Polls Indicate Basic Differences in Perceptions by Palestinians and Israelis

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POLLS INDICATE BASIC DIFFERENCES IN PERCEPTIONS BY PALESTINIANS AND ISRAELIS

The American Committee on Jerusalem hosted a March 29 briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on "Palestinian Public Opinion on Jerusalem" by director Ghassan Khatib of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center. Speaking on the importance of public polling, Mr. Khatib indicated that polling of the Palestinian community seemed to have gained more credibility and significance since the beginning of the peace process.

As a result of his seven years of tracking public opinion polls, he identified trends that have characterized Palestinian attitudes toward the peace process, as well as different interpretations of the same terms by Israelis and Palestinians. In general, he said, Palestinian support for a negotiated peace remains steady, but support for specific Palestinian leaders and parties has declined, as has support for specific agreements.

Khatib identified support for the Palestinian leadership on three levels: support for President Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), support for the PA in general, and support for Arafat's Fatah political party. While reminding the audience of the understandable reluctance to express openly opposition to the PA or its leader, Khatib said that his polls reflect that support for Fatah has reached a record low of 30 percent.

A second, and equally important, trend is that Palestinians generally look positively at the peace process. A vast majority of Palestinians, ranging between 72.7 percent to 78.1 percent, support peaceful negotiations as a means of resolving differences with the Israelis.

However, Palestinian public opinion is divided over support for specific peace agreements. Ever since the Oslo agreement, Khatib argued, Palestinian support for peace agreements has witnessed a downward trend.

Another discernable trend is the substantial increase of Palestinians who do not support a specific political organization or leader. Asked which political faction they support, a third of Palestinian participants indicated indifference to any political organization. Khatib said that this demonstrates that neither Fatah nor Hamas are convincing to a majority of Palestinians. Instead, "a substantial majority of Palestinians is very much fragmented," "alienated," and "disenchanted with its leadership."

As for final status issues, Mr. Khatib asserted that "Jerusalem is the most important and difficult" of these. Furthermore, recent polling indicates a hardening of Palestinian attitudes regarding Jerusalem. …