An overwhelming majority of Palestinians believe Hamas defeated Israel in the recent Gaza operation, and support the continuation of rocket attacks if Israel does not remove the blockade on Gaza, a new Palestinian poll revealed.
According to the data collected on August 26-30 by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) headed by pollster Khalil Shikaki, 79 percent of Palestinians questioned in Gaza and the West Bank said that Hamas had won the war against Israel, while only 3% said Israel had won. A similar majority believed that Israel was responsible for the breakout of the war.
In stark contrast to predictions voiced during Operation Protective Edge by senior Israeli military officers saying the extent of damage in Gaza would likely turn the civilian population against Hamas, 94% of respondents said they were satisfied with Hamas’s performance in confronting the IDF and 78% were pleased with the movement’s defense of civilians in Gaza. Eighty-six percent of the 1,270 adults questioned in the survey said they supported the continuation of rocket attacks at Israel as long as the blockade on Gaza is maintained.
Asked whether they supported transferring Hamas’s model of armed resistance to the West Bank, 74% of respondents in Gaza and 70% in the West Bank answered in the affirmative.
According to the PSR, the answers given in the poll constitute the most significant shift in Palestinian public opinion toward Hamas since the Islamic movement won internationally monitored elections in 2006.
That change is clear in the approval ratings given to Hamas and its leaders compared to those given to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas received 88% approval for its performance during the war, and its political chief Khaled Mashaal won 78% approval. The Palestinian Authority came in significantly lower, with just 36% approval; its leaders, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, received 39% and 35%, respectively.
Paradoxically, and worryingly for Israel, Hamas received higher support in the PA-controlled West Bank than it did in Gaza. The poll found that if elections were held today, former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh would easily defeat Abbas with 61% of the popular vote versus 32%. Sixty-six percent of respondents in the West Bank said they supported Haniyeh, compared to 53% in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, Abbas received just 25% approval, as opposed to 43% in Gaza. Overall support for the Palestinian Authority president plummeted 11% points in two months, from 50% in June to 39% in August, the poll found.
For the first time in eight years, Hamas’s presumptive candidate, Haniyeh, received higher support than Fatah’s more militant Marwan Barghouti, who is serving out multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail for his involvement in terror attacks during the Second Intifada. If elections were held today, the poll found, Haniyeh would defeat Barghouti with 49% of the vote versus 45%.
Nashat Aqtash, a communications professor at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University who served as media adviser to Hamas in the 2006 elections, said he was not surprised by the new data on Hamas’s popularity.
“In some parts of the world, pressure begets explosion. In the case of Hamas, [Israeli] pressure yields solidarity and power,” Aqtash told The Times of Israel. The secret to Hamas’s attraction, he added, was its appealing religious message as well as the effectiveness of its security forces in Gaza.
Previous polls have shown that Hamas’s dyed-in-the-wool supporters comprise no more than 15% of the Palestinian population, while 40-47 percent are undecided and can be swayed to support Hamas or the PLO, Aqtash said. But the ongoing failure of peace talks with Israel, compounded with Hamas’s steadfastness, has proven to Palestinians that there is, in fact, a viable alternative to Abbas’s nonviolent tactics.
Aqtash predicted that Hamas and Islamic Jihad would unite ahead of the parliamentary elections expected in early 2015 and together receive at least 70% of the popular vote.
“The PLO can get no more than 30 percent,” he said.