Welcome to the 21st century where such assumptions can actually be put to the test.
This past April, Foundation for Defense of Democracies hired ConStrat, to assess how Palestinian Arabs feel about peace with Israel--and other issues--based on various kinds of Arabic posts found on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, wikis, and RSS feeds. The fact that the posts could be written anonymously or with pseudonyms encouraged the people posting them to write openly about how they really felt.
And the results?
Although the Palestinian web landscape is not devoid of users with moderate to liberal views, it is dominated by radicalism. There is also little crossover between radical and liberal sites, indicating a lack of important debate.
Among radicalized users, a small but distinct group of Salafists (prevalent on sites like muslm.net and aljazeeratalk.net) view conflict with Israel as a religious duty, viewing jihad as the only answer. One alarming trend was the extent to which Hamas supporters engaged Salafists in dialogue to iron out their theological differences. If Hamas and these Taliban-like groups find common cause in Gaza, it would bode very poorly for peace.
To be sure, Hamas’s supporters were not monolithic about politics or Islam. But, drawing from Hamas’ most popular discussion sites, our research found that a majority of them continue to support violence against Israel. On this score, Hamas showed little disagreement with Salafists.
The data also confirmed what analysts already know about Fatah in the West Bank. Though it represents Palestinians in U.S.-led peace talks, Fatah is a faction in disarray. Politically, it lacks leadership. Ideologically, it lacks direction. Web users indicated this repeatedly on Fatah’s largest online forums: Voice of Palestine (palvoice.com) and Fatah Forum (fatehforums.com).
Our findings revealed that Fatah’s three-year conflict with Hamas (stemming from the violent Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip in 2007) is particularly harsh online. The two sides regularly traded barbs, and FDD found little evidence of rapprochement. Hamas supporters were more interested in reconciling with Salafists. Fatah supporters were more interested in decrying Hamas’ failures in Gaza.
The US and PM Fayyad
And while U.S. media has lauded Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad’s efforts to reform the West Bank, online forums indicate that Palestinians are not impressed. Some forums circulated articles declaring Fayyad a puppet of the West, while others claimed that his government is constitutionally illegitimate. More broadly, Palestinians are deeply suspicious of any collaboration with the United States, Fayyad’s most important political ally.
Oh yeah, about peace...
Finally, our data showed that a majority of Palestinians do not support regional peace efforts. Palestinian internet users often derided diplomatic initiatives; discussion of peace talks was overwhelmingly negative. Thus, despite Washington’s efforts to win Palestinian hearts and minds, the social media environment suggests that they have little support for a new peace initiative.The authors of the article, Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz, believe that the results of the study make clear that this is not the best political environment to go after peace talks--but once they are already being pursued, the reality of the political landscape has to be taken into account.
The problem of course is that the popular assumption that there is a significant group of Arabs in the West Bank who are interested in and eager for peace with Israel--Remember Condoleezza's unidentified poll according to which she claimed:
you can look at any opinion poll in the Palestinian territories and 70 percent of the people will say they're perfectly ready to live side by side with Israel because they just want to live in peace.Until that way of thinking is tempered by an appreciation of the reality, peace is not only a long way off--it may not even be on the radar.
Technorati Tag: Israel and Gaza and Hamas and Operation Cast Lead.