Unrealistic Expectations Derived from Incorrect Premises: The Apartheid Question and Palestinian Dreams

February 23, 2020

By Patricia Sohn

According to a February 11, 2020 press release from the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion regarding a poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, most Palestinians in those areas, perhaps not surprisingly, do not support the Trump peace plan.  The poll was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion between January 31 and February 6, 2020.  Regarding the Trump administration’s peace plan, the press release states:

66.5% Strongly oppose

22.7% Somewhat oppose

8.5% Somewhat support

0.8% Strongly support

1.5% “I don’t know”

(All poll results cited herein are from PCPO.ORG, Poll 203)

Support for the peace plan itself, then, is vastly low among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  Respondents report that they do not believe in the claims that the Trump plan has a different view of peace compared to past peace plans, and that it makes the region safer between Palestinians and Israelis (offered as a joint question):  64.6% strongly disagree with Trump’s claim in this regard, while 21.2% disagree to some extent (“أعارض إلى حد ما”).  A full 85.2% see the conflict as increased in intractability rather than decreased with the plan.  And, most disappointingly, 67.3% do not believe that Trump will be able to come up with the promised 50 billion dollars.

Some of these results mirror past polls for some decades in which disappointment verging on depression or fatalism appear in approach to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians on the part of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.  One the one hand, it is important to recognize that many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been treated to such hard economic conditions for so many decades that some of these responses, on an emotional level, are quite understandable.  On the other hand, the responses reflect a skepticism at the idea of moving forward girded by any sort of notion that a peace is possible.

Palestinians in the West Bank, for example, have sustained disappointment emerging from military occupation; controversial annexation by Jordan before that; and a lack of popular Sovereignty otherwise for about 100 years, that is, since the end of the Ottoman Empire.  If a century of disillusionment resulting from these and related factors can lead Palestinians to believe that Trump will not be able to “mobilize” (the word used by the poll) the 50 billion dollars promised in funds for economic development projects across the West Bank and Gaza, it is an eye-opener.  It is one in which West Bankers and Gazans deserve to be given better information, as, where the Trump administration has made economic promises, those promises have systematically been fulfilled across the board.  This, despite the hew and cries of the Left in the United States.  It would be a shame if party politics in the U.S. were to have such a detrimental effect on the Trump administration’s ability to conduct foreign policy as putting Palestinians in the position of such lack of faith.  On his 50 billion dollars, of all else, I believe the precedent of his economic policies here and elsewhere would suggest that Palestinians can, indeed, count upon those promises.  Moreover, the 1978 Camp David Accords under President Jimmy Carter have resulted in fulfilled economic promises to both Egypt and Israel for so many decades.  That is, the U.S. has a long-standing record in the longest-lasting Arab-Israeli peace accord in history of living up to its economic promises.  That Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have reached such a condition of skepticism is perhaps understandable, but it will not serve their interests in the long run.

In keeping with the suggestion that I made in a previous blog piece that local Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been experiencing economic hardship of extreme proportions for some decades, the press release reports that respondents believe the economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza is:

71.2%  Bad

19.5%  Middle

2.5%  Good

6.9% “I don’t know”

Even more upsetting are the levels of direct concern for “the subsistence of your family”:

28%  Very concerned

35%  Concerned

21%  Not so much concerned

13.8”  Not concerned at all

1.4%  “I don’t know”

Subsistence relates to the direct, basic needs required to sustain human life – particularly food.  That is, as I suggested in a prior blog piece, Palestinians on the ground are being made to suffer at extreme and entirely unnecessary levels.  When a combined 63% report that they are either “very concerned” or are “concerned” with the subsistence of their families, we are talking about a humanitarian crisis.  This is not a refugee population.  These are people living in their homes.

