Support for Violent Versus Non-Violent Strategies in the Palestinian Territories

In: Middle East Law and Governance
Dana El KurdDepartment of Political Science, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, USA,

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What determines support for violent versus nonviolent strategies? I argue that strategy preference is motivated by an individuals’ assessment of their society’s cohesion. Perception of strong social cohesion, as existing literature argues, should increase individual support for nonviolence, as it gives people confidence that their society will be able to carry out that strategy effectively. I build on this work to show that perception of social cohesion does not always reflect individual conditions; in situations where social cohesion is weak, violence becomes attractive specifically to those who recognize this reality. The paper tests these arguments in the case of Palestine, using survey data and experimental methods, specifically polling data from the Arab Opinion Index in the West Bank and Gaza. The evidence shows that individuals who perceive society to be more cohesive prefer violence less. However, respondents may perceive social cohesion as weak, even while they personally enjoy strong social ties and greater social embeddedness. In this scenario, they are more likely to prefer armed resistance because they use their social ties to gain information and assess risk more effectively. Individuals who are networked in political power structures, members of political parties and those with higher levels of education, are those that both enjoy greater social ties and prefer violence to nonviolence. Their social situation helps them to recognize the weakness of social cohesion in society at large and, based on this perception, make certain choices. This suggests that violence in the Palestinian territories is not a spontaneous eruption, but rather a strategic choice that individuals endorse on the basis of a reasoned assessment of available options and constraints.

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