JERUSALEM — Although few would say so publicly, many Arabs in eastern Jerusalem have said in conversations that they would rather live under Israeli sovereignty than in the Palestinian Authority under PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
For example, Asam a shopkeeper in the Old City of Jerusalem, said, “I would rather live under Israelis than under Abbas. Abbas is a thief like [Yasser] Arafat was.”
When asked why he prefers to remain part of Israel, Asam responded: “At least here I can say what I want. In Syria, if you say what you want, you can go missing forever. In Jordan too. And under Abbas, too. It is chaos there. Abbas can stay in Ramallah and stay out of Jerusalem.” His Palestinian friend in the shop nodded in agreement.
A younger man, who works in west Jerusalem, said he is part of a family clan of 30,000 east Jerusalem Arabs who live “in Beit Hanina, Shuafat and the Mount of Olives.” He also said he would rather remain in Israel than live under the PA. “Most of the people in my family clan think the same way I do. Why should I have to live under the PA and starve?… I live in Israel. I have paid my taxes all my life. We aren’t going to the PA.”
A middle-aged man living in the Mount of Olives area acknowledged that before 1967, his family was living in Jordan, and if there were to be a Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives would presumably be in that state. But he said adamantly, “I don’t care if years ago we were under Jordanian rule. We want to stay in Israel”
Akram, a taxi driver in Wadi Joz echoed those sentiments: “Abbas, he should stay in Ramallah and not come to Jerusalem. We don’t need him here… They [the PA] are all mamzerim [bastards] and corrupt. I want to be Israeli. I have my Israeli identity card and I want to get my bituach leumi [national insurance benefit]. Who knows what it would be like to live under PA rule? But I don’t want to try it.”
Moussa, an east Jerusalem taxi driver waiting outside the Western Wall in the Jewish quarter of the Old City, was equally definite that he doesn’t want east Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state. “It’s a balagan [chaos] there in the West Bank [under Abbas]. I would keep my Israeli identity card.”
A waiter in a hotel and his friend concurred. “There are lots of those in east Jerusalem who want to live in a Palestinian state, but I am not one of them,” the waiter said. “And there are lots like us.”
When asked whether he has taken opinion polls to see whether east Jerusalem Arabs would prefer to live under Israel or the PA, Khalil Shakiki, a Palestinian pollster said, “I do not have polls only of the opinions of east Jerusalem Palestinians. My statistics don’t relate to East Jerusalem only.” For the last 16 years, Shakiki has been publishing results of polls on Palestinian public opinion with Yaacov Shamir, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who simultaneously polls Israeli public opinion.
When asked how he would explain the fact that many east Jerusalem Arabs want to stay under Israeli rule, Shamir responded, “You should ask Khalil Shakiki about this, not me.” But when pressed as to whether he was surprised that east Jerusalem Arabs had indicated they would rather remain in Israel than become part of a PA state, he said quietly, “No this does not surprise me.
“Look, Arabs in east Jerusalem watch Israeli TV and see Israeli media. It’s a very open society where people can express their opinions freely, and they like this. They also get benefits like Israeli national insurance and other benefits, which they would not want to give up.”