As for “most likely” expected local responses to the Palestinian refusal of the Trump peace plan, the report is even more dismal.  Respondents respond:

26.3%  “Escalation of the resistance”

23.1%  “Administer the resistance by the Palestinian factions”

18.9%  “Keeping the Palestinian Authority as it is now, but developing new strategies for administration of the Palestinian matters”

12.1%  “Dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and putting the world before the responsibilities of the resulting legal void”

4.5%  “I don’t know”

The population in the West Bank and Gaza is split, then, on how, in an operationalized sense, they believe local Palestinians will respond to the Palestinian “refusal” of the peace plan.  However, a combined 49.4% of respondents believe the “most likely” response will be escalation of resistance (that means paramilitary violence) or resistance by Palestinian factions (that also means paramilitary violence).  This sort of result would only strengthen military hawks among supporters of Israeli military interventions.  It does no one any good.  It is important to note that the question asks what the respondent believes the most likely result will be, not the respondent’s normatively preferred result. 

Palestinians are being misled if they are being led to believe that continued or eternal conflict will be allowed, or that it will result in something other than the existence of the Israeli state.  A hundred years or so into the Arab-Israeli Conflict – since the whip-lash for local populations of the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration, and the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement followed quickly by the San Remo Conference – Palestinians who made peace with Israel and are living within its borders as citizens are doing well.  They have civil liberties and the ability to fight for more civil liberties as they feel necessary.  They are living in no way under an Apartheid regime; to the contrary, Israel reflects one of the remarkable civil societies of the world.  That Israeli civil society includes a wide range of Palestinian social movements.  Palestinians in the Diaspora tend to do well economically and in terms of education as well. 

The cross-border conflict between Israel, and the West Bank and Gaza, also does not relate in any way to the United Nation’s own definition of Apartheid (see especially Article II for the definition), by which, it states, Apartheid is a situation that is:  domestic (e.g., not cross-border); includes state laws and policies directed toward domestic citizens or residents; is organized by race; and reflects violent treatment of the targeted population as against that population’s assertion of its most basic civil liberties, or the right to life itself.  None of these conditions are reflected in the cross-border conflict between Israel and Palestinians. 

Wars and paramilitary battles are not Apartheid.  Not all “bad” situations are Apartheid.  The use of this term to relate to this non-domestic, non-racial context in which civil liberties are strongly present is analytically weak.  If there are war crimes on either side, pursue it in the Israel High Court of Justice, or the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. Apartheid is unrelated to cross-border conflicts.  Stop caricaturing the conflict into something it is not.  On both sides, it only leads to false consciousness – that is, unrealistic expectations derived from incorrect premises.  Unrealistic expectations can lead to prolonged conflict.

Its most likely result in this context, in my opinion, will be a long-term military regime in the West Bank and Gaza to ensure that citizens do not continue to be held hostage and starved to feed the unrealistic goals of a few bad (Diaspora) leaders.  That regime might be international rather than Israeli.  Is that what local Palestinians want?  12.1% reported that they thought it was a likely outcome.  If it is what local Palestinians want, I would have no objection, although I tend to a strong preference for popular Sovereignty.  By a few bad leaders, I am thinking more of the Palestinian Diaspora than of the local or national leaderships, both of which in my opinion are doing a heroic job of trying to balance the interests of the several sets of populations that claim to make up the Palestinian people (e.g., Palestinians in the West Bank, those in Gaza, those in Israel, those in refugee camps, and the Palestinian Diaspora).  Leaders of the Palestinian Authority should only have to think about Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  Those are their two main constituencies.  Let others care for the rest, and let the Diaspora be satisfied with its own power in its new, now two- or three- generations-long homes in some cases.  (I am not, here, referring to youth or students, of course, but to families who have made their lives elsewhere.)  The Palestinian Diaspora should not be claiming the power of constituency in more than one locale (e.g., both West and within the Palestinian Authority).

With great respect to those conducting these polls under very difficult conditions, as a political ethnographer with an interest in the grassroots, and particularly with an interest in the relationship between the grassroots and state institutions, I would want to recommend a few sets of questions for polling aimed at getting at the desires and dreams of local Palestinians rather than their ideas about what they think politicians will do, or what they think most likely outcomes will be.  Local people have their opinions on such matters, of course, but they are not policy wonks or political analysts.  They are not trained to predict political outcomes.  I would want to see polling on things that local people do know about better than anyone else:

