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public opinion

One of the most important concepts is fear in the ‘refugees/migrants versus Europe’ debate. It is not entirely clear whether Europe is against the migrants, or migrants are against Europe. But it is more than obvious that at the level of generalization both sides fear the other contrary to Jean-Claude Juncker’s call for collective courage. He is worried by ‘the fear directed against these people by some parts of the European population’ and concludes that ‘Europe fails when fear prevails’. As if it was simply a matter of choice.

One must admit that we social scientists – just as human rights activists – know very little about fear regardless to our knowledge on its consequences, such as violence, war, population movements, suicide and so on. Politicians, at least as much instinctively as cynically, know much better what fear is about in Europe thanks to the various public opinion polls. The language spoken for example by the Hungarian PM, Viktor Orban is seen much less unrealistic and provoking today than a month ago. His arguments are at least as much, if not better, shared by a significant part of the European public (opinion) and politicians as judged by others, certain media outlets, journalist, politicians, scholars or activists included. Orban’s gambling builds not only on how many people in Hungary think about foreigners coming from remote countries, but also on a more general European resentment rapidly growing against the new-comers let them be migrants or refugees.

When Le Figaro, the second second-largest, right-leaning national newspaper in France asked whether its readers agree with the Hungarian decision to build a fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border (to keep refugees and migrants away), 88% of the respondents said  yes (the sample is not representative, but big enough, the number of voters was as high as 56250). On a more representative side, the latest available Eurobarometer survey (the poll was conducted in May with over 30,000 people interviewed) found that immigration jumped to the top of the most frequently cited EU-level concerns with 38% (+14 points). It is now way ahead of the economic situation (27%, -6 points) and unemployment (24%, -5 points) too. While the immigration of people from other EU Member States evoked a positive feeling for more than half of Europeans, the opposite was true in the case of immigration of people from outside the EU. Their (economically-motivated) immigration evoked a positive feeling for only about a third of Europeans (34%) and a negative feeling for 56%. It is not surprising that close to three-quarters of Europeans said they were in favour of  a common European policy on migration (73%). Results of the next survey (due in November) will likely be even more ‘anti-European’ and fearful in light of the late-Summer developments in Europe.

What is fear?  Fear is a very normal human emotion induced by a threat or any negative stimulus. Neuro- and cognitive science says that fear is automatic, unconscious, spontaneously generalized and resistant to extinction. The perception of threat leads to neural changes in the brain and indirectly in behaviour as well: it leads to hiding, freezing, or running away from traumatic events. It is fear which makes people run away from Syria, Afghanistan or Turkish refugee camps. And it is fear – and not simple hatred – which makes other people, Europeans, reluctant to receive and integrate them in large scale. Is this fear real or imagined? It depends. But new arrivals bring not only their human rights with themselves. They also carry their history, collective memory, tragedies and traumas, culture and religion and a lot else. And while there are generous and ‘fearless’ European individuals being busy with offering a helping hand, a great part of the general public is quite much concerned about opening borders and integrating strangers with complicated past. One of the most important human feeling – fear – seems to be shared by refugees and Europeans as well. Describing fear as abnormal, coward, egoistic or anti-European may take into consideration some significant political events of European history. However, it ignores not only other, less glorious historical facts, but scientific evidence on human nature as well. Fear is not only very normal, but hardly a matter of choice. Equally, it is not simply a matter of moral(ity). If Europe needs more refugees and immigrants – but even if the opposite is true, there is no straightforward answer to this question – it should focus on understanding this very human feeling instead of building further rhetorical fences and trenches.

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Al-Monitor published an article – authored by Uri Savir (Aug 30, 2015) – stating, among others, that “waiting for the international community has become synonymous with “waiting for Godot”, mostly because the peace process looks hopeless. It may be the case from a diplomat’s perspective, but researcher find this subject increasingly interested (if measured by the number of publications published in academic journals recently).
Two pieces from the Journal of Peacebuilding and Development (August 2015) – both are concerned with impacts and context of peacebuilding in Palestine:

Joanna Springer: Assessing Donor-driven Reforms in the Palestinian Authority: Building the State or Sustaining Status Quo

