A wartime opinion poll among Palestinians published Wednesday shows a dramatic rise in support for the Hamas terror group in the West Bank, with backing appearing to have ticked up as well even in the devastated Gaza Strip, and an overwhelming rejection of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with nearly 90 percent saying he must resign.
The poll found that 72% of respondents believe Hamas was “correct” to launch its October 7 onslaught, with 82% in the West Bank and 57% in Gaza backing it.
The findings by a Palestinian pollster signal more difficulties ahead for the Biden administration’s postwar vision for Gaza and raise questions about Israel’s stated goal of eradicating Hamas.
Washington has called for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, currently led by Abbas, to eventually assume control of Gaza and run both territories as a precursor to statehood. US officials have said the PA must be revitalized, without elaborating on whether this would mean leadership changes.
The PA administers pockets of the West Bank and governed Gaza until a violent coup by Hamas in 2007. The Palestinians have not held elections since 2006 when Hamas won a parliamentary majority.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, has soundly rejected any role for the PA in Gaza and insists Israel must retain some level of security control there following the war.
“Israel is stuck in Gaza,” pollster Khalil Shikaki averred in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the publication of the survey’s results by his Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, or PSR. “Maybe the next [Israeli] government will decide that Netanyahu is not right in putting all these conditions, and they might decide to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza. But the default for the future, for Israel and Gaza, is that Israel is in full reoccupation of Gaza.”
The Gaza war increases Hamas’ popularity and greatly weakens the standing of the PA and its leadership; nonetheless, the majority of the Palestinians remains unsupportive of Hamas: https://t.co/T2dMcJBEKV pic.twitter.com/lHC0eNfE7E
— Khalil Shikaki (@KShikaki) December 13, 2023
The survey was conducted from November 22 to December 2 among 1,231 people in the West Bank and Gaza and had an error margin of 4 percentage points. In Gaza, poll workers conducted 481 in-person interviews during a weeklong ceasefire that ended December 1.
Shikaki, who runs regular polls, said the error margin was one percentage point higher than usual because of disruptions caused by the mass displacement of residents during the Israel-Hamas war. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had fled fierce fighting in northern Gaza, and poll workers only conducted interviews in central and southern Gaza, including among displaced people, because they could not reach the north during the ceasefire.
The survey provided insights about Palestinian views of the October 7 Hamas onslaught against southern Israel, in which members of the terror group brutally slaughtered approximately 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took another 240 hostage in Gaza; 135 are believed to still be held captive.
In the ensuing war, more than 18,400 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to figures provided by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, which do not differentiate between civilians and Hamas gunmen nor between those killed by Israel or by failed Palestinian rocket launches. Israel has indicated that it believes the overall Gaza death toll is fairly accurate, although it says more than 7,000 are Hamas gunmen.
Support for armed struggle rises, particularly in the West Bank and in response to the war in Gaza and the settlers’ violence in the West Bank, but support for the two-state solution rises somewhat: https://t.co/T2dMcJBEKV pic.twitter.com/XLjihtyU74
— Khalil Shikaki (@KShikaki) December 13, 2023
Shikaki said Gaza residents are more critical of Hamas than those in the West Bank, and that support for Hamas typically spikes during periods of armed conflict before leveling out. He argued that even now most Palestinians do not back the terrorist group.
Despite the devastation, 57% of respondents in Gaza and 82% in the West Bank (72% overall) believe Hamas was correct in launching the October 7 massacres, the poll indicated. A large majority believed Hamas’s claims that it acted only to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem against Jewish extremists and win the release of Palestinian prisoners. Only 10% said they believed Hamas had committed war crimes, with a large majority saying they had not seen videos showing the terrorists committing atrocities.
The widely available videos, along with extensive eyewitness testimony and reporting, show that hundreds of civilians in southern Israel, including women and children, were abducted or gunned down inside their own homes, and there have also been growing accounts and evidence of widespread sexual violence carried out by Hamas.
Shikaki said the most popular politician remains Marwan Barghouti, a prominent figure in Abbas’s Fatah movement who is serving multiple life terms in an Israeli prison for his role in several deadly terror attacks during the Second Intifada. In a two-way presidential race, Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas who lives in Qatar, would trounce Abbas, while in a three-way race, Barghouti would be ahead just slightly, the pollster said.
Overall, 88% want Abbas to resign, up by 10 percentage points from just three months ago. In the West Bank, 92% called for the resignation of the octogenarian who has presided over an administration widely seen as corrupt, autocratic and ineffective.
At the same time, 44% in the West Bank said they supported Hamas in general, up from just 12% in September. In Gaza, the terror group received 42% support, up slightly from 38% three months ago.
Shikaki said support for the PA declined further, with nearly 60% now saying it should be dissolved. In the West Bank, Abbas’s continued security coordination with the IDF against Hamas, his bitter political rival, is widely unpopular.
The poll also signaled widespread frustration with the international community, particularly the United States, key European countries and even the United Nations, which has pushed for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
“The level of anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism is huge among Palestinians because of the positions they have taken regarding international humanitarian law and what is happening in Gaza,” Shikaki said.