The Fatah general conference, which has been extended to run until tomorrow, has been characterized by tough talk on Jerusalem. “Fatah will continue to sacrifice victims until Jerusalem will be returned [to the Palestinians], clean of settlements and settlers,” states a position paper which was adopted, according to reports. The paper apparently does not make a distinction between the eastern and western parts of the capital.
Interestingly, this comes as a poll shows that Israelis are currently strongly assertive about their rights over the whole of Jerusalem. The monthly Tel Aviv University War and Peace Index found that two-thirds of Israelis think that Israel should build anywhere it likes in Jerusalem, as it has the right to do so given its sovereignty over the whole city is indisputable.
Pollsters chose to survey on this topic after the U.S. State department protested plans to build housing on the East Jerusalem site of the Shepherd Hotel and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that, whatever limitations it may agree to regarding building in the settlements, it can build where it likes in Jerusalem, including the areas captured in 1967.
This is a conviction that America and much of the international community rejects, claiming that construction in disputed areas of Jerusalem should stop as part of the overall demand on Israel to freeze construction in the territories. But according to this new poll, it resonates with two out of three Israelis. Only 27% of people surveyed, the overwhelming majority of them Meretz and Labor voters, oppose Netanyahu’s position while the rest do not know.
The pollsters also asked about President Obama, and where Israelis believe that he stands on the Middle East. Since they last polled on this question — in June, just after his famous speech to the Arab world at Cairo University — he is seen as less pro-Palestinian. In the latest poll, 46% of respondents said he is pro-Palestinian, down from 55%. Around a third of respondents believe he is neutral (31%, slightly down from 34% in the June survey). The percentage of people deeming him pro-Israeli has stayed constant — a tiny 7%.
Where they think his sympathies lie is the question of whether Israelis trust Obama, and here, he is making inroads. Two months ago only 26% of people surveyed responded that they trusted him compared to 68% who did not trust him to look out for Israel’s interests. Today the rate of those who trust him has risen to 38% while the rate of those who do not has declined to 60%.
Since the nongovernmental organization Breaking the Silence released testimonies from soldiers claiming misconduct during Operation Cast Lead, Israelis have been debating their trustworthiness, as discussed in this Forward article The poll found that the testimonies have made their mark on a considerable part of the Jewish public (on this topic, figures are for the Jewish public alone) — with 43% of respondents saying they believe them while 47% do not. Nevertheless, 76% see no need to resume investigations in to the operation and just 17% are in favor of doing so.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
Hamas has resumed its policy of shaving mustaches of political opponents to humiliate them, Fatah officials said Wednesday.
Hamas resorted to this form of punishment in the past after arresting senior Fatah representatives in the Gaza Strip, the officials said.
Hamas, for its part, accused the Palestinian Authority security forces of shaving the beards of detained Hamas officials in the West Bank.
To my great disappointment, The Jerusalem Post evidently didn’t even bother to reach out to Tom Selleck for comment.
This seems encouraging: Ha’aretz reports that Palestinian proponents of liberal democracy are mobilizing to provide an alternative to the gunman kleptocracy of Fatah on the one hand and the Islamist theocracy of Hamas on the other.
An earlier attempt in this vein, in which now prime minister Salam Fayyad took a leading role, yielded paltry results at the polls. This time, however, Palestinian liberals hope to benefit from widespread disgust at the internecine fighting between Hamas and Fatah.
This is certainly good news.
But, in the interest of finding a dark cloud in every silver lining, I do have to confess a certain concern that the emergence of such a movement as an electoral force might split the vote of Palestinian opponents of Hamas. It’s worth recalling that Hamas, in its 2006 electoral victory, won a parliamentary majority without winning a majority of the popular vote. The Islamist movement’s victory was due in large part to Fatah’s inability to maintain a united front. Instead, candidates aligned with Fatah competed with one another, handing the election to the more disciplined Hamas.
The recent rout of Fatah in Gaza underscored that Palestinians desperately need an alternative to Hamas that is dedicated to building democracy, advancing human rights and fighting corruption. One can only help that efforts to build such a movement do not yield unintended consequences.
UPDATE: The New York Times reports that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is planning on ending constituency-based voting in the next elections. That’s where Fatah’s disarray resulted in Hamas picking up a ton of seats. By moving to a more strictly proportional system, Abbas would be removing the danger that a third party could siphon votes from Fatah thereby handing victory to Hamas. So my silver lining no longer has a dark cloud accompanying it.