RAMALLAH – The kidnapping and the IDF crackdown on the West Bank that followed it will boost Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, told The Jerusalem Post this week.
“In the short term, it will demonstrate to people that Hamas stands for them, seeks to release Palestinian prisoners and is willing to take risks and suffer consequences to achieve the national good,” Shikaki said in an interview with the Post at his office – which is adjacent to al-Mukata, the Palestinian Authority’s government center.
“With every Palestinian killed Hamas becomes more popular,” the veteran pollster of Palestinian public opinion said. “This seems counterintuitive, but we have seen evidence every time a Palestinian is killed that the perceived threat rises and Hamas becomes more popular.”
Since Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper, the IDF has killed four Palestinians, including a mentally impaired man and a 14-year-old boy.
About 300 Hamas activists have been arrested.
Shikaki said that eventually people move away from their support for Hamas, realizing that there are other, more promising approaches to resolving the conflict with Israel that do not include violence.
“But for now Hamas is the beneficiary of every casualty that Israel inflicts. People are therefore not likely to blame Hamas for their suffering. Palestinians believe Hamas did something necessary because Fatah has not done enough to release prisoners. Therefore, it was right to do what it did.”
Asked if the kidnapping was a popular move among Palestinians, Shikaki said that while he had not conducted a survey his feeling was that a majority of Palestinians probably supported it.
Shikaki added that the prisoner issue is highly sensitive among Palestinians. “They would be willing to do a lot of things to release prisoners, including abandoning short term interests. They would be willing to negotiate with Israel without a settlement freeze if Israel agreed to release prisoners.”
Shikaki said that after Israel refused in April to release the last batch of 26 prisoners at the end of the nine-month Israeli-Palestinian negotiation period orchestrated by US Secretary John Kerry, many Palestinians felt that diplomacy had failed.
“If Israel reneges on something that is as solid as this, then certainly nothing diplomatic will work to press Israel to release prisoners except something along the lines of the Schalit model,” Shikaki said, referring to Israel’s release in 2011 of 1,027 Palestinian terrorists in exchange for the IDF soldier Gilad Schalit – held by Hamas from 2006.
A full interview with Shikaki will appear in Friday’s paper.