  1. How does your local government function?  Do you feel it is responsive to your basic inquiries and needs?  Degree of responsiveness, etc.  (I would expect in most cases the answers would be positive but might result in interesting problem areas for solution-minded leaders)
  2. Are utilities working?  Degree of satisfaction, etc.
  3. Do you feel you have access to local authorities?  Degree of access, etc.
  4. What are your dreams for yourself?  Higher education and professional degrees?  College degrees?  Some college, etc.?
  5. What are your dreams for your children?  Higher education and professional degrees?  College degrees?  Some college, etc.?
  6. Do you regularly have enough food for the family?
  7. Do you regularly have to rotate who eats across the week within the family?
  8. Have pregnancies in your immediate family been lost due to:  Lack of sufficient nourishment; insufficient clean water; other living conditions, etc.?
  9. Have pregnancies in your extended family been lost due to:  Lack of sufficient nourishment; insufficient clean water; other living conditions, etc.?
  10. Do men go without food so that women can sustain pregnancies in your: immediate family; extended family, etc.?
  11. Do you have insufficient access, for economic reasons, to:  Clean water; heating for house/apartment; air conditioning for house/apartment; fans for house/apartment; garbage collection, etc.  (Degree of access:  excellent, sufficient, adequate, inadequate, lack of access)
  12. Do you have insufficient access, for economic reasons, to:  Communication (telephone); Communication (internet); Transportation (own car); Transportation (public transportation, busses), Transportation (semi-private, service taxies), etc.  (Degree of access:  excellent, sufficient, adequate, inadequate, lack of access)
  13. Do you have some sort of legal document allowing international travel or identification for international purposes (e.g., akin to a passport)?
  14. Have you been outside of Palestine?  Outside of the Levant?  Outside of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?  In Asia?  Africa?  Europe?  North America?  And, as a follow-up, if you have not traveled internationally, do you have a desire to do so?
  15. Given normal living conditions, what professional aspirations do you have?  High-tech?  Education/Teaching/Educational Administration?  Research sciences?  Engineering?  Architecture and design?  Language training?  Work for an airline?  Communications industries?  Computer programming?  Etc.
  16. How many languages do you speak fluently?
  17. How many languages do you read or write fluently?
  18. In how many languages do you have some communication skills?
  19. If a woman, is your most important dream (highest personal priority):  Motherhood and/or Wife?  Professional career?  Education?
  20. If a man, is your most important dream (highest personal priority):  Marriage?  Professional career?  Education?
  21. If a woman, is your second most important dream  (highest personal priority):  Motherhood and/or Wife?  Professional career?  Education?
  22. If a man, is your second most important dream (highest personal priority):  Marriage?  Professional career?  Education?
  23. What is your current profession?  Mother/Wife; Business (centered in a building or with an office outside of your house/apartment); Business (in an open market); Telecommute (indicate gender); Student (indicate primary, secondary, college degree, or higher education); Education/Professor/Education Administrator; Government Sector (indicate national government, local government, local government agencies such as utilities), etc.
  24. What is your current level of education?  Primary, Secondary, some university, university degree, professional degree, higher education, etc.

These are the sorts of questions I meant when I asked, what do local Palestinians really want?

I think we all need to know the answers to these questions.  Palestinians must be allowed to dream.  For the many, they have stifled their basic life dreams for decades.  People without dreams will, indeed, turn to violence.  This is not a new result.  In my personal opinion, local leaders will do the greatest service to the People by teaching them to dream again.

And believe Trump on the money.  He has been on the money, where money is concerned, consistently since entering public office – much to the surprise and dismay of his critics.  Moreover, the U.S. has a long record of standing by its economic promises in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.  Don’t let self-interest of a few lead you astray.  Those few may have once been Southern Democrats (e.g., supporters of slavery).  More thoughts on that on another occasion.  Friends sometimes arrive in packages that are initially surprising in their surface form.


Many thanks to the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion for conducting this and other polls and for making them available.


Dr. Patricia Sohn, Ph.D. is an associate professor. She specializes in Middle East (MENA) and Israel/Palestine politics, and particularly the intersection of courts and politics, religion and politics, and gender politics. She has interests in historical institutional, political sociological, micro-level, and grassroots analysis of state and society.

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