What do the Palestinians Want?

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For more than a generation, the Israeli left and Western leaders have insisted that the Palestinians want peace. They want a state of their own. They want Israel to leave the Gaza Strip, Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. And once they get these things, they will live at peace with Israel.

Successive U.S. administrations have modulated their support for Israel based on their perception of the Israeli government’s willingness to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Those that were seen as willing to surrender Judea, Samaria, Gaza (which Israel abandoned in 2005) and Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority were supported. Those that were perceived as unwilling to cough up land to the P.A. were ostracized, condemned and subverted.

Throughout the years, Israeli political leaders, military leaders, academics and journalists have produced voluminous reports that exposed the P.A.’s support for and involvement in terrorism. They have produced encyclopedia-length dossiers, documentary movies and intelligence reports exposing how its education system indoctrinates children from birth to embrace the cause of Israel’s annihilation and imbued the entirety of Palestinian society with a genocidal, Nazi-styled jihadist outlook that seeks the utter elimination of Judaism and Jews from the face of the planet.

Beyond a few half-hearted condemnations from U.S. State Department officials over the years—and a couple of even less committal guffaws from U.N. and E.U. officials—none of these reports, documentaries or exposés have impacted the West’s devotion to the so-called “two-state solution,” or Westerners’ tendency to blame the absence of peace on “right-wing” or “extreme right-wing” Israelis who reject territorial concessions to a society and a governing authority that aspire to wipe Israel off the map.

Over the past 30 years, Israeli leftists have at times paid lip service to the problem. But due to a combination of political interests, ideological brittleness and dependence on Western allies, the bulk of the Israeli left refused to accept the strategic implications of the absence of a Palestinian leadership—or society, for that matter—that is willing to countenance Israel’s right to exist, with or without Judea and Samaria, with or without Jerusalem.

On Oct. 7, the sadism and scope of Hamas’s slaughter shocked the whole of Israeli society to its core. Polling data indicates that there has been a sea shift of opinion among Israeli leftists regarding the possibility of peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians.

The same cannot be said of the West. Led by the Biden administration, Western governments have uniformly insisted that Hamas does not represent the Palestinians. Most Palestinians, including those in Gaza, simply want to make peace with Israel that includes a Palestinian state, they say.

Since Oct. 8, U.S. officials—and their counterparts in the European Union, the United Nations and beyond—have insisted nearly every single day that if Israel strikes too hard in Gaza, if it denies so-called “humanitarian aid” to the people of Gaza, then it will draw these poor people to Hamas, guaranteeing another generation of war.

In other words, by this telling, until Israel launched its counterstrike in Gaza, the Palestinians opposed Hamas and were its unwilling victims. But once Israel deployed its ground forces in Gaza, these people were forced into Hamas’s waiting arms.

As President Joe Biden and his advisers have said repeatedly, “Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. It does not stand for the dignity of Palestinians.”

Weighing the results of an opinion poll

On Thursday, Birzeit University near Ramallah published a survey of Palestinian opinion that responded to this central Western claim. Their answer was as nuanced as a brick.

Researchers from Birzeit gathered the data through face-to-face interviews with thousands of Palestinians throughout Judea and Samaria, and at three points in southern Gaza. They also spoke to residents of southern Gaza and with evacuees from the combat zones in northern Gaza.

Some 75% of Palestinians support the Hamas-led slaughter of Oct. 7. Another 11% don’t have an opinion. They’re neutral about whether it’s a good idea to rape and torture, and behead, burn alive and abduct women, men, children and infants. Still, three-quarters of Palestinians think it’s a terrific accomplishment.

Likewise, 75% of Palestinians seek the annihilation of Israel. They want a Palestine “from the river to the sea.” This position is distinct from a position of supporting a Jewish-Arab state from the river to the sea, or the so-called “one-state solution,” which only 5.4% of Palestinians support. Another 17.2% support the two-state solution, (13.2% in the P.A. controlled areas in Judea and Samaria, and 22.7% in Gaza).

