Palestinians overwhelmingly support armed struggle to end occupation

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  May 6, 2023

Three-fourths of Palestinians in occupied territories believe it is impossible to create a Palestinian state. As a result, 54 percent “support a return to armed confrontation and intifada.”

The belief among Palestinians that they will get a state of their own continues to decline: Three fourths of Palestinians in occupied territories say the likelihood of a state in the next five years is “slim to none,” according to the latest polling.

And as a result, “Palestinian public attitudes are becoming more militant: support for armed struggle rises,” the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research finds.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza overwhelmingly support armed struggle to end the occupation.

When asked about the most effective means of ending the Israeli occupation and building an independent state, the public split into three groups: 54% chose armed struggle, 18% negotiations, and 23% popular resistance. Three months ago, 51% chose armed struggle and 21% chose negotiations.

The numbers, which PCPSR gathered in March, are even higher for Palestinian support for the new unaffiliated cells of young armed men in the West Bank, notably the Lions’ Den in Nablus:

68% of the public (71% in the Gaza Strip and 66% in the West Bank) say they are in favor of forming armed groups such as the “Lions’ Den,” which do not take orders from the PA and are not part of the PA security services; 25% are against that.

Palestinian support for armed resistance includes attacks on Israeli settlers, who are generally considered to be civilians. The pollsters asked about a Palestinian attack that killed two settlers in a car in February. “A large majority of 71% say they support the shooting of two settlers in Huwara while 21% express opposition to this and similar armed attacks.”

Do Palestinians anticipate “the eruption of a third armed intifada” in the West Bank? 61% say yes, 36% say No.

These attitudes are crossing borders, too.

Let me turn for a moment to sympathy for armed resistance by Palestinians in Washington, D.C.! The co-editor of a new book titled “The One State Reality” gave a remarkable speech last month on the legitimacy of Palestinian violence and the illegitimacy of Israeli violence. “I think as we move into this one state reality we have to also rethink the nature of the violence,” said Michael Barnett, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University.

Barnett’s comments show how much the end of the two-state solution is changing the discourse even in the U.S.:

A lot of violence committed by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and others does strike me as within that notion of state-based terrorism that has been circulating for decades. So just because it’s done by Israel does not make it legitimate…

This is more radical and it goes back to earlier statements of international law about the right of a people to resist– there is sometimes resistance that is terrorism. But there’s other forms of resistance that are not necessarily terrorism… and this was written as part of the decolonization movement, where it is legitimate for a people under occupation to resist. Some of it will be violent, and if the violence is at conscripted forces for instance and not at civilians then it does count potentially as legitimate. ..

Palestinians have obviously been thinking about these issues for a long time. The head of PCPSR, Khalil Shikaki spoke to Americans for Peace Now last month and reported that Palestinian support for a two-state solution continues to dwindle: Last December, nearly a third of Palestinians, 32 percent, supported the concept of two states. By March 2023, that number fell to 27 percent.

That 27 percent is bigger than any other belief bloc. Twenty-two percent of Palestinians support the concept of one state with equal rights– especially the young, Shikaki said. But his numbers don’t support a claim routinely offered by U.S. politicians that most Palestinians want a two-state solution.

Palestinians don’t support two states because they don’t think it’s possible. Three-quarters of Palestinians, 74 percent, believe that the two-state solution “is no longer practical or feasible due to the expansion of Israeli settlements,” Shikaki says. That number rose from 69 percent three months earlier because Palestinians increasingly see, “You are unable to separate the two peoples into two separate states.”

Palestinians got their support for two states beaten out of them. Thirty years ago, when Oslo was signed, two-state support was 80 to 85 percent. Netanyahu has contributed mightily to the disillusionment. Shikaki:

The decline in support for the two state solution has been gradual, year after year. But the last five years in particular have been the hardest.

Armed struggle is the big winner:

“In light of all that, findings show a rise in the percentage of those who support a return to armed confrontation and intifada.”

Support for one state was as high as one-third of Palestinians until two years ago. But then the May 2021 war with Hamas happened and there was violence against Palestinians in Israeli streets, which significantly changed Palestinian attitudes about sharing a state with Israelis. “Support for one state declined almost immediately after the May war.”

What they saw in May 2021, was that the conflict erupts at the first opportunity that there is violence and that this solution is not what they thought it would be, that there will not be equal rights and that violence will continue to haunt them, even if they go that way.

Shikaki said that nearly a quarter of Palestinians are hopeless– and support no solution at all. That group is growing and has strong support for violence.

[T]he group that is growing in size is the group that believes there is nothing to support, because there is no political solution to the conflict, that the conflict is essentially permanent and will never be resolved. This is the highest of the frustration and the despair that we see among the Palestinian public. This group of Palestinians, which now stands somewhere between 20 to 25%, has essentially lost all hopes. And we do find the greatest level of support for violence among this group, because this group does not believe in diplomacy or negotiations anymore.

And though the Congress is overwhelmingly for the “Abraham Accords,” normalization deals between Israel and Arab monarchies as some sort of progress, Palestinians see this as a global betrayal of Palestine that reduces the chances of peace. Shikaki:

The perception of the Palestinians have not changed that these agreements do significant damage to the Palestinian cause, that they reduce the prospect for peace, because these arrangements offer the Israelis the benefits of peace without the Israelis making peace. And it reduces therefore the incentives for Israelis to make concessions in order to achieve peace. Why pay a price for something that you can have for free? That is the prevailing perception. But there is of course, an added emotional component to rejecting normalization, and that is the prevailing perception among the public that these countries are essentially abandoning the Palestinian cause, abandoning Jerusalem and the holy places in order to address their own self interest

Shikaki said the new, fascistic Israeli government is making Palestinians more fearful.

The new Israel is an added threat, one that is focused on holy places like Al Aqsa Mosque and to a lesser extent, on the perception that the speed of creeping annexation will now be much faster, and the cruelty of occupation will be now greater…

For the Palestinians, the threat posed to the holy places today, is very different than in the past. And it could bring about serious violence, almost anything related to holy places, will most likely lead to significant erosion and security conditions, and instability in the West Bank.

Palestinians still want sovereignty more than any other outcome, their own state.

The idea that Israeli occupation can end and the Palestinians can then have the opportunity to create their own state, that is something that continues to be the top priority of the Palestinians in all of our surveys.

But Palestinians have little faith in the Palestinian Authority to create such a state. The young are particularly bitter:

The failure of the Palestinian Authority in governance, in recent years, has created a very negative perception about statehood, particularly among the youth, who tend to be the most liberal and the most committed to clean government, democratic governance and so on. In focus groups that we hold at our center, when we ask the youth about this, about the decline and support for Palestinian statehood, again, separate from the two state solution, the answer is usually, Who needs another corrupt and authoritarian country.

The Palestinian Authority continues to lose legitimacy. A “slim majority” looks forward to its collapse “as serving the national interest,” Shikaki said:

In fact, we also had a majority, a large majority that said, the continued existence of the Palestinian Authority serves the national interests of the state of Israel, rather than the Palestinians. This is unprecedented.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-2006