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On Either Side Of Gaza, Leaders' Gain Support — But Blame Game Awaits

Jul 31, 2014
Originally published on August 1, 2014 5:35 am

Nearly a month into the war in Gaza, pollsters have been taking a look at how attitudes in the region have changed among Israelis and Palestinians. For more on the changes to public opinion, Ari Shapiro speaks with Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University and Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.

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Almost a month into the war, we wanted to find out how Palestinians and Israelis feel about the conflict. And how their attitudes have changed since fighting began in early July. So we've called two respected pollsters in the region. Camil Fuchs runs the Department of Statistics and Operations Research at Tel Aviv University. Khalil Shikaki directs the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. He spoke with us from the West Bank on a spotty Skype line so we apologize, he's a bit hard to hear. We began talking about the question of a cease-fire. Fuchs said, most Israelis do not support a cease-fire, at least right now.

CAMIL FUCHS: At the beginning of this war campaign it was a stated objective was to stop the rockets which come from Gaza but now as a stated objective is to destroy the tunnels which come from Gaza to Israel. So I don't think there is going to be a majority who would support a cease-fire now.

SHAPIRO: And Professor Shikaki there are obviously greater challenges pulling people in Gaza than in Israel. How much can you tell us about Palestinian attitudes and what Palestinian people want? Do they support a cease-fire?

KHALIL SHIKAKI: I do believe they support a cease-fire. But I think they would want one but would also like a siege. Most Palestinians have been complaining about the blockade and the seize over Gaza for years now and it's very clear at the moment that the Egyptian ideas of an unconditional cease-fire are unacceptable.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the impact of the fighting on political leaders. When you look at public attitudes toward Hamas has this conflict helped or hurt them among Palestinians?

SHIKAKI: There's absolutely no doubt at this time there's a confrontation with Hamas and Israel. Hamas wants public support. It's a very emotional reaction that however dissipates over time. So in six months they increase the frequency of public support for Hamas, gradually. And we begin to see support for Hamas going back to the same levels as before when the confrontation started. As far as Abbas is concerned.

SHAPIRO: Mahmous Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority?

SHIKAKI: Yes. His Fatah political party loses public support during and immediately after such a confrontation.

SHAPIRO: So Professor Shikaki you're saying that this has been good for Hamas but it might be a short-lived boost for them. Professor Fuchs what about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

FUCHS: That's exactly the same. For the moment the support for Netanyahu is increasing and we see that all the time. After a while, if and of the war is not going to end with a victory picture whatever it is - that is going to be considered. Then the a support for the leader is going to decrease. But for the moment, Netanyahu is clearly ahead.

SHAPIRO: When I was in Israel a couple of weeks ago covering this conflict, my sense of it was that the fighting has made people more polarized, more extremist, more entrenched. Does that play out in your research? Do you see evidence of that?

SHIKAKI: Every time there is an Israeli-Palestinian confrontation we see (inaudible) the focus becomes more on the mutual feeling of anger and frustration to the situation. Rather than blaming one side or the other. The blame-game does come later, however, after the cease-fire.

SHAPIRO: And professor Fuchs?

FUCHS: Yes I believe that is the same happens here. I think that also the Israelis are more together to support the war. However, the distinction between those who support and those who don't support. It is now more vocal than it was before but the great majority of them do support the war.

SHAPIRO: So professor Shikaki the hopes for a long-term resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict did not exactly seem within reach before this all began. But when this ultimately ends I wonder whether you think people will be more or less prepared to reach that kind of a long-term resolution and make the sacrifices that that would require?

SHIKAKI: There is a negative correlation between the Hamas and Fatah factions and willing to compromise among the public.

SHAPIRO: You're saying conflict makes a wrong term resolution harder to achieve?

SHIKAKI: Yes. The conflict because it increases that perception reduces people's willingness to compromise. However, that perception dissipates over time. There is absolutely no doubt that the immediate impact of a conflict is to make people more entrenched and less willing to show compromise.

SHAPIRO: That's Professor Kahlil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. And Professor Camil Fuchs of the Department of Statistics and Operations Research in Tel Aviv. Thanks to you both.

FUCHS: Thank you.

SHIKAKI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.