barrel.   The West Bank is very different. Is Israel really ready for the casualties that could mount up if rocket attacks were launched from the West Bank and Gaza? 

Recent Tel Aviv policy-making towards Palestinians has resulted in Israel inflicting as much harm on themselves as damage they do to Palestine. Is this what the ordinary Israeli voter wants?

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.