...Imagine that Obama’s advisors could simultaneously sit in a dozen Palestinian markets, or souks, and listen to thousands of Palestinians speaking in Arabic about U.S. policy priorities in the Middle East. More importantly, imagine those conversations had no outside influence.
In April 2010, we launched a study with that in mind. Our organization, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), commissioned ConStrat, a company that deploys military-grade technology on behalf of the United States Central Command, to study online Palestinian political sentiment. For nine weeks, ConStrat culled thousands of Arabic language posts from search engines, unstructured social media sites, YouTube, Twitter, social networks (like Facebook), wikis, and RSS feeds.
While polls are often designed to elicit specific responses, social media is largely free of outside manipulation. Most Palestinians write under pseudonyms, enabling them to discuss controversial issues without fear of retribution. Admittedly, social media captures only the sentiments of literate Palestinians with access to computers and with passionate views. But it offers important insights nonetheless.
Here’s what we found: Although the Palestinian web landscape is not devoid of users with moderate to liberal views, it is dominated by radicalism. There is also little crossover between radical and liberal sites, indicating a lack of important debate.
...The data also confirmed what analysts already know about Fatah in the West Bank. Though it represents Palestinians in U.S.-led peace talks, Fatah is a faction in disarray. Politically, it lacks leadership. Ideologically, it lacks direction.
...while U.S. media has lauded Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad’s efforts to reform the West Bank, online forums indicate that Palestinians are not impressed. Some forums circulated articles declaring Fayyad a puppet of the West, while others claimed that his government is constitutionally illegitimate. More broadly, Palestinians are deeply suspicious of any collaboration with the United States, Fayyad’s most important political ally.
Finally, our data showed that a majority of Palestinians do not support regional peace efforts. Palestinian internet users often derided diplomatic initiatives; discussion of peace talks was overwhelmingly negative...