[Abstract] “Official development assistance for statebuilding provided to the Palestinian Authority (PA) has increasingly been focused on technocratic governance reforms that fail to address the root causes of conflict between Israel and Palestinians. A prime example is an emphasis on preparing mediumterm development plans despite the fact that the ongoing occupation prevents their effective implementation. The donor community is bound by the Fragile States Principles to strengthen state capacity to help prevent recurrence of conflict. Drawing on publicly available data and government documents, as well as interviews with stakeholders in PA development policy, this article identifies shortfalls in statebuilding strategy benchmarked against the Fragile States Principles. In order to fulfil their peacebuilding mandate, it is crucial for the donor community to address the role of the Government of Israel in governance failures in the occupied Palestinian territory and engage civil society more effectively.”

Ned Lazarus & Michelle I. Gawerc: The Unintended Impacts of ‘Material Support’: Us Anti-terrorism Regulations and Israeli/Palestinian Peacebuilding

“This briefing illustrates the problematic impacts of MSC regulations on peacebuilding through the examples of US-funded NGOs working in the Israeli-
Palestinian context. Drawing on testimonies from dozens of Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding initiatives, the briefing highlights local NGO experiences with MSC regulations such as the Partner Vetting System (PVS) and the Anti-Terror Certification (ATC). As emphasised herein, the MSC regulatory regime complicates the struggles of peacebuilding organisations to attain legitimacy in their societies, affecting their ability to recruit participants, to build partnerships, and to achieve the impacts envisioned by donors and practitioners alike.”

Source and link: Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 10 (2), http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rjpd20/current#.VeRNZfmqpVI

 

There is an unbridgeable, but largely unappreciated gap between the neat rationality of development agencies’ representations which imagine the world as ordered and manageable and the actualities of situated social practice” – Mark Hobart, 1993, ‘Introduction: The Growth of Ignorance?’ in M. Hobart (ed.) An Anthropological Critique of Development: The Growth of Ignorance. London: Routledge, p.16.

Equally, there is a(n) (un)bridgeable gap between the ‘humanitarian’ and the ‘development’ (policies, practices, assistance, aid, agencies, etc). In many parts of the world they just can not be separated. In preparing for the World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, 2016), the organizers have held regional consultations, workshops and various other events (in the Middle East as well) to map the regional and global (humanitarian) needs, problems, views and priorities. Within this framework organizers of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) – in preparing for a consultation for the Middle East and North Africa – commissioned a research on local stakeholders’ and people’s views. Not only a summary of the regional consultation (Amman, March 2015, see Scoping Paper) is available, but an illustrative ‘whiteboard animation‘ can be accessed too.

As far as the interviews are concerned  they were conducted with a mix of men, women, youth and community leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen between November 2014 and February 2015. Majority of the focus group interviews were conducted face-to-face (bits of them were recorded and posted on youtube), but an online questionnaire was also applied. Quite a bit part of the published WHS/Mena report (Preparatory Stakeholder Analysis) is about how and what respondents think about aid agencies and the (non-)existing (?) differences between the humanitarian and political dimensions of problems in the region.

According to the report – as summarized by IRINNews – aid agencies are partial, unaccountable and potentially corrupt, and they fail to meet refugees’ most pressing needs; there is a systematic lack of consultation about people’s needs, a failure to protect the most vulnerable, confusion over which agency was responsible for what, duplicated aid, as well as instances where help was perceived to be withheld or prioritized due to political or religious affiliation.

To be con’t…

 

The European Union welcomed the demonstrators’ demands wholeheartedly during the Arab Spring, trying to maximize the assistance that it could offer to support genuine democratic transition, at least at a rhetorical level. This article reflects on the changes in the neighborhood policy by focusing on public perceptions measured in Europe and in countries in close proximity to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. European views on solidarity are compared to local public opinion on EU involvement in the region. Recipient views in Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, and Israel are explored by analyzing relevant results of the Arab Barometer and Neighborhood Barometer surveys. Findings indicate that the Middle Eastern public opinion tends to appreciate the EU’s gestures with the exception of Egypt, but conditionality is more in line with European public opinion.

