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Poll Taken Before Weekend Attacks : West Bank Arabs Found to Back 'Acts of Force'

September 08, 1986|DAN FISHER | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Nearly 80% of the Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip consider "acts of force" justified in pursuit of the Palestinian cause, according to a poll published in today's editions of the Arabic-language newspaper Al Fajr.

The survey was conducted before last week's attacks, apparently by pro-Palestinian groups, on Pan American World Airways passengers in Karachi, Pakistan, and against Jewish worshipers in an Istanbul, Turkey, synagogue. The two incidents left at least 37 people dead and more than 100 injured.

The poll asked about similar past incidents, however, and more than one-third of all respondents condoned last December's assaults on El Al Israel Airlines' counters at airports in Rome and Vienna that killed 20, including some of the attackers, and wounded 121. More than 80% called "justified" the 1983 suicide car bombing that killed 241 American servicemen in Beirut and the 1978 hijacking of a civilian bus on Israel's coastal road that left 30 dead and 70 wounded.

Israeli and Palestinian observers alike urged caution in evaluating the results of any poll conducted in such a highly politicized area, under military occupation, and among a people often frightened or otherwise reluctant to express their genuine views.

Also, the poll was supervised by a political scientist known for his position in favor of the Palestine Liberation Organization and sponsored here by the principal pro-PLO newspaper on the West Bank. The poll was co-sponsored by the Australian Broadcasting Company and the Long Island newspaper Newsday.

Nevertheless, West Bank and Gaza Strip experts said the survey offered a rare insight into the mood among the 1.3 million Palestinians in the occupied territories. And they said the results are instructive, if only as indications of what the respondents considered the politically acceptable answers.

"Notwithstanding its methodological flaws, it is the most thorough endeavor to date to gauge Palestinian views on current political issues," commented Meron Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and director of the West Bank Data Base Project funded by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations.

The picture that emerges from the survey is that of a Palestinian population under occupation that is in some ways more extreme in its views than some of the diaspora Palestinian leadership, which Israel wants to bypass in any Middle East peace negotiations for being dangerously radical.

More than 1,000 Palestinians were questioned early last month, in Arabic, by 22 students or graduates of An Najah University operating under the supervision of Palestinian political scientist Mohammed Shadid.

According to Al Fajr, those polled were selected to be representative of the entire Palestinian population of the occupied territories in terms of age, sex, occupation, educational level, income and residence. Benvenisti said the sample was slightly skewed toward the better educated and more politically active West Bank residents.

About half of the respondents said that either they or members of their immediate family had been arrested, physically abused or otherwise harassed by the Israeli occupation authorities at one time or another. Three out of four said they or their family members had been restricted under an army curfew.

Asked what they thought was the primary cause of Palestinian acts of violence, however, fewer than one in 10 said they were a reaction to bad conditions or harsh measures against them. More than 80% said violence was part of the struggle for "self-determination."

More than 60% said "armed struggle" was the most effective tactic for solving the Palestinian problem, while 20% preferred "steadfastness"--a Palestinian code word meaning to grimly hang on in hopes of prevailing.

An overwhelming 95% of respondents said they favored establishment of a democratic Palestinian state, and 78% said it should encompass all of Palestine, meaning not only the territories occupied by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War but also all of the pre-1967 Jewish state.

About one out of two preferred establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an interim solution, but nearly as many said they preferred to continue the battle for all of historic Palestine.

Those polled were also skeptical about prospects for any "peaceful and just solution" to the Palestinian problem. Almost three out of four said they saw no such possibility under present conditions.

Respondents were also critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East. While 60% said the United States could play a helpful role in the region, more than 85% said its activity to date has had a negative effect. About the same 60% said the Soviet Union could play a helpful role in the peace process.

Not unexpectedly, more than 90% of those polled said the PLO is the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and a solid majority named PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat as their preferred leader.

Respondents blamed Jordan's King Hussein and the United States about equally for the failure of a PLO-Jordanian peace initiative.

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