Public opinion roundup: Is Palestinian support for violence falling?

A vast majority of Palestinians polled in recent surveys say they or their families have seen a negative economic impact from the latest wave of violence. And while most Palestinians feel deeply alienated from their leaders in both Fatah and Hamas, a strong majority remain committed to the democratic process. Dahlia Scheindlin follows up her analysis of recent Israeli polls.

Israeli Border Police officers stop and frisk a young Palestinian man at the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem, February 16, 2016. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/
Israeli Border Police officers stop and frisk a young Palestinian man at the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem, February 16, 2016. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/

Four months after the start of the wave of stabbing attacks and killing of perpetrators, Palestinian support for the violence may be waning, according to a recent public opinion survey.

In the first few weeks of October 2015, when a rash of Palestinian stabbing and vehicular attacks began, the Palestinian public displayed a dramatic rise in support for a new intifada, based on survey research. That support climbed from just one-quarter in April 2015, and by October an absolute majority of 63 percent supported an immediate uprising, according to polls by the Arab World Research and Development Center. In December, Khalil Shikaki’s PCPSR study showed that two-thirds supported the use of knives in the “current confrontations,” (although three-quarters rejected the participation of young girls). Similar to the AWRAD data, 60 percent supported returning to an armed intifada in the absence of peace negotiations.

But barely three months later, AWRAD’s data shows a change. In its poll from late January, 54 percent of Palestinians now oppose a third intifada. West Bank respondents are more likely to oppose it: 57 percent compared to 48 percent among Gazans.

These results can be viewed in light of historic patterns. Throughout the prime “Oslo years,” in the mid-1990s, Palestinians opposed violence against Israelis by large margins. As the process waned in the late 1990s, opposition eroded. Palestinian public support for violence reached a peak when the Second Intifada broke out after the Camp David negotiations collapsed in 2000.

In their book where those findings appear, polling experts Jacob Shamir and Khalil Shikaki concluded that Palestinian (and Israeli) public opinion is rational: when diplomacy fails the publics turn to violence as a means of advancing their political interests. Thus it is also significant that in AWRAD’s January data, half of Palestinians believe the current violence will impede progress to a Palestinian state, compared to just 39 percent who believe it will advance statehood.

Further, the heightened cycle of violence these last few months has led Palestinians to feel that their lives are getting worse. Poll respondents think their society is going in the wrong direction by more than a two-to-one margin. Back in late October, responses were split evenly (49 percent right direction, 48 percent wrong) and in the West Bank nearly 60 percent said things were going in the right direction. Now, in a near-reversal, 55 percent of West Bank respondents see things going wrong; the average is pulled down further by 79 percent of Gazans who say things are on the wrong track, a 13-point rise from October.

Violence hits security and the economy

Why are things so much worse? Two-thirds of West Bank respondents in the January AWRAD poll say security has gotten worse over the last year, and just over one-third of Gazan respondents (while half of the latter said the situation hasn’t changed). It’s worth remembering that the vast majority of Palestinians are not personally involved in the attacks, which have been carried out by several hundred individuals since October. Yet apparently most of society feels the consequences.

The violence has had a potent economic impact on Palestinian life as well. Fifty-seven percent say their family’s economic situation is getting worse, marginally higher compared to surveys in October, July and April 2015 in the AWRAD data.

Nearly three-quarters in that January poll say the violence has affected their financial decisions (“yes” or “to some extent”). Two-thirds (65 percent) say the business environment is less conducive to investment than it was a year ago. When asked about the main impact of the violence on their lives, the largest portion answered “loss of income” (36 percent) and another 18 percent said loss of jobs. Combined, 54 percent chose a response indicating economic impact rather than obstacles to free movement (about one-fifth). Just 22 percent said the violence had no impact on their lives.

Israeli soldiers inspect a vehicle at the Enav checkpoint separating the West Bank Palestinian cities of Nablus and Tulkarem, January 11, 2016. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/
Israeli soldiers inspect a vehicle at the Enav checkpoint separating the West Bank Palestinian cities of Nablus and Tulkarem, January 11, 2016. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/

No one on their side, but still democratic

With increased security and economic hardship, Palestinians take no comfort in their own leadership.

