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Palestinian Survey Shows Rising Frustration with Leadership - 2004-10-04


An overwhelming majority of Palestinians say they want political reforms, but doubt their leaders will provide them. That's according to a survey published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which shows decreasing public confidence in the Palestinian Authority, but no clear alternative in the near future.

More than 90 percent of Palestinians questioned by the pollsters say they want massive political and economic reforms.

But, Khalil Shikaki says, only about 51 percent believe the Palestinian Authority is serious about holding elections, implementing reforms and eliminating corruption. Mr. Shikaki heads the policy center in Ramallah that conducted the survey among 1,300 adults in the West Bank and Gaza.

"The public has shown impatience and, in fact, anger at the way the Palestinian Authority has been handling the issue of reform," he said. "There has been a tremendous demand for reform for a long time, and, over the years, we have found the public becoming more and more disappointed and disillusioned about the way the Palestinian Authority has not been conducting reform."

Mr. Shikaki says those responding to the poll blame the Israeli occupation for their plight, but a rising number, more than one-third, also blame Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the crisis.

"In general, if you ask the public to blame somebody, the Israeli occupation is usually part of the problem. But in this survey, we have seen increased the level of putting the blame on the Palestinian Authority, not just Israel," said Mr. Shikaki. "In fact, for the first time, we see more willingness on the part of the public to put blame directly on Mr. Arafat."

Mr. Shikaki points out the survey was conducted a week before Israel launched its latest military operation in northern Gaza. He says Palestinians have rallied behind their leadership as the violence escalates.

Looking to the future, Mr. Shikaki says respondents to the poll want a change in leadership. Only about one-third support Mr. Arafat, which Mr. Shikaki sees as a vote of no confidence. Nearly half of those polled are calling for Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to resign, an increase of 10 percent from a similar survey last March.

But Mr. Shikaki says there is no overwhelming support for someone else to replace him.

"On the one hand, the public is not highly confident in Arafat's leadership, but it does not have an alternative," said Khalil Shikaki. "Therefore, at the moment, there is indeed a very serious crisis with regard to whom the public can trust. This certainly means the demand for elections becomes critical."

Only a West Bank activist ranks close to Yasser Arafat in popularity. Mr. Shikaki says past surveys show one-out-of-five Palestinians favor 46-year-old Marwan Barghouti as their future leader. The problem is, Mr. Barghouti is currently serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail for involvement in killing Israelis.

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