The (my) article was published at Democracy and Security, Volume 11, Issue 1, 2015.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17419166.2015.1006397#abstract

The last post has been about the EU’s ‘perpetual’ position and argument on the necessity of keeping the peace process alive. People in the region are much less sure about the viability of this idea:

Arab Barometer, wave III (2012-2104), q708 on the future of the peace treaty/process vis-a-vis Israel (Jordan, Egypt, Palestine)

Arab Barometer, wave III (2012-2104), q708 on the future of the peace treaty/process vis-a-vis Israel (Jordan, Egypt, Palestine)

The public opinion is the most critical in Jordan and Palestine. It is interesting that such numbers (opinions) are not incorporated into foreign and aid policy decisions and aid continues to flow for sake of the ‘peace process’ – or keeping silence and stability – without interruption.

There are eight relevant questions asked by Nora Murad (posted by al-Shabaka):

1. Does aid to Palestinians help Israel evade its Fourth Geneva Convention obligations?

2. Do aid actors “give effect” to Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza when they accommodate procedures that hinder humanitarian or development assistance?

3. Is providing military aid to Israel, which it uses to violate Palestinian rights, a violation of Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention?

4. Does aid actors’ accommodation of discriminatory national anti-terrorism policies violate the humanitarian principle of impartiality?

5. Does aid to the Palestinian Authority entrench denial of Palestinian rights?

6. Do aid procurement policies that allow Israel to profit from its abuse of Palestinian rights actually incentivize further violations?

7. Does treating Israel as a “special case” erode the fundamental notions and universality of international humanitarian law?

8. Does international disregard for humanitarian principles send a message that Palestinians have no rights and Israel has no obligations?

 

One more question can be added in light of the public opinion: does aid promote something which is not desired by the majority? Or does it serves externally defined donor (Western) objectives, interests and values?

 

Sources: Nora L. Murad: ‘Donor complicity in Israeli violations of Palestinian rights‘ Al-Shabaka Policy Brief, October 2014; Arab Barometer Data is available at: http://www.arabbarometer.org/instruments-and-data-files

 

 

Focusing only on the Mashreq region (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and EgyptI) the most positive and most balanced EU image has been measured in Palestine and in Israel.

Neighborhood Barometer AB1: The image of the EU in the Mashreq countries II, only ‘positive’ replies, (2012-2014), %

Neighborhood Barometer AB1: The image of the EU in the Mashreq countries II, only ‘positive’ replies, (2012-2014), %

As shown by the Graph above the EU has conjured up positive (very positive and farily positive) view to 47% and 59% of the Palestinians in various years since their perceptions was first measured in July-August 2012. The ‘positive’ EU image is even more stable in Israel, where around one third of the population likes it regardless to the date of the survey. The ‘positive image’ has been the weakest in Egypt and has changed the most drastically in Jordan since Summer 2012.

Neighborhood Barometer AB1: The image of the EU in the Mashreq countries III, only ‘negative’ replies, (2012-2014), %

Neighborhood Barometer AB1: The image of the EU in the Mashreq countries III, only ‘negative’ replies, (2012-2014), %

Taking a closer look at the ‘negative’ (very negative and fairly negative) image, around one fifth of the Israelis has a firm, negative opinion about the EU, whereas a sharp increase can be observed in Egypt and Jordan between July 2012 (4-5%) and Autumn 2013 (25%). The EU image improved a lot in all countries in 2014 – even in Jordan – if it is measured by a decreasing trend in the rate of ‘negative’ replies. It would be tempting to focus on the date of survey (June 2014; Jordan, Egypt) instead of the trends, but there was no particular event taking place in these countries, which could explain the change. It must be noted, however, that the rate of the ‘neutral’ (Jordan: 52%; +30% point if compared to Autumn 2013) or the ‘do not know’ replies (Egypt: 66%; 17% point if compared to Autumn 2013) were much higher than they were in 2013.

Data source: NB (2012a, 2012b): EU Neighborhood Barometer. South, Wave 1-2, Spring and Autumn 2012 (Brussels: TNS Opinion); NB (2013a, 2013b): EU Neighborhood Barometer. South, Wave 3-4, Spring and Autumn 2013 (Brussels: TNS Opinion); NB (2014): Barometre du voisinage de L’UE. Sud de la Méditerranée. Printemps 2014. South, Wave 5, Spring 2014 (Brussels TNS Opinion).