In the spring of 2010, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD)
commissioned a nine-week study of Palestinian online political sentiments. FDD
selected ConStrat, a Washington, D.C.-based Web analysis firm, to capture online
data using advanced technology usually employed on behalf of US Central
RELATED:'Palestinian web landscape dominated by radicalism'Without moratorium, PA ‘heads toward explosion'Mashaal calls for armed 'resistance' in West Bank
From May through June, ConStrat culled information from search
engines, unstructured social media sites, YouTube, Twitter, social networks,
wikis and RSS feeds.
While it is unclear how accurate social media are as
a bellwether of Palestinian political sentiment, FDD believes the derived trends
can contribute to a better understanding of Palestinians’ attitudes toward
peace. Indeed, world leaders have repeatedly failed to gauge the extent of
Palestinian anti-peace sentiments in recent years.
The results, published
in a study titled “Palestinian Pulse: What Policymakers Can Learn from
Palestinian Social Media,” suggest that attitudes toward peacemaking are more
negative than polls project. The study (accessible at
www.defenddemocracy.org/images/Palestinian–Pulse.pdf) may reveal other
important insights into Palestinian society. The following highlights the
study’s findings on the Fatah faction.
FATAH’S SUPPORTERS typically
gravitate to two online forums: Voice of Palestine (www.palvoice.com) and Fatah
Forum (www.fatehforums.com). These two sites are extremely popular,
boasting a combined membership of more than 80,000, with a combined total of 4.7
The hundreds of relevant posts associated with Fatah that
FDD scored reveal that it is a faction in disarray. This should come as no
surprise to observers of the region. Indeed, Fatah has undergone something of an
identity crisis since the collapse of the Oslo peace process in 2000 and
Whereas Fatah had positioned itself (particularly vis-à-vis Hamas)
as an advocate for continued peace talks through the Palestinian Authority, it
ultimately embraced the Aksa intifada, an armed uprising in 2000.
years that followed, the Israeli military steadily eroded Fatah’s
infrastructure, weakening it to the point that the faction, formerly the
strongest in the Palestinian political arena, came to be seen as one among
The group has also suffered from a leadership vacuum since the
death of its founder, Yasser Arafat, in 2004. The subsequent rise of Mahmoud
Abbas, Arafat’s lieutenant, has done little to stabilize Fatah.
last decade, the faction has earned a reputation on the Palestinian street as
being corrupt and ossified. This reputation was a contributing factor in Fatah’s
electoral defeat during the 2006 legislative elections.
Fatah’s position has deteriorated further.
In 2007, Hamas wrested control
of the Gaza Strip.
Fatah managed to cling to power in the West Bank, but
can only continue do so with military, financial, and other assistance from the
US and Israel. This has done little to bolster its standing.
US nor Israel is well-liked in Palestinian society. According to the Pew
Research Global Attitudes Project, only 15 percent of Palestinians had a
favorable opinion of the US in 2009, up from 0% in 2003. Moreover, according to
a July 12 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, 53% of
Palestinians don’t trust Israel.
Fatah continues to struggle to redefine
itself. From a political perspective, it lacks leadership. From an
ideological perspective, it lacks direction.
Pro-Fatah Web users
indicated this repeatedly during the course of FDD’s study.
the announcement that Fatah leader and PA President Mahmoud Abbas would visit
the US in early June and meet with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
prompted anti- Fatah users to post scathing criticisms of both AIPAC and
Fatah supporters largely ignored the visit until reports surfaced
of Abbas’s statement that he “does not deny the Jews’ right to the land of
Israel” (translated by major Arab news outlets as “right to land in
The reports prompted discomfiture among supporters on
pro-Fatah forums. Fatah users posted divisive comments on palvoice.com,
lamenting Fatah’s renunciation of armed “resistance” and even admitting that the
movement is “in decline.”
Fatah supporters also weighed in on a
Palestinian attack on a patrol in Hebron that killed one Israeli police officer
and wounded three others. In a sign of moderation, Fatah supporters reposted
articles carrying the PA’s condemnation of the attack. They did so, even as
Hamas supporters and other users accused the PA of “valuing Jews more than
Ironically, it was ultimately the Fatah-sponsored Aksa
Martyrs Brigades that claimed responsibility for the attack (along with a new
group called “Martyrs of the Freedom Flotilla”), highlighting the deep divisions
USERS ON Fatah-aligned forums such as palvoice.com posted
other content reflecting the internal fragmentation and incoherent policies that
have beset the movement over the past decade. Debates highlighted sharp divides
between Fatah supporters on issues including participation in elections,
Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and armed resistance.
On the topic of
resistance, Fatah supporters can be described as belonging to two camps: those
who support nonviolent means of protest and those who yearn for a return to the
second intifada of 2000-2005. The voices backing these two approaches in the
online environment appear to be of roughly equal strength. Whether this
correlates to the way Fatah members actually view conflict will need to be
Broadly speaking, most Fatah members embraced the notion that
Israel was an enemy, rather than a peace partner. Indeed, one particularly
popular post during FDD’s study was a report that appeared on Fatah forums
alleging that Israel seeks to “separate Gaza from the West Bank” and thereby
“liquidate the Palestinian national project.”
At the same time, however,
Fatah’s online supporters voiced their loyalty to the group’s
This is somewhat ironic, given that these leaders continue to
negotiate with Israel.
In the end, the anecdotal evidence FDD has gleaned
from online observation yields findings that are already well-known: Fatah’s
members and supporters are, at best, ambivalent about the idea of
The Obama administration must address this challenge before making
additional commitments to the Palestinians, particularly in light of its
indications that it could back the creation of a Palestinian state in
2011.Dr. Jonathan Schanzer is vice president at the Foundation for
Defense of Democracies. Mark Dubowitz is the foundation’s executive
Copyright 2010, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies