Michael Robbins and Amaney A. Jamal are principal investigators at Arab Barometer, a nonpartisan research network that conducts public opinion surveys in the Middle East and North Africa. At a recent campus event, they offered insights from their most recent survey in Palestine. (Image credit: Courtesy Michael Robbins and Amaney A. Jamal)

In early October, Arab Barometer, a central resource for quantitative research on Arab countries, completed its most recent survey in Palestine, offering unique insight into the views of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. The next day, Oct. 7, Hamas launched its surprise attack on Israel.

On Wednesday, Nov. 29, Stanford’s Program on Arab Reform and Democracy presented the online event, “Public Opinion in Palestine Before the Conflict,” to discuss the survey findings in the context of the attacks. Amaney A. Jamal and Michael Robbins, two principal investigators at Arab Barometer, discussed how Palestinians view their government, their living conditions, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and international actors. The Program on Arab Reform and Democracy is housed at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).

“We’ve had the pleasure before of hosting the two principal investigators of the extraordinary social science research project, the Arab Barometer, and we feel extremely fortunate to be able to do so again because of the sobering importance of Arab public opinion, and more especially Palestinian public opinion, at this crisis-ridden moment,” said Larry Diamond, the Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, who introduced the speakers.

Hesham Sallam, senior research scholar, associate director for the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy, and associate director for research at CDDRL, moderated the event.

The survey “cuts through the heart of many pressing questions that are actively pondered in the public sphere at the moment, questions that are on the mind of anyone who’s trying to think through how we got to this conflict, and how we can possibly get out of it,” Sallam said.

The data

The Arab Barometer’s eighth and latest survey of Palestinians was conducted in person and is a representative survey of 1,189 Palestinians ages 18 and older living in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to the latest survey, a majority of Palestinians (51%) supported a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with slightly more support seen among residents of Gaza than among West Bank Palestinians. A quarter of respondents also said they supported “armed resistance” as a preferred solution to Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The results also revealed a very low level of support among Palestinians for institutions, whether it be the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. “The Palestinians don’t feel that any of their leaders are really legitimate in this sense,” said Robbins.

When asked their view on U.S. and China policy in addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict, most Palestinians rated both as “bad,” but more Palestinians believed China has better policies toward the conflict than the U.S. “The U.S. has very little credibility in the minds of ordinary Palestinians,” Robbins said. The survey also asked about views related to Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

About 75% of people living in Gaza said they face food insecurity – nearly a 25% increase from the Arab Barometer’s 2021 survey, Jamal noted.

Among other notable findings, the survey found:

  • About 23% of respondents said they have a great deal or quite a lot of trust in Hamas; 52% had no trust at all in Hamas.
  • Nearly 80% believed the economic situation in Gaza and the West Bank is bad or very bad.
  • 68% said food availability is a problem to a great or medium extent.
  • A majority – 56% – believed the country’s economic situation will be somewhat worse or much worse in the coming years.
  • Most felt that the country’s economic situation is the most important challenge, followed by instability and corruption.
  • Most Palestinians said their freedom of speech is guaranteed to either a limited or no extent at all.
  • Nearly half of Palestinians had very unfavorable view of the U.S., which is largely unchanged since 2021.

The Arab Barometer’s data are open source and publicly available for analysis. Its reports can be downloaded in English and Arabic.

The discussion

During the discussion, Diamond noted that, before the Oct. 7 attack, a lot of people “drew hope from the fact that there was still so much support among Palestinians for a two-state solution.” He asked Jamal and Robbins whether they thought that was still the case following the attack and the subsequent violence in Gaza.

“I do think in the longer term, there is a recognition that it is the only viable solution amongst the vast majority of Palestinians,” Robbins said. “I suspect that even if that has changed today amidst the conflict … in the longer term, probably … that would be the view of what would be the most likely outcome of this.”

Jamal observed that there is a clear historical pattern where violence between Hamas and Israel often leads to greater global scrutiny and increased talk of peace. “This is basically the same pattern that we’ve seen in our data for years,” Jamal said. “When Hamas acts, and there’s a cycle of violence, the world cares, and people start talking about a two-state solution.”

If that happens again in this instance, Jamal said, then it could ultimately benefit Hamas, because they will be viewed as championing the two-state solution and “at least making the Palestinian issue salient at some level.”

A related issue, Jamal added, is that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has lost legitimacy, due to both its levels of corruption and the continued failure of the peace process. If Palestinians are to ever believe in a future that extends beyond Hamas, she said, then the international community must work together to help bolster the legitimacy of the PA so that it can be the champion of the peace process.

During the question-and-answer session, someone asked what long-term or short-term developments may drive favorable views of China among Palestinians.

This reflects a broader trend across the region of seeing China as a non-colonial power and a country that, by most estimates, has lifted 800 million people out of poverty over the last 40 years, Robbins said. “It has an economic model that may seem attractive to people living in the Middle East.”

Whether they have meaningfully pushed for a pro-Palestinian cause is up for debate, but China has made positive statements regarding the Palestinian revolutionary cause, Robbins said. Further, “what we are seeing across the region, more broadly, is I think this idea of China as a kind of counterweight to the United States,” Robbins added.

When asked to what extent eliminating Hamas is viable, Jamal said she doesn’t think it will be achieved by military means.

“To weaken Hamas, I don’t think you’re going to do it by bombs,” Jamal said. “I think there’s a diplomatic solution, but the diplomatic solution is not only coming up with a ceasefire agreement. It’s really bolstering and empowering all the other groups, civil society, all the other efforts, and monopolizing on the support for a peaceful resolution to this conflict. That’s the way you’re going to weaken Hamas.”

Go to the web site to view the video.

Stanford CDDRL

“Public Opinion in Palestine Before the Conflict,” speaker event presented by the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.

Jamal is dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics, and professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University. Her research focuses on the drivers of political behavior in the Arab world, Muslim immigration to the U.S. and Europe, and the effect of inequality and poverty on political outcomes.

Robbins is the director and co-principal investigator of the Arab Barometer, a nonpartisan research network that provides insight into the social, political, and economic attitudes and values of ordinary citizens across the Arab world. Robbins is a leading expert in survey methods on ensuring data quality, and his work has been featured in publications such as Foreign Affairs.

Diamond is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor, by courtesy, of sociology and of political science.