If Hamas doesn’t represent the Palestinians, it’s hard to understand who represents them. Seventy-six percent of Palestinians support Hamas. Eighty-eight percent of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria support Hamas, and 60% of Gaza residents support Hamas. The P.A. enjoys the support of just 10% of Palestinians.

The only groups that enjoy more support than Hamas are the terror groups that have no aspiration to do anything other than kill Jews—Iran’s Islamic jihad, the P.A.’s Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Brigades, and Hamas’s terror cells Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades all enjoy even higher levels of support than Hamas itself.

Palestinians believe that there is no credible reason for anyone to support Israel. To the extent that Israel is supported by Western nations, the Palestinians attribute it to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish power and money. A total of 92% believe that the “Jewish Lobby” is behind Western support for Israel. And 96% believe that Western support for Israel owes to economic interests.

As to the Westerners insisting the Palestinians are peaceful and hate Hamas, the Palestinians hate them as much as they hate Israel: 98% of Palestinians hate the United States and 97% hate Britain.

On the other hand, the Palestinians are hopeful. Seventy-eight percent of Palestinians say that the pro-Palestinian demonstrations being held under the banner, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” fill them with hope for the future of humanity.

In short, the results from the Birzeit poll do not expose a peaceful people interested in coexistence and peace. They present a clear-cut portrait of a genocidal society.

If there is any ray of hope emanating from the data, it comes in the disparity between the positions of Palestinians in Gaza, and those in Judea and Samaria. Whereas 88% of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria support Hamas, only 60% of Gazans do. 

The reason undoubtedly owes to the Israel Defense Forces’ combined forces operation in Gaza. It works out that seeing their homes destroyed and being forced to evacuate dampens somewhat the Gazans’ support for genocide and its perpetrators. The operational and strategic implications for today and into the future from this disparity of views are fairly obvious. The only way to shake their genocidal attitudes is to punish them. The only way to dampen their desire to annihilate the Jewish state is to deny them all hope that genocide will pay.

It is this insight that needs to drive Israeli policy and our society.

Eighty-seven percent of Palestinians said that their belief in peaceful coexistence with Israel decreased after Oct. 7.

Seventy-one percent said that the events of that day increased their support for the utter annihilation of Israel and a Palestine “from the river to the sea.”

Ninety-eight percent said that they are proud to be Palestinians.

All the answers indicate that the Oct. 7 Holocaust convinced them that they were defeating Israel and wouldn’t have to peacefully coexist with it.

To change these attitudes, Israel’s policy shouldn’t be geared towards giving them hope for a state but rather causing them to fear punishment. This, to be sure, is what the much-maligned Israeli right has been arguing all along.

The Palestinians were asked what they thought Hamas’s motivation was for invading Israel and conducting its sadistic slaughter. The answers are notable. A plurality of Palestinians—35%—said the reason for the attack was to “stop violations of Al-Aqsa.” Another 29% said it was to “free Palestine.” And 21% said it was to “break the siege of Gaza.”

“Stop violations of Al-Aqsa” mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is another way of saying “jihad.” Under Islam, there is only justification for temporarily stopping a jihad. A temporary, 10-year hudna, or ceasefire, can be reached if the forces of jihad are too weak to prosecute it. The ceasefire can be extended for additional decades if the weakness is protracted. It may be breached at any time if the jihadists gather the required strength to proceed forward.

When Westerners approach the Palestinians, they do so through the prisms of their own preferences and values, and with a drop (or an ocean) of hostility towards the Jewish state.

Westerners assume that the Palestinians seek a future of prosperity and freedom and peace because that is what they aspire to preserve for themselves. But this isn’t the case—or at least not in the way that Westerners think. The Palestinians want a better life. But their conception of a better life is a life of jihad, of killing infidels. What motivates them is not prosperity but genocide. And this is why their hope needs to be extinguished.

Israelis took the measure of the Palestinians on Oct. 7, and opinions have shifted sharply towards the positions that the Israeli right has advocated on behalf of for more than a generation. The world as a whole would do well to take their measure as well. Actions don’t lie, and neither does the data. The Palestinians are a society unified by their common goal of annihilating Israel. That is who they are. That is what they want.

Originally published at JNS.org.

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