Palestine and Palestinians: A Date with Democracy: Palestinians on Society and Politics, an Empirical Survey

Article excerpt

A Date With Democracy: Palestinians on Society and Politics, An Empirical Survey, by Theodor Hanf and Bernard Sabella. Tr. by John Richardson. Freiburg: Arnold Bergstraesser Institut, 1996. 171 pages. Bibl. to p. 181. Appends. to p. 203. 18DM.

Reviewed by Naseer Aruri

This study rests on the premise that success or failure of the new Palestine will be dependent on democratic rule, and that, in turn, will determine the extent of peaceful relations between Palestinians and Israelis. That premise, in the opinion of this reviewer, is the major weakness of an otherwise solid piece of research, which is both useful and very much needed. It can be argued that peace in Palestine/Israel and in the region will be more dependent on Israeli attitudes than on Palestinian attitudes towards democratic values. Israeli and Palestinian attitudes towards broad norms, such as plurality, equality, mutuality, non-discrimination, and others that enhance the application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will have an impact on peace in the region. Israel is, and is likely to remain, hegemonic, despite the trappings of statehood for the Palestinians. Given the tremendous power imbalance at the local, regional, and global levels, democracy among the less than one-third of the fragmented Palestinian community is hardly a decisive determinant of peace and war.

Nevertheless, as an empirical study of political attitudes and opinions in the West Bank and Gaza, the book succeeds in shedding light on the many vexing questions that face an emerging entity: Will the new institutions promote democracy? How do Palestinians in the Occupied Territories view democracy? What are their expectations for the future in terms of security, stability, and progress? How do they view certain political actors, i.e., Israel, the Arab countries, major powers, and the United Nations, in terms of their impact on Palestinian lives and society? How do they view their own political leaders, and how much confidence do they have in leaders across the political spectrum?

The empirical survey which the authors designed for their study is as comprehensive as it is contextual. It examines attitudes and opinions about the ruling elite and its ability to create a legitimate and stable political order, to embark on rational economic development, and to govern efficiently and democratically. It attempts to study the level of commitment to the rule of law and accountable government, and it infers from the broad responses certain conclusions about the future of the new entity and the prospects for stability.

These conclusions and generalizations also benefit from the distribution of respondents by age, education, religion, gender, occupation, social class, and political affiliation. The survey finds differences between the West Bank and Gaza, between villages and cities, and between refugee camps and other residential areas.

In general, the population is found to be eager for change, and, despite a legacy of oppression, exploitation, and disappointment, there is a strong sense that solidarity breeds success (p. 30). Although there are visible signs of economic and social dissatisfaction, given rampant unemployment, rising inflation, and limited mobility, the study shows that there is "widespread solid social cohesion among Palestinians" (p. 46).

Religion is found to be at the heart of the people's identity. Both Muslims and Christians scored rather high on questions dealing with observance and faith, although a higher proportion of Christians than Muslims identified themselves as Arabs first, leaving religious identity in second place after national identity (pp. …

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