US dollars won’t restore Palestinian confidence in Mahmoud Abbas or bolster the two-state solution.
By Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute
As the Biden administration steps up its efforts to bolster the Palestinian Authority (PA), Palestinians seem to be increasingly losing faith in their leaders.
The Palestinian public also appears to be losing faith in any peace process with Israel. Many are even saying that they support the annulment of the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 between Israel and the PLO and that the only peace process they would support is one that leads to the elimination of Israel.
The Biden administration, which earlier this year restored relations with the PA and pledged to resume unconditional financial aid to the Palestinians, apparently believes that such measures will pave the way for the revival of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians toward a “two-state solution.”
As part of the policy of strengthening the PA, the Biden administration recently dispatched CIA director William Burns to Ramallah for talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials on ways to enhance bilateral relations and embark on confidence-building measures between the Palestinians and Israel.
At the behest of the Biden administration, the Israeli government has announced a series of gestures aimed at strengthening the PA, including plans to lend $150 million to the cash-strapped PA government.
The gestures are reportedly aimed at bolstering the PA in order to undermine its rivals in the Islamist movement of Hamas.
Most Palestinians, however, are clearly unimpressed with both the Biden administration’s renewed financial aid and the Israeli government’s gestures. These Palestinians are saying no to the PA and Abbas, and to the US and Israel. These Palestinians are saying that they prefer Hamas, the Islamist group that seeks the destruction of Israel, over Abbas.
A public opinion poll published on August 25 by the Arab World for Research and Development, which describes itself as “one of the Arab region’s leading firms providing our partners and clients with a full range of consulting and technical services for substantial development and state building,” indicate that the Biden administration is deluding itself by assuming that US funds could change the hearts and minds of the Palestinians.
According to the findings of the poll, 67 percent of the respondents support the annulment of the Oslo Accords, and 61% of them oppose the continuation of security coordination between the PA and Israel.
Those who want the Oslo Accords rescinded are, bluntly, saying that they are opposed to a peace process with Israel. They are also saying that they do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. As part of the agreements signed between the two sides, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat wrote a letter to then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in which he claimed that the PLO “recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.”
The poll, which covered 1,215 adult Palestinians in the West Bank, found that if elections were to take place today, most Palestinians would not vote for Abbas or any of his loyalists.
The poll showed, in fact, that a majority of Palestinians would vote for Hamas and Abbas critic Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah leader presently serving five life terms in an Israeli prison for his role in the murders of five Israelis during the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
“In a choice between 10 lists, one led by Marwan Barghouti receives the highest level of support (28%), followed by a Hamas list headed by Yahya Sinwar (19%),” according to the results of the poll. On the other hand, a list supported by Abbas would receive only 15%.
The elections for the Palestinian parliament and presidency were supposed to take place on May 22, 2021 and July 30, 2021 respectively. Abbas, however, called off the votes in late April, apparently after realizing that he and his supporters were set to lose to Hamas and other political rivals.
The poll showed, as well, that Hamas continues to enjoy rising popularity among Palestinians, especially after its 11-day war with Israel in May. Hamas and other armed groups came out as the biggest winners, with 72% assessing their position/performance as “positive.” Only 11% assess the position of Abbas as “positive.”
Seventy-four percent of the respondents believe that the Palestinians came out “victorious” in May’s war with Israel.
The Palestinians are essentially praising Hamas and the Gaza-based terror groups for firing thousands of rockets and missiles into Israel. The vast majority (80%) believe that Hamas came out stronger in terms of its popularity among Palestinians after the war, while 4% believe that Palestinian Islamic Jihad (the second largest terror group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas) was the winner.
Another crucial finding the Biden administration needs to take into account — as it continues to talk about its “strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” — is that the poll found that 60% of respondents oppose the principle of a two-state solution. If given a choice, the same percentage (60%) supports a “unified Palestinian state on historic Palestine.” This means that a majority of those surveyed believe that Israel has no right to exist and should be replaced with a Palestinian state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
This is actually an endorsement of the Hamas charter, which states:
“… the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection; no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it… The liberation of that land is an individual duty binding on all Muslims everywhere… When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, Jihad [holy war] becomes a duty binding on all Muslims. In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad. We must spread the spirit of Jihad among the Islamic nation, clash with the enemies and join the ranks of the Jihad fighters.”
While the Biden administration is talking about the need for confidence-building measures between the Palestinians and Israel and the possibility of resuming the stalled peace negotiations, the poll found that 54% of respondents oppose the resumption of the negotiations with Israel at the present time. Another 53% said that they oppose economic and trade relations with Israel.
The findings of the poll do not surprise those familiar with the inner workings of the PA and the anti-Israel and anti-US sentiments on the Palestinian street.
The US financial aid may prop up the PA in the short term and allow Abbas and his team to hold on to power for some time.
In the long term, however, the US dollars will not restore the Palestinians’ confidence in Abbas or the PA leadership. US taxpayer dollars will not drive Palestinians to accept Israel’s right to exist. The same applies to the Israeli gestures, which are not likely to achieve the Biden administration’s hope of bolstering the PA’s standing or advancing the “two-state solution.”
The results of the poll are clear: many Palestinians have been so successfully radicalized by their leaders that they want to see Israel removed from the face of the earth. Hate has been embedded so successfully that they would rather see their people suffer and die than accept any accommodation with Israel.
These sentiments are the direct result of decades of bloody incitement against Israel among Palestinians and in most parts of the Arab world. The only way to change this brutal reality is by halting the messages of hate and the delegitimization of Israel. Until that happens, Palestinians will continue to pocket money from the US and other Western donors, while at the same time moving closer to Hamas and further from any peace with Israel.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.