Fewer than one-third (31 percent) in the January AWRAD poll give Mahmoud Abbas a “good” job performance rating. Nearly 60 percent aren’t concerned by rumors that Abbas might resign: they probably either don’t oppose it, don’t believe it, or don’t care. In fact, Shikaki’s December poll found that two-thirds actively support his resignation – data that has been stable in his studies since September.

Palestinian prime ministers Ramzi Hamdallah and Ismail Haniyeh in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, got even lower job approval ratings, although by just a few points.

The good news is that the strong majority of Palestinians are committed to a democratic process; 66 percent prefer to elect the next leadership through elections rather than through a party or committee selection process. Roughly 80 percent support immediate legislative and presidential elections, despite the very low chances of such elections happening any time soon. These findings, from the AWRAD survey, corroborate with stable findings in other studies.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the swearing in ceremony for the new unity government, Ramallah, June 2, 2014. (Photo: Mustafa Bader/
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the swearing in ceremony for a new government, Ramallah, June 2, 2014. Abbas was elected to a four-year term in 2005 elections; he has remained in office ever since. (Photo: Mustafa Bader/

Still it is encouraging that Palestinians support democratic selection of their leadership at a far higher rate than they support an intifada – even during peak support for an uprising in October (63 percent). No less is the fact that over 90 percent regularly state that ISIS does not represent Islam and a similarly high portion do not believe its practices are justifiable (the remainder didn’t know or didn’t answer).

Israel, however, might not be happy if those elections are eventually held, based on the current data. PCPSR (Shikaki) polling from September shows Hamas and Fatah in a dead heat (35 percent each) in legislative elections, and Abbas losing just slightly to Haniyeh in presidential elections. The more recent AWRAD poll shows the reverse – a victory for Abbas (36 to 22 for Haniyeh) and a comfortable lead for Fatah. It is hard to predict who is more correct; but the data indicate fluid attitudes and strong alienation. The electorate appears ripe for influence, especially if credible outside candidates appear. Marwan Barghouti, serving a life sentence in Israeli prison, is still the most popular hypothetical candidate in these studies.

But what do they want? It’s complicated

A majority of participants in AWRAD’s October poll supported a two-state solution (53 percent). However, this support is wavering and unstable. PCPSR’s survey from December shows just 45 percent who supported it, down from 48 percent in September and nine points less than those who are opposed (54 percent).

The AWRAD poll in January asked whether people agreed with Abbas’ line in his UN speech in January: “The solution we demand is two states, Palestinian and Israeli, living side by side, based on 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.” Only 44 percent agreed; 53 percent said they disagreed; very similar findings to PCPSR’s research. The reason is not hard to divine: In PCPSR’s December study, 65 percent said the two-state solution is no longer practical due to settlement expansion. Yet 70 percent oppose an equal one-state solution. Perhaps like many Israelis, they simply don’t see any solution.


The findings highlight broad themes in Palestinian attitudes: Diplomacy fails, and violence may be cathartic, but ultimately harms their interests. Their lives and prospects, already constrained, become even more suffocating as repercussions of the violence are felt by all. Not only do they see no hope or horizon in the negotiating process meant to lead to a state, but the existence of statehood even as an idea is dwindling along with the territory, in their eyes. The sense of doors slamming on all sides, in my analysis, creates the most fertile possible ground for incitement and copycat tendencies to be effective. Therefore, despite the worsening conditions and falling support for an intifada, it is hard to see how the current violence ends.

Sample and methodology information:

Arab World Research and Development January poll: 27-28 January 2016, n=1200.

Palestinian Center for Policy Survey and Research December poll: 10-12 December, 2015, n=1270, face to face, 127 randomly selected locations. Margin of error: 3 percent.

Arab World Research and Development October poll: 21-23 October, 2015, n=1200, margin of error: +/-3 percent

Palestinian Center for Policy Survey and Research September poll: 1270 adults interviewed face to face in 127 randomly selected locations. Margin of error is 3 percent.

Arab World Research and Development July poll: 10-14 July 2015, n=1200, margin of error: +/-3 percent.

This article was also published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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