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New Poll Shatters Myths on Gaza Blockade and Settlement Freeze

A new poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shatters several myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza in general, and its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in particular, has only strengthened Hamas.

The poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, found that “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” If elections were held today, 45% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas, compared with 42% and 28%, respectively, in March. Most interestingly, Fatah trounces Hamas among Gazans: 49% to 32%. Fayyad, who had zero political support when he took office three years ago, would now edge out Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential matchup, 36% to 32%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would rout Haniyeh, 54% to 39%; that is up from 50% to 40% in March.

Why the upsurge? Because the blockade is working: “Only 9% say conditions in the Gaza Strip today are good or very good while 35% say conditions in the West Bank are good or very good.” Moreover, while 62% of Gazans and 60% of West Bankers “feel that their personal safety and security and that of their family are assured,” the Gaza figure is down from 70% in March, while the West Bank figure is up from 55%. Strong majorities in the West Bank say the economy, health care, education, and law enforcement have improved since Fayyad became prime minister.

Myth No. 2: Palestinians’ prime concern is ending Israeli settlement construction. In fact, the poll found a huge majority, 60% to 38%, opposing a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements; in the West Bank, where the settlements actually are, support dropped to 34% percent. And since Palestinians work in the settlements almost exclusively in construction, the obvious implication is that they prefer construction to continue, so that they can have jobs.

Why? Because most Palestinians’ actual prime concern is supporting their families (something that really shouldn’t surprise those liberals who believe all people want the same things), and the settlements are a major employer. It will be years before the Palestinian economy is capable of providing an alternative. Thus by demanding a freeze on settlement construction now, Barack Obama and his European counterparts are merely generating massive Palestinian unemployment. It turns out that Palestinians would rather they didn’t.

Myth No. 3: Israel’s war on Gaza last year was counterproductive. Actually, 57% of Palestinians now support efforts by Hamas to prevent rocket launches at Israeli towns, while only 38% oppose them. In June 2008, six months before the war began, the opposite was true: 57% of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israel. In short, the war achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve: discouraging rocket fire.

But here’s one thing that really is counterproductive: Western governments making policy based on what they want to believe rather than on the facts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.