A new poll by the respected Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) gives fascinating but troubling insights into changing attitudes among Palestinians during this time of devastation in the Arab Middle East and rightward drift in Israeli politics. Among the findings, a majority of Palestinians, 51 percent, now oppose the two-state solution.
But perhaps the most telling is that fully 80 percent of Palestinians believe that theirs is no longer the “Primary Arab cause.” Palestinians are correct in saying the Arab world is more concerned about other problems than about their situation. Some in the West, particularly in Europe, still insist that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the principal problem in the region, but that is plainly false.
And it is disastrous news for Palestinian activists.
And as if Palestinian leaders needed more bad news, the survey showed the people are fed up with them. Two-thirds want Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. Troublingly, a majority — 57 percent — support starting a new armed uprising or Intifada.
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The survey was conducted by the Ramallah-based firm in the midst of a sharp surge in violence in Jerusalem, and amid a concerted international campaign by Palestinians and other Arabs claiming Israel plans to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, site of Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and holiest one in Judaism. Currently, Israel has given control of the Muslim sites to Muslim authorities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly denied the rumors, but the violence has continued, promoted by a group called the Murabitoun, affiliated with the hardline northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. They fan the rumors of a “Jewish takeover” and engage in aggressive, violent actions there.
Palestinians still occupy a special place in the heart of their Arab brethren, but with catastrophic developments unfolding in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq; with millions of Arab refugees fleeing, ideological extremism spreading, the Palestinians have become a lower priority.
For anyone trying to understand why violence has exploded in Jerusalem, the survey offers hints.
Prominent Arab leaders have accused Israel of deliberately escalating tensions. Al Jazeera fans the flames proclaiming that Israel “wants a religious war over al Aqsa.” The fact is that some Israelis would like to have the right to pray in the area where the Jewish temple once stood. But the firm and frequently repeated government policy is to leave the arrangement as it is. There is no conceivable reason why Israel would want to start a “religious” war over al Aqsa. While it is true that the current cabinet includes right-wing hardliners, Israel and Netanyahu have much to lose from the escalation.
The reverse is true for Palestinian leaders struggling to regain their people’s support and boost their place on the crowded agenda of Arab priorities. On the eve of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, and following attacks against Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, Israeli forces moved into al Aqsa after receiving intelligence of plans for riots. Inside the mosque they found homemade pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails and stockpiles of rocks.
The embattled Abbas, elected 10 years ago to a four-year term, declared that al Aqsa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are “ours,” adding that the Jews “have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet.”
The heated rhetoric has spurred more violence. A 64-year-old Israeli man, Alexander Levlovits, was killed driving home from Rosh Hashana dinner when rock-throwers made his car crash. Gaza-based militants decided to launch rockets, and disturbances have left dozens injured.
The kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia have jumped in to complain about Israel’s “escalation.”
Israeli opposition leaders accuse Netanyahu of failing to provide a path to solve the conflict with Palestinians. In the poll, 78 percent of Palestinians said they saw no chance of establishing a state next to Israel in the next five years.
Most chilling, fully 26 percent of surveyed Palestinians said the long-term aspiration is to destroy Israel. If that already-too-high number rises, peace will never come.