Public Opinion Polls and the Palestinian Right of Return

The Problematics of Polls and Summary of Available Poll Results  
(A Memo Prepared by BADIL Resource Center, October 1999)  

I. On the Problematics of Public Opinion Polls in regards to the Palestinian Right of Return:  

Opinion polls aiming to obtain clarity about refugee preferences in regards to the solution of refugee problems are a tool used world-wide by state and international organizations involved in the settlement of refugee problems. (The UN High Commission for Refugees/UNHCR, for example, has conducted such opinion polls in the framework of refugee repatriation in post-warVietnam). Polls, in their common use, serve as an instrument to obtain a better picture of the mechanisms and resources required in order to solve a specific refugee problem in a way that meets refugee preferences. Thus, opinion polls, as commonly applied, are part and parcel of the implementation of the solution to refugee problems. The framework of the solution, on the other hand, is defined by the internationally recognized principle of the refugees’ right to choose among several options (return, absorption in the country of refuge, third country re-settlement). Opinion polls are NOT used to determine refugee rights, as these rights are defined by international law and UN Resolutions.  

The controversy over opinion polls in the case of Palestinian refugees, and the strong opposition voiced by refugee organizations against them, results from the fact that these polls are used in a way that deviates from the common practice described above. Public opinion polls among the Palestinian (refugee) community have been used in an effort to question the legitimacy of refugee rights codified in international law (the right to return and compensation, in the Palestinian case), as if refugee rights, in the Palestinian case, were merely a matter of opinion. Palestinian refugee fears of the abuse of public opinion polls are aggravated by the fact that Israel has, for the past five decades, rejected implementation of the Palestinian right of return, and lobbied for the de-legitimization of this right among the international community. As a result of the Israeli effort, and the collusion of the international community, Palestinian refugees today, at the beginning of the final status negotiations, are confronted with a situation in which public opinion polls are used to determine their rights, and not in order to determine their preferences.   

The above problematics do not imply that the results of opinion polls conducted among the Palestinian (refugee) community should not be read as an indication of current refugee attitudes. It should be kept in mind, however, that answers reflect the public sensitivity resulting from the perceived concerted Israeli-international attack on the right of return, and – related to this – the strong variation in answers depends on the specific polling context (who asks the questions, how are questions asked, etc.).  

The brief survey of existing opinion polls below, should be interpreted within this context:  
Opinion polls among Palestinian refugees  

  • DO NOT DETERMINE REFUGEE RIGHTS;  
  • REFLECT PUBLIC SENSITIVITY resulting from the Israeli-international effort at undermining refugee rights;  
  • ARE STRONGLY INFLUENCED BY THE SPECIFIC POLLING CONTEXT;  
  • ARE BAD INDICATORS OF FUTURE ACTUAL REFUGEE CHOICES , because refugees do not have the factual information required for educated choices, and they do not have a guarantee that their choices will be recognized.  

II. Summary:  
Opinion Polls Conducted among the Palestinian (Refugee) Public, 1994 - 1999  
1. Palestinian Refugee Attitudes in Lebanon (1994)  
2. Palestinian Attitudes towards the PA (1995)  
3. Preliminary Results of Statistical Survey among West Bank Refugees (1997)  
4. Opinion Poll about the Political Reflection of the Oslo Process on Palestinian Refugees (1999, West Bank and Gaza) 

For more information contact: BADIL Resource Center, PO Box 728, Bethlehem, Palestine; tel/fax, 274-7346 or 277-7086; email, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..