Karl Vick
July 14, 2011 - 12:00am

Palestinians are trudging down the same long road as Israelis. Yes, they want peace. No, they don't think the other side will play ball. So for now their priority is private life: Getting food on the table and keeping the kids safe. That, at least, is the picture painted by a new survey of 1,010 Palestinians interviewed face to face in both the West Bank and Gaza over the last two weeks. It was conducted by a Palestinian firm working for Stan Greenberg, famed as Bill Clinton's pollster but who did this work for The Israel Project, a well-funded private U.S. group that promotes the positions of Israel's government.

The findings generally line up with recent surveys by Palestinian pollsters but were enhanced by focus groups, which found, for instance, that the public shift away from diplomacy and towards, most of all, jobs, tends to boost the prospects of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister who has made governance and basic competence at least watchwords in an organization long synonymous with nepotism and corruption.

"In the focus groups there was a dramatic shift in how people were seeing him," says Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the former campaign consultant who founded The Israel Project. "People were saying they could imagine him in a larger role."

That matters for a couple of reasons. First, the announced reconciliation between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, is hung up on who will head the technocratic government that's supposed to govern both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip until new elections go forward next year. Hamas loathes Fayyad, not least because his government has cooperated with Israeli security in suppressing its operatives on the West Bank. But the secular Fatah is insisting that the former World Bank official head the interim government. "What's important is that people reach agreement, and it seems there's no agreement yet on the name," says Ziad Abu Amr, a political science professor at Birzeit Univeristy who has been mentioned as a compromise candidate, in part because of his impressive credentials and in part because he was born in Gaza City.

Beyond the premiership, though, Fayyad's rising popular regard -- 71 percent approval on the West Bank — suggest new potential for the top job, president of the Palestinian Authority. Current President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, enjoys similar ratings but has said he will not run again.

Losers in the survey include:

* President Obama, who 7 in 10 Palestinians say they do not trust to represent their interest, a disillusionment that stems most recently from the U.S. veto of a Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its 120-plus settlements on the West Bank;

* Hamas, disapproved of by two of three, including in Gaza, where it has ruled since 2007;

* Iran, which 77 percent of Palestinians see negatively, an uptick in villainy likely attributable to its role in suppressing the Arab Spring uprising in neighboring Syria, if not the demands of its own people after stealing the last election.

The campaign to ask the United Nations for Palestinian statehood also faired poorly. While Palestinians were divided on whether a General Assembly vote would make any difference, only 4 percent regarded it as an important issue. "It is a non-subject as far as the Palestinian public," Greenberg says. In focus groups, no one mentioned it unprompted.

Otherwise the picture of Palestinian desires was a muddled as ever. Most folks doubt there'll be a third intifada, or uprising. Most also oppose firing rockets into Israeli cities, and call the murder of a settler family in Itamar "wrong." And by two to one, Palestinians favor ending Israel's 44-year military occupation through negotiations rather than by violent resistance. But by the same 2 to 1 margin they also oppose the two-state solution that's been the stated goal of negotiations. Most prefer ending up with a single state, in which Palestinians presumably would outnumber Jewish Israelis. The poll numbers shift some (to 44 percent positive) when the question becomes whether they "will accept a two-state solution." Greenberg says the difference is simply a matter of asking what people want versus what they can live with. "I polled in Great Britain a lot during the negotiations on Northern Ireland," he says. "What people say they want and what people will ultimately agree to are two different things."

The most striking finding, though, was Palestinians' focus on daily life. Job creation was cited by 83 percent of West Bank residents asked what Abbas should make his top two priorities, followed (at 36 percent) by expansion of health care services and ending chronic water shortages. Where should the jobs come from? A 44 percent plurality favored microfinance lending to start new companies -- a finding that surprised the pollsters. Removing Israeli checkpoints to ease movement around the West Bank ranked next.

"I think people are adapting to the circumstances," Greenberg says.

Jewish Israelis have turned inward for the same reasons, pollsters say. The latest Peace Index poll out of Tel Aviv University this week found just a quarter of Israeli Jews believed a two-state deal would be reached in the next two or three years, and fewer than half would bet on a deal in a decade's time. They approach unanimity, however, on the economy. A "sweeping" 80 percent majority were troubled by socio-economic questions, especially the wide gap between rich and poor. The poor, in Israel, typically include the one in five who are Palestinian, so-called Israeli Arabs, 75 percent of whom say their economic situation has worsened in the last year. It's tough on both sides of the Green Line, but always tougher if the language of the house is Arabic.


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