Some 78 percent of Palestinians want to see long-ruling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas step down, according to a Palestinian public opinion survey released on Tuesday.
The survey was conducted by Khalil Shikaki, a veteran Palestinian pollster who directs the Palestinian Center for Survey and Policy Research. According to Shikaki, 1,270 Palestinian adults were interviewed for the survey across the West Bank and Gaza between September 15 and 18.
“This is the highest number we have seen calling for Abbas’s resignation since Abbas’s election,” Shikaki said in a phone call.
Abbas was elected to a four-year term in 2005 in a vote boycotted by his Hamas rivals. No national elections have been held in the intervening decade and a half, despite numerous pledges by the Palestinian leadership.
In mid-March, 68% of Palestinians demanded Abbas’s resignation, according to an earlier poll by Shikaki. But the Palestinian Authority has increasingly struggled to assert its legitimacy among Palestinians, many of whom see Ramallah as corrupt and ineffective at realizing their dream of an independent state.
Abbas pledged to finally hold parliamentary and presidential elections in January after 15 years of political stasis. But in late April, Abbas indefinitely delayed the vote, blaming alleged Israeli intransigence. Observers, however, said Abbas likely feared electoral defeat following internal divisions in his Fatah movement.
Hamas saw relatively low support during the aborted electoral campaign earlier this year. But the terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, saw its popularity skyrocket following its May battle with Israel. Ramallah was largely sidelined during the escalation, which also saw mass protests in the West Bank.
In a poll conducted by Shikaki’s institute in early June, 53% of Palestinians said that Hamas deserved to “represent and lead the Palestinian people.” Just 14% said that Abbas’s Fatah movement should do so.
In Wednesday’s survey, however, Hamas’s popularity dropped, with only 45% saying the terror group deserved to represent and lead Palestinians. Around 19% said that Fatah and Abbas ought to have that role, while 28% said that neither side deserved it.
In recent weeks, Israeli officials have openly spoken about strengthening the PA as it faces a growing economic and political crisis at home. Some Palestinians have expressed skepticism of such “confidence-building measures,” while right-wing Israelis have charged that the policies are unnecessary gifts to an intransigent Ramallah.
According to Shikaki’s survey, a majority of Palestinians — 56% — view such measures positively, while 35% views them negatively.
Abbas’s PA has also been struggling to reinforce its legitimacy among Palestinians following the death of anti-PA activist Nizar Banat, which sparked rare protests calling for Abbas’s resignation.
Banat, who frequently assailed Ramallah’s leadership on social media, died following a PA raid on his Hebron hideout in early June. PA premier Mohammad Shtayyeh vowed to get to the bottom of Banat’s death, and 14 PA officers were later charged for beating him to death.
The demonstrations rarely saw more than several hundred people take to the streets of Ramallah. But they were brutally suppressed by PA officers, who arrested peaceful demonstrators and smashed the cameras of journalists seeking to document the scenes, drawing international criticism.
According to Shikaki’s polling, 74% of Palestinians viewed the arrests as a violation of the demonstrators’ rights.
The 14 security officers who participated in Banat’s arrest in late July were ultimately charged. The first hearing in their trial had been set to be held last week, but was delayed after the officers’ lawyer failed to show up.
No senior security officials or politicians were indicted, leading the Banat family to denounce the process as show. According to Shikaki’s poll, some 63% of the Palestinian public believes that senior PA officials ordered Banat’s death, and only 22% believe it was a mistake.
Another 69% view the steps taken to ensure accountability following Banat’s death as insufficient.