Palestinian Attitudes Ahead of the Abbas-Bush Meeting

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Overview:

A recent poll conducted in the Occupied Palestinian Territory found a gap in attitudes between Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on several key issues in the wake of Israel’s disengagement. The survey, although not linked to the visit, comes as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President George W. Bush prepare to meet on 20 October 2005 to discuss progress in a post-disengagement Gaza Strip and other salient issues in the Palestinian arena such as security, elections and rule of law. Despite the gap in perception, the poll found that a majority of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip (64 percent overall) believe that Israel’s disengagement from Gaza will reinforce occupation in the West Bank.

Post-Disengagement: Attitudes in the West Bank and Gaza

Abbas heads to Washington with increased support among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where 89 percent describe his performance as “good.” However, a 12 October 2005 poll by the Development Studies Programme at Birzeit University revealed that 69 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank do not feel secure; 34 percent in Gaza agree.

Public support for the fragile truce is high especially in Gaza; 83 percent in Gaza and 69 percent in the West Bank favor it. Forty-six percent of respondents in Gaza support disarming the various Palestinian militant groups while 29 percent in the West Bank said they support such. Palestinians in Gaza (22 percent) said they feel pessimistic, whereas 39 percent in the West Bank shared that feeling.

Internal Palestinian Priorities

According to the survey, a majority of Palestinians (61 percent) said they expect the Palestinian Authority (PA) to enforce order and the rule of law. Ninety-one percent in Gaza said they would like to see an end to public disorder, security anarchy, and the armed chaos and 82 percent in the West Bank expressed a similar desire.

Palestinians also poll high on the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and an improvement of economic conditions which requires the easing of the Israeli siege on Palestinian cities. Among respondents, 64 percent in Gaza and 46 percent in the West Bank believe that the disengagement from Gaza will improve economic conditions. The majority overall (56 percent) expect consolidation of ties and a territorial link between the two areas in the aftermath of Israel’s disengagement.

Upcoming Legislative Elections

The survey found that Fateh is the favorite to win in the 25 January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election. According to those surveyed, 46 percent of respondents will vote for Fateh compared to 23 percent for Hamas. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they plan to participate in the vote.

The poll revealed that the Fateh bloc would receive the clearest majority vote if it is led by Marwan Barghouthi, the group’s grassroots leader serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison. Support for a Fateh ticket headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurai’ dips ten points to 36 percent; Hamas’ popularity increases by three points to 26 percent in that scenario.

Leading up to the January vote, Palestinians on all sides of the political map will debate Abbas’ progress. In his ten months at the helm, Abbas has made some progress. He has consolidated the security forces into three branches, maintained a shaky truce, held presidential and municipal elections, and decreed legislative elections. However, the to-do list remains long. Although aides close to Abbas argue that establishing new institutions and a system of accountability and transparency will take time, the Palestinian people believe the time for action is now.

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