Hamas’ popularity spikes among Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza

A survey found that if elections were held today, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would defeat PA President Mahmoud Abbas

By JULIA ALTMANN/THE MEDIA LINE
December 22, 2018 08:30
2 minute read.
Hamas’ popularity spikes among Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the West Bank May 1, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

 
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A recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found a significant jump in Hamas’ popularity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Most strikingly, the survey found that if presidential elections were held today, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas were to square off, the former would win with 49 percent of the vote (up from 45% three month ago) compared to the latter’s 42% (down from 47% three months ago).

With respect to parliamentary elections, the poll, which surveyed 1,270 Palestinians across both territories, revealed that Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah faction are nearly deadlocked with the former projected to receive 35% of the vote (down from 36% three months ago) compared to the latter’s 34% (up from 27% three months ago).

“It’s been a long-known fact that Hamas is incredibly popular in the West Bank,” former Israeli parliamentarian Dr. Einat Wilf, conveyed to The Media Line. “No elections are being held for a reason: The outcome is certain. It’s been a reigning assumption since my time in the Knesset [Israeli parliament] that Hamas will win an election, if one were to take place.

“The only thing keeping Hamas from taking over the West Bank, whether by elections or by force, is Israel,” she stressed.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom, a Senior Fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, contended to The Media Line that the rise in Hamas’ popularity is “mostly because of the failure of the government in Ramallah and a [resulting] drop in Palestinian support for Abbas, and not because of anything Hamas has done.”

This mirrors the poll’s findings, with a majority of Palestinians (53%) holding negative views of the PA. When asked to identify the party responsible for the deteriorating conditions in Gaza, respondents placed the brunt of the blame (43%) on the PA and Abbas, with whom 65% of Palestinians are dissatisfied.


“There is a myriad of reasons for this,” Brom explained, “some due to his style of leadership and quasi-authoritarian regime in the West Bank, in addition to his treatment of Gaza as PA-imposed sanctions have greatly worsened the enclave’s socio-economic situation.

“Moreover,” he continued, “Abbas’ agenda of security cooperation, dialogue and negotiations with Israel is failing, therefore the public is preferring the opposite agenda which they have in
Hamas.”

