New Palestinian poll reveals waning support for Hamas
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New Palestinian poll reveals waning support for Hamas

But 80% advocate resuming rocket fire if Gaza blockade isn't lifted; Ismail Haniyeh would still defeat Abbas in elections

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian women bake bread amid the rubble of their destroyed home in the town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, September 21, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian women bake bread amid the rubble of their destroyed home in the town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, September 21, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Popular support for Hamas has dropped among Palestinians a month after the end of Operation Protective Edge, but a vast majority of the population supports the resumption of rocket attacks if the Israeli blockade on Gaza is not lifted, a new Palestinian poll has found.

The survey, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) headed by Khalil Shikaki, interviewed 1,200 adult Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on September 25-27. It found a 10 percent drop in belief that Hamas won the war, from 79% a month ago to 69% today. But 80% of respondents said they supported launching rockets at Israel if the land and sea blockade is not lifted.

Support for Hamas and its methods continues to be lower in the Gaza Strip than in the West Bank. Only 58% of Gazans believed that Hamas emerged triumphant, and 59% of Gazans were dissatisfied with the movement’s war achievements (compared to a national average of 50%). Support for rocket launching dropped to 72% among residents of Gaza.

One question, addressing the Israeli talking point of Hamas using civilians in Gaza as “human shields,” revealed interesting answers. Fifty-seven percent of respondents justified rocket launching from within populated areas; but a large discrepancy existed between Gaza — which suffered the brunt of the Israeli attacks — with 48% support, and the West Bank, with 62%.

If elections were held today, Hamas’s former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh would still defeat PA President Mahmoud Abbas by a large majority of 55% compared to 38%, a margin which has, however, shrunk since August, when Haniyeh won 61% support and Abbas only 32%. But in Gaza the two leaders are currently neck and neck, with Abbas winning 47% and Haniyeh 50% in a poll with a 3% margin of error.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas, right, raise their linked arms as they move through the crowd at a special session of parliament in Gaza City, March 17, 2007. A month later, officials from the rival Fatah and Hamas movements said they had reached an initial agreement on ending their rift. (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa/File)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas, right, raise their linked arms as they move through the crowd at a special session of parliament in Gaza City, March 17, 2007. A month later, officials from the rival Fatah and Hamas movements said they had reached an initial agreement on ending their rift. (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa/File)

While Hamas’s armed resistance agenda seemed clear to most respondents, Abbas’s strategy appeared more hazy. Fifty-eight percent said they never heard of their president’s plan to propose a three-year deadline for an Israeli pullout from the West Bank. A similar proportion of those who did hear of the plan believed it would likely fail, though 72% supported it.

Palestinian journalist and political analyst Daoud Kuttab said that Hamas’s declining popularity was to be expected, since populations always “rally around the flag” during and immediately after times of crisis.

It was also unsurprising, he noted, that Hamas received less support in Gaza — where it still effectively rules — than it did in the West Bank.

“People in Gaza see the results of Hamas [rule], while in the West Bank Hamas is just a romantic idea, not a realistic one,” Kuttab told The Times of Israel, noting that support for Hamas in the West Bank is in effectively a show of protest against its opponent Fatah.

“Everyone wants to be revolutionary like Che Guevara, but when your house is destroyed, you say, ‘We don’t care about revolutionaries, we want our house.'”

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