MOST Christian Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip feel deeply insecure about their future and believe that Israel’s goal is to expel them from their homeland, a new study has found.
A poll of 995 people, conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), an independent non-profit body, found that 36 per cent of the Christians who responded had thought about emigrating. At the same time, 84 per cent were “worried about settler attacks, a potential denial of their civil rights, or an expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and lands”. Of those taking part in the poll, 67 per cent expressed worry about an Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories.
While the findings have just been published, the poll was conducted in February and March, before Israel’s recently re-elected Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced his intention to annex about one third of the West Bank. Discussions on implementing the plan are set to begin in July (News, 15 May).
Given the Israeli government’s intention, one might infer that Christian Palestinians’ fears would be even greater now than when the poll was taken. But the head of PSR’s research unit, Walid Ladadweh, thinks that this is not the case. “I don’t believe that there will be a significant increase in the fear of expulsion due to annexation, more than already exists,” he said on Monday. “However, should annexation lead to a deterioration in conditions under the Palestinian Authority [PA], this may intensify a desire to emigrate.”
Already, more than half (59 per cent overall, 72 per cent in the Gaza Strip alone) of those considering emigration give economic reasons as their main motivation. Of those polled, 58 per cent described their economic conditions as bad or very bad. Looking ahead, only ten per cent thought that economic conditions would improve, while 55 per cent believed that they would deteriorate.
The study also shows widespread dissatisfaction with social and political conditions in the territories. “Christians, like Muslims, do not trust the Palestinian government or the PA security services and the justice sector,” the study says. “Indeed, the majority tend to have no trust in the Christian religious leaders or civil society organisations. The majority believe that corruption exists in the PA institutions.”
For their preferred solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict, more than half the Christians polled would like to see the creation of a single state between the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and the River Jordan in the east, in which Palestinians and Israelis would have equal rights. Only three out of ten would prefer a two-state solution.
A two-state deal has long been the foundation of a hoped-for peace process. If Israel annexes significant parts of the West Bank, that option will effectively disappear. For this reason, the plan has drawn widespread international criticism. In one of the latest developments, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, have written to the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, and Boris Johnson.
The two church leaders expressed their opposition to any move by the Israeli government to annex West Bank territory after 1 July. They said that they “unambiguously support the fundamental right of Israel’s citizens to live in peace and safety, but these prospects can only be secured through negotiation rather than annexation”; it was essential that both Israelis and Palestinians should live without violence or threat of violence from each other or other armed groups.