Recently appointed PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. (United Nations)

Two recent public opinion polls have revealed the depths of Palestinians’ mistrust for their leaders, under both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, The Gatestone Institute

While Palestinian leaders continue to dedicate their time to vilifying Israel and the US administration, the Palestinian public seems to have more pressing matters on its mind. Take, for example, the debilitating and dangerous lack of public freedoms and the corruption under the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian leaders, however, appear oblivious to the urgent concerns of their people. Evidently, Palestinian leaders do not grasp that the Palestinian public cares a great deal more about being treated like human beings by their own leaders than about anti-Israel and anti-US rhetoric.

Thus, the gap between Palestinian leaders and their people appears to widen by the moment, and the Palestinians’ dissatisfaction with the performance of these leaders grows at a parallel pace.

The number of Palestinians who heeded the Palestinian Authority’s call to take to the streets in protest against the recent US-led “Peace to Prosperity” economic conference in Bahrain was relatively small.

Although the Palestinian leaders were hoping that tens of thousands of people would participate in the rallies against the US and Israel, it was evident that the number of participants was much lower than expected. In fact, most of the protesters in the West Bank were members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction or employees of his government.

Similarly, the number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who are heeding Hamas’s call to head to the border with Israel for the weekly protests is in steady decline. The protests, which began in March 2018, are organized by Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip under the title: “Great March of Return.”

The decreasing number of Palestinians who are willing to go to the border and endanger their own lives by catapulting stones, firebombs and other lethal objects at Israeli soldiers is a positive sign; it is possible that the Palestinian public in the Gaza Strip is getting fed up with Hamas’s empty arguments and rhetoric.

Two recent public opinion polls have revealed the depths of Palestinians’ mistrust for their leaders.

Both polls, conducted in March and June 2019 by the West Bank-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), showed that an overwhelming majority of 80% of the Palestinian public believes that Palestinian institutions are infested with corruption.

The results of the polls also showed that nearly 60% of Palestinian respondents want Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resign, and that most people are not satisfied with his performance.

The June poll, covering 1,200 Palestinians, showed that 67% believe that financial corruption is deeply rooted in Palestinian institutions.

The results of the poll also showed that most Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are afraid to criticize their leaders.

The March poll, also published by PSR, produced similar findings regarding the Palestinian public’s perception of corruption and dissatisfaction with the performance of their leaders.

It showed that half of the Palestinian public believes that the new government headed by Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh will not be able to improve economic conditions or organize long-overdue presidential and parliamentary elections.

Sixty-five percent of respondents living under Abbas’s Palestinian Authority said they cannot criticize their leaders, as opposed to only 32% who said they could do so, the results of the poll showed.

In the Gaza Strip, 53% of surveyed Palestinians said they could not criticize their Hamas rulers, as opposed to only 41% who said they could.

Polls’ Findings No Surprise

The findings of the polls do not surprise those who have been monitoring Palestinian affairs for the past two decades. Financial and administrative corruption, as well as human rights violations, have long been an integral part of Palestinian government. The polls provided an accurate reflection of life under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – two regimes that devote enormous energy to inciting their constituents against Israel and the US rather than dealing with their actual problems.

This incitement is Palestinian leaders’ way of distracting attention from problems at home. They want their people to be busy hating someone else – in this case Israel, the US and pro-US Arab leaders. Otherwise, these people might wake up one fine morning and demand reform, transparency and democracy from their leaders in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian leaders seem to be aware of the growing rage among the Palestinian public towards corruption and human rights violations. Indeed, this knowledge explains why these leaders are so keen on blaming everyone but themselves for the miseries of their people. All the same they continue to finger Israel and the US for the abuses they perpetrate on their own people.

If Palestinian leaders spent a fraction of the time that they waste on condemning Israel and the US, on bringing good government to their people, the Palestinians would be in a much better situation. It seems that some senior Palestinian leaders cannot go to sleep at night without having disgorged fiery statements against Israel and the US.

Needless to say, this does not make for particularly constructive governance.

Hope Depends on Courage

Of course, there is always a breath of hope that Palestinians will one day realize that it is their very leaders who are betraying them, by denying them free and fair elections, good government and democracy. Such a realization will wait until Palestinians gather the courage to stand up to their corrupt leaders and demand an end to corruption.

A handful of Palestinians, meanwhile, have shown that they do have the courage publicly to discuss issues that are considered taboo and “treacherous” by Palestinian leaders. One of these Palestinians is the deputy speaker of the dysfunctional Palestinian parliament, Hassan Khreisheh, who warned this week that corruption was leading to a “breakdown in Palestinian society.”

Noting that the parliament has been paralyzed since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Khreisheh said: “The absence of the parliament has encouraged governments and influential and non-influential figures to practice more corruption at all levels.”

Voices such as Khreisheh’s are not of any concern to Abbas and other Palestinian leaders, including the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip. For them, the Palestinians’ top priority these days should be to scuttle US President Donald Trump’s plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the Deal of the Century.

When fighting an unseen peace plan becomes a greater priority than bettering the lives of your people, one can only say that, with failed leaders such as these, the time has come for the Palestinian public to raise its collective voice and demand its rights from its unelected leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Until this happens, Palestinian leaders will continue to enjoy the good life on the extremely burdened backs of its people.