A 22 August 2007 survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC) found that 57 percent of respondents favored early elections and a majority believes that intra-Palestinian dialogue and a National Unity Government is the best way to resolve the current internal impasse. However, if elections were held today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would narrowly defeat Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The survey revealed that 20 percent of respondents would vote for Abbas compared to Haniyeh’s 18 percent. The survey also found that Palestinian attitudes toward final status issues such as Jerusalem, settlements, territory and refugees pose a challenge to Palestinian negotiators who are trying to reach a framework or an "agreement on principles" with Israel ahead of the U.S.-sponsored November peace "conference." The JMCC survey was conducted between 16-20 August with 1,199 participants from the West Bank and Gaza Strip with a 3 percent margin of error.
Abbas and Palestinian officials have ruled out early elections until it is feasible-logistically and politically-to hold them in the Gaza Strip where Hamas, who is opposed to early elections, is in control. However, there is discussion in the West Bank regarding a change in the Palestinian electoral system. The current system is a mixed system. Voters cast two ballots. The first ballot is for individuals running on the district level in which the winning candidates are those who receive the most votes by residents of their district. That is called "majority representation." The Palestinian territory is divided into 16 electoral districts.
The second ballot is cast on the national level for a single slate. A slate is given seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in proportion to the number of valid votes received. That is called "proportional representation." Current discussion revolves around instituting a one ballot system, the proportional representation system. Voters would cast one ballot on the national level for a single slate.
Hamas is opposed to any changes, specifically the possible conversions to the proportional electoral system. In the 2006 election, Hamas’ Change and Reform Slate received only 2 percent more of the national votes than the Fateh slate. As a result, Hamas was allocated only two seats more than Fateh. It was the district level voting that gave Hamas its majority in the PLC. Fateh leaders believe that if ballots were cast for a single slate on the national level, Fateh would regain its majority in the PLC. The JMCC survey supports that theory. When asked which party they trust most, 34 percent of respondents chose Fateh compared to 21 percent who said they trust Hamas. The survey also found that 43 percent blame Hamas for the intra-Palestinian fighting compared to 28 percent who blame Fateh.
Final Status Issues
On the issue of Israel’s annexation of major settlement blocs in the West Bank, 81.9 percent said they are against such a move. In exchange for the settlement blocs, Israel has proposed a territorial swap with the Palestinians. However, approximately 61 percent of respondents oppose or somewhat oppose the idea compared to approximately 37 percent who support or somewhat support a swap.
Jurisdiction over all of East Jerusalem was a major issue for respondents. Approximately 67 percent said they oppose or somewhat oppose declaring parts of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. Only about 30 percent said they support or somewhat support sovereignty over parts of the city. An overwhelming majority, 93.5 percent oppose any Israeli jurisdiction over the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, which includes the Western Wall.
On the explosive issue of right of return, 68.5 percent support the return of all refugees to their original homeland. Israel adamantly refuses to allow Palestinians to return to the towns and villages they fled or were forced to flee in what is now Israel. Israel has no objection to an influx of refugees to a Palestinian state, causing some Palestinians to argue for a bi-national state. However, 51 percent of respondents said they support a two-state solution compared to 30 percent who favor a bi-national state on all of historic Palestine.
Challenges to the Peace "Conference"
The survey found that more than 56 percent said they were pessimistic or very pessimistic towards the ability of both sides to reach a peaceful settlement to the Israeli occupation.
Given the current political climate and the Israeli unilateral steps within the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the level of pessimism should not come as a surprise. According to a June 2007 Peace Now report, there are 560 roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank of which only 35 lead into Israel. The report found that almost all of the roadblocks are internal, thus they are not the last point of entry into Israel. The report concluded that "there is no immediate security necessity in order to prevent a terror infiltration into Israel." The report also adds that "these roadblocks restrict the freedom of movement for the majority of Palestinians, as a short journey between areas is turned into a trip with lengthy waiting periods at each checkpoint."
Roadblock and closures have devastating effects on the Palestinian economy and Palestinians’ ability to access health care facilities, jobs and educational institutions. This is especially troublesome given that, according to Palestinian Bureau of Statistics’ second quarter figures for 2007, the majority of the Palestinian population, 45 percent, is of school age, 14 years-old or younger. The bureau found that in the first quarter of 2007, one-fifth of the labor force was unemployed; 29.5 percent of families live under the poverty line and 10 out of every 100 child has chronic malnutrition.