Will Abbas's rising clout be hurt by Netanyahu meeting?
Palestinian polls show Abbas gaining significant support in recent months over Hamas, which harshly criticized his willingness to meet the Israeli leader without a settlement freeze in place.
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The organization says the shift is likely due to the popular Fatah congress held in Bethlehem in August and improving security conditions in the West Bank. There is also a "noticeable decrease in public perception of the existence of corruption in PA institutions under Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad," the PCPSR said in its report on the August survey.Skip to next paragraph
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The survey included Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, and their numbers roughly reflected the proportion of Palestinians in each of those areas. All surveys were done in person.
Palestinian opinion hard to categorize
But looking at the bigger picture, there's an overwhelming pessimism among Palestinians about the ability of their leaders to get to a peace deal with Israel. Sixty-nine percent of those polled, including West Bankers and Gazans, said they believe that the chances for establishing an independent Palestinian state next to Israel in the next five years are slim or nonexistent.
Moreover, some of the positions that Israel and the US are asking Abbas to adopt will be hard to sell to the Palestinian public. For example, only about half of Palestinians say they will accept a mutual recognition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for Palestinian people. A majority of those polled – 61 percent – say they oppose a peace deal based on "the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Initiative."
The reference is to talks under former President Bill Clinton in 1999 and 2000 and to an unofficial blueprint for peace developed by prominent Israelis and Palestinians, including former negotiators in the Oslo peace process.
Both drafts presented similar solutions to a variety of difficult issues, including Jerusalem, refugees, and borders. A large number of Palestinians expressed opposition to those plans because of their dislike of solutions presented on individual issues. For example, only 24 percent of Palestinians say they would support the idea of a Palestinian state with no army, a drop from the 36 percent figure when the poll was first held in 2003.
The polls show how hard it is to categorize the Palestinian public's views. On some matters, Palestinians remains closer to the viewpoint of Hamas than that of Abbas, explains Dr. Shikaki, referring to the Palestinian leader by his nom de guerre, Abu Mazen.
"On the question of violence, most Palestinians are with the Hamas position and not Abu Mazen's," adds Shikaki. "They believe that violence has been helpful in achieving their national rights. But on the issue of two-state solution, they do take a position that is closer to Abu Mazen."
Arabs criticize Obama, too
Mr. Obama has come under fire from Arab commentators for pressuring Abbas to attend the meeting despite US envoy George Mitchell's failure to secure promises of a settlement freeze from Israel.
"Obama bent down to all of Netanyahu's pressures and withdrew from the battle of the settlements that he had engaged in the last period," wrote Abed-El-Bari Utwan, the longtime editor in chief of the Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper in London. "Obama put [Abbas] in an embarrassing situation by making him attend a meeting with Netanyahu after having announced to his people that he would only do such a thing after Israel commits itself to the settlement freeze."
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