Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's party Fatah would crush their rivals Hamas were elections to be held today, a Palestinian survey has found.

A poll conducted earlier this week in both the West Bank and Gaza and released Thursday found that 48 percent of voters would support Fatah were presidential elections held next week, while only 11 percent would vote for Hamas. Ten percent of respondents said they would vote for other Palestinian political parties and 31 percent said they were undecided or would not vote.

The poll, based on a survey of 880 Palestinian women and men, was conducted by the Ramallah-based polling group Near East Consulting and has a margin of error of +/-3.4%.

"There is widespread support for Fatah," Dr. Jamil Rabah, director of Near East Consulting in the PA, told The Media Line. "They support the Fatah political process and don't think Hamas is on the right path politically."

The survey found 45 percent of Palestinians to have confidence in Abbas, while only 13 percent were found to have confidence in Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. 54 percent of Palestinians were found to perceive the Fatah-led government in Ramallah as the sole legitimate Palestinian government, 19 percent see the Hamas-led government in Gaza to be the sole legitimate Palestinian government and 27 percent believe both governments are illegitimate.

In terms of overall national interest, 49 percent of Palestinians were found to prefer Fatah's approach, 12 percent expressed support for Hamas and 38 percent did not like either party's strategy or refused to answer. The support for Fatah was a few points higher in the West Bank and a few points lower in the Gaza Strip, while support for Hamas was a few points lower in the West Bank and a few points higher in the Gaza Strip.

"It doesn't surprise me that the sentiments of the people are in this direction," Abdallah Abdallah, chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council's Political Committee, told The Media Line. "Over a year has passed since the Gaza war and still people are living in the streets. People want those responsible for this to go and I think the sentiments of the people after three or more years of this is that it's about time that those who are not capable of running the affairs of the people – go."

However, Dr. Rabah warned that Fatah's 33 percent lead over Hamas might be deceptive.

"There are two factors to keep in mind," he said. "First, from our point of view, Fatah is not as unified as Hamas. It's very pluralistic and means many things to many people."

"In addition, we found many people – some 31 percent – who said they won’t vote," Dr. Rabah added. "Ideologically these people are politically closer to Fatah, but …  their profiles tell us that they are closer to Hamas in terms of Islam and identity, so if the peace process is not going anywhere they will likely go for Hamas. If there is a sign of progress, those people will shift and vote for Fatah."

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The survey found that just over half (51 percent) of Palestinians believe President Abbas is working hard to fight corruption in the Palestinian Authority. However, the survey was taken between February 13-15, just as Abbas was faced with a sex scandal involving his Chief of Staff, Rafik Husseini. The Abbas aide was first accused of using his position to pressure women into sexual relationships. Those claims were followed this week with a leaked videotape allegedly showing Husseini soliciting sex from a prospective job applicant. Abbas has been forced to suspend Husseini and launch an investigation.

Dr. Nabil Kukali, director of the for Public Opinion, said that while Hamas was losing support, the Husseini episode might have decreased Fatah's popularity.

"Hamas is clearly losing their support, including in Gaza," he told The Media Line. "But to be honest, it's very difficult now to predict what would happen if elections were held, especially now after what happened to Mr Husseini."

"The majority of Palestinians are independent," Kukali said. "So before this episode, Fatah may have been more popular, but I'm sure it will affect Fatah's support and it will be a while before people forget about it. So I think the results will be different in a month."

Abdallah rejected the idea that the Husseini episode had hurt Fatah.

"As for the rumors or scandals, if there are individuals responsible for a mistake, they will be held accountable before the law," he said. "No one will be immune if an investigation proves any wrongdoing."

Suha Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations’ Network's steering committee, argued that the majority of Palestinian civil society was no longer allied with either of the two major Palestinian factions.

"This poll is not correct at all," she told The Media Line. "It's such a mixed picture so it's very hard to come up with an objective survey. It all depends on how you ask the questions."

"The reduction in Hamas’s popularity since the last elections is the result of the division between the Palestinians, but I believe that Fatah has also lost a lot of popularity," Barghouti said. "So the majority of people in the organizations I work with now say that they are independent, will not vote for either party, or will simply not vote. I think among the people who will vote, the support for Fatah and Hamas is equal."

Barghouti took particular issue with the data on Palestinians’ support for negotiations with in the poll, which found that 71 percent of Palestinians support a peace settlement with , and 49 percent support negotiation with over armed resistance as the best path towards reaching that settlement.

"The vast majority of Palestinians are not supportive of the continuation of negotiations," Barghouti said. "Not because they support armed resistance but because they are fed up and feel totally hopeless about the negotiations."



Ihab A-Ghusein, a spokesperson for the Hamas Interior Ministry, also took issue with the poll.

"These polls are not done by professionals and are all propaganda," he told The Media Line. "There were many polls issued before the elections in 2006 that claimed Fatah would win and look what happened."

"We don't fear the elections," A-Ghusein said. "All the Palestinians believe in the way of Hamas and resistance. I'm not saying that nobody supports Fatah, but it's not like people say."

"Fatah’s popularity has gone down over the last 4 years," he said. "Especially because of their coordination with the Israelis, political arrests and what happened with Husseini. Every day we see something that Fatah did against the Palestinians so I know that people don't support them like they did in the past."

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