Public opinion polls have become a regular means of gauging Palestinian public opinion since the Oslo accords. An important instrument for promoting democratic growth, public opinion polling gathers and disseminates information pertaining to the political and socioeconomic interests of the Palestinian people.
The Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (JMCC) was the first Palestinian organization to initiate public opinion polls and surveys.
Four issues related to the peace process have featured prominently in polls. These four inter-related issues (the level of support for the peace process, proposed solutions for resolving conflict with Israel, the extent of support and trust in Palestinian political parties, and finally, people’s satisfaction with their political system) are inextricably bound to each other. Satisfaction with governmental organizations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, a vital part of this equation, has dramatically declined since 1994. Public opinion has also been measured on issues pertaining to culture and identity in Palestinian society - important features of nationalism and a future Palestinian state.
SHIFT IN POLITICAL LOYALTIES
Two important factors have contributed to changes in the Palestinian perspective on a bi-lateral peace process with Israel. The first deals with the performance of the Palestinian Authority since it took over as the interim government in 1994. The second issue deals with the internal political atmosphere in the occupied territories, particularly the emergence of rejectionist and religious political movements led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
JMCC poll results from 1994 clearly indicate that Palestinian opinion regarding the Oslo accords was positive and leaning towards achieving an agreement. Approximately 56 percent of Palestinians supported the agreement, while 40 percent supported Fateh’s role as the main managerial body of the Palestinian Authority. Only 10 percent of Palestinians supported other political parties such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hamas.
However, the latest poll conducted by the JMCC on January 29 - 31, 2009 indicated a marked rise in the popularity of Hamas among constituents of both the West Bank and Gaza and a simultaneous decrease in support for Fateh.The poll findings showed that the majority of respondents (46.7%) believe that Hamas came out of the preceding Gaza war victorious, compared with only 9.8 percent who felt that Israel won the war. Over one-third, 37.4 percent, said that neither side achieved victory. The division of opinion within the occupied territories is clear from the significant disparities in perspective between Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. In oterh words, 53.3 percent of respondents in the West Bank believe that Hamas won in the recent war, while only 35.2 percent of respondents in the Gaza Strip felt the same.
A contentious and lively debate exists in Palestinian society over political loyalties and affiliations. The Hamas-Fateh split, which became violent in 2007, has given a new momentum to these discussions. Polls have attempted to gauge the political outlook of voters across the spectrum from those supporting leftist secular factions to others who are loyalists of Islamist parties.
There has been a marked trend towards public support for political parties who reject the Oslo accords and a bi-lateral peace process. This is a significant change from the mid-90s when Fateh was largely supported for its role in peace agreements with Israel. A failure to progress from Oslo accords followed by subsequent failures at Camp David and Annapolis seem to have strengthened public opinion regarding the futility of peace negotiations. It has also become increasingly evident that divisive factional politics have prevented a unified political voice in the occupied territories, much to the detriment of the Palestinian status quo.
CALL FOR A UNIFIED VOICE
In relation to discussion about creating sustainable development and stability in the occupied territories, Palestinian public opinion has repeatedly called for unifying the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and normalizing conditions to that before the June 2007 split between Hamas and Fateh. There has been a strong emphasis on the need to re-activate communication and dialogue between the two parties. Polls indicate a continued desire among Palestinians for peace negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and Israel, despite internal political divides.