Support for Hamas among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank has grown after the militant group's recent conflict with Israel, according to the results of an survey released today, that also shed light on the ongoing rivalries in Palestinian politics.
The opinion poll, which was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), found that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would easily beat Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, should the two face off in a presidential election today.
Abbas said last week that thousands had died needlessly due to Hamas dragging out the hostilities with Israel. "It was possible for us to avoid all of that, 2,000 martyrs, 10,000 injured, 50,000 houses (destroyed)," Abbas told Palestine TV on Friday, according to the Associated Press, adding that violence had been prolonged by the group's insistence on negotiating demands before stopping fighting.
In April, Abbas's Fatah political faction formed a unity government with Hamas in an attempt to heal animosity between the two groups which had existed since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, and Fatah subsequently broke off ties with the group. Since then, Abbas has only ruled sections of the West Bank, a situation that he would no doubt like to see change.
Yet, according to this opinion poll, Haniyeh would now win 61 percent of the vote versus 32 percent for Abbas. The results suggest that the recent Gaza Strip conflict has caused Palestinians to favor more radical leaders — a pre-war poll conducted by PSR in June found only 41 percent of Palestinians would back Haniyeh compared with 53 percent for Abbas.
Support for armed resistance against Israel has also increased, with 60 percent of respondents saying they supported a return to an armed intifada, up from 41 percent in the June survey. Then 72 percent thought Hamas-style attacks should be used in the West Bank, and 57 percent opposed disarming armed groups in the Gaza strip, up from 33 percent in the previous poll.
The war — the third fought by Hamas against Israel — lasted 50 days and killed at least 2,140 mostly civilian Palestinians and at least 72 people on the Israeli side, most of whom were military personnel. Hamas eventually accepted the terms of an Egypt-mediated truce after a number of failed attempts and both sides declared victory. Despite the carnage, 79 percent of the respondents to this survey felt that Hamas won the war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fiercely opposed to any unity government that involves Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by both Israel and the US.
The Gaza war erupted after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June. Israel then arrested hundreds of Palestinians, which prompted an escalation of rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. Israel responded by pounding the strip with air strikes before launching a ground campaign. The youths were not combatants, but nevertheless, 57 percent of Palestinians surveyed supported the initial kidnapping and 54 percent supported the killing.
This poll was conducted over four days, beginning August 26, the last day of the war, and 1,270 Palestinians were surveyed in more than 100 locations.
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