Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Public Opinion: Israeli, Palestinian Support for Peace Accord Was Dropping before Massacre

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Public Opinion: Israeli, Palestinian Support for Peace Accord Was Dropping before Massacre

Article excerpt

Public Opinion: Israeli, Palestinian Support for Peace Accord Was Dropping Before Massacre

When implementation negotiations in Taba and Cairo failed to produce agreement on a Dec. 15 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, public support plummeted among both Palestinians and Israelis for the Declaration of Principles of Peace signed Sept. 13, 1993 at the White House.

A poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza conducted by the London- based and Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) and Cable News Network illustrated this. Whereas 68.6 percent of Palestinians in the two regions supported the accord on Sept. 23, support had dropped to 45.3 percent by mid-January. In the same period, opposition to the agreement rose from 27.8 percent to 39.8 percent.

Of 1,622 Palestinian respondents, 12.6 percent said their support for the PLO had increased, while 30 percent said it had decreased. As for personal affiliations of the respondents, 40.4 percent identified themselves as supporters of Yasser Arafat's Al Fatah, while 14.2 percent said they backed Hamas, the Islamist group.

The poll also showed more involvement in both organizations among residents of Gaza than in the West Bank. Al Fatah had the support of 47.1 percent of Gazans, and 37.3 percent of West Bankers. Hamas had support of 18.4 percent of Gazans, and 12.3 percent of West Bankers.

Another opinion poll among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza released in mid-January showed that half of the respondents felt Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat had been ineffective in his negotiations with the Israelis. Only 20 percent of respondents considered him a democratic leader, and 80 percent said that changes must be made in the PLO itself.

In Israel, a secret poll commissioned by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's office that leaked into the Israeli press during the first days of February showed that since the signing ceremony Israeli public support had dropped by more than half, to 34 percent.

After the Hebron Massacre

The Feb. 25 massacre by American-born Jewish settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein of Muslims at prayer in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron set in motion a whole new chain of events. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat said he would return to negotiations only if Jewish settlers were disarmed, some Jewish settlements evacuated, and international observers allowed to protect Palestinians.

A poll published March 4 by Yediot Ahronot newspaper in Tel Aviv found 79 percent of Israelis opposed to concessions to the Palestinians to get negotiations underway again, and only 16 percent in favor of concessions. In the same poll, opinion was more evenly divided on the wisdom of evacuating Israeli settlements, with 52 percent of Israelis opposed to evacuation, and 40 percent approving it.

In the same time period, when the Rabin government revealed it was considering a ban on the late Rabbi Meir Kahane's Jewish terrorist group Kach, 66 percent of Israeli respondents to a newspaper poll said they would support the ban.

Regarding the massacre itself, a poll conducted by Israel's Teleseker polling firm for the International Center for Peace in the Middle East found that immediately after the massacre 79 percent of the Israelis polled condemned it, 11 percent said "it had to be understood against the background of Arab terror against Jews," and 3.6 percent praised Goldstein.

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