Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Palestinian people on reconciliation

Updated below

Hamas and Fateh have delayed once again reconciliation talks aimed both at creating a unity government to administer both the West Bank and Gaza Strip and ending bitter feuding between the two political factions. A seventh round of talks has now been pushed back until August 25, indicating that Palestinian leaders from the two most powerful parties are not in any real hurry to change the status quo.

The Palestinian Center for Policy Survey and Research (my go-to guys for Palestinian opinion beyond the incompetent, stubborn, authoritarian leadership) has shed some light on what the Palestinian people think about reconciliation. The full report can be read here.

The poll was done in late May, but if you have tuned into Middle East news since then, you'll know full well that nothing substantial has changed. If you have not been obsessively following the region, don't worry, everything is still the same as it was since the beginning of the year.

Some interesting conclusions from the report:

Why won't the factions reconcile? "Findings fo the second quarter of 2009 show a stable balance of power between Fateh and Hamas compared to the situation in the first quarter." There it is, the status quo benefits both factions, who now find themselves at a relative equilibrium. While Hamas and Fateh benefit from this fractious, yet stable arrangement, the Palestinian people do not. Of course, the factions have shown little regard for the basic interests of the Palestinian people over the last several months. Their communal desire to keep the Territories politically fractured is not surprising in the least. Factional fighting is causing worry among the general population with 55% of respondents voicing concern that a member of their family might be injured by members of one of the factions. This number rises to 65% in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian people are hopeless about ending the Israeli occupation, but also "have no confidence in the ability of Fateh and Hamas to reach a reconciliation agreement." In short, the Palestinian people are disillusioned by Israel and their own leaders and hopeless that their situation will improve. Segueing from cause to effect - the hopelessness is indisputably linked to support for further violence in the conflict as PCPSR points out, "Support for launching rockets from the Gaza Strip against Israeli communities across the border increases considerably among the pessimists and decreases among the optimists." Obama's good-will gestures are not just feel-good measures, they help to create a real attitudinal change on the ground and plant the seeds of peace.

The Palestinian people are dismayed by the poltical factionalism and are worrisome about its effects on life in the Occupied Territories. "Findings also indicate that the overwhelming majority (90%) believes that the price of Fateh-Hamas conflicts is high or unbearable. 60% believe that Palestinian society can endure the price of division between Fateh and Hamas for less than a year or for a few years."

Despite their worry, Palestinians are also hopeless about their leaders' ability to reconcile, either with help or without. "60% believe that neither Fateh nor Hamas are able to unilaterally settle the conflict in its favor by military or political means and therefore they need dialogue while 22% say that the conflict between the factions can not be settled unilaterally or even through dialogue.

However, despite a desire for Hamas and Fateh to reconcile Palestinians are evenly divided on the issues of reconciliation, with 50% insisting that a unity government must accept all previous agreements signed with Israel and 44% rejecting the condition.

A hopeless, despairing Palestinian populace does not benefit any actors in the conflict, be it Fateh, Hamas, the Israelis, the Egyptians, or the Americans. The 51% of Palestinians that support the launching of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip against Israeli border communities will only increase if people see no hope for improvement in their daily lives or in the peace process. Instead, Palestinians continually see the opposite: more settlements gobbling up more agricultural land, more separation fence dividing Palestinian communities, more checkpoints strangling Palestinian society and the economy, piles of rubble still untouched since the war in Gaza, and factional fighting claiming innocent lives in the West Bank and Gaza.

A full 70% of Palestinians believe it to be impossible to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The despair just keeps piling up...

Update: Here an interesting morsel from the poll results that was not mentioned in the survey summary: Palestinians rank reconciliation as the most important priority facing Palestinian society today, above the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the opening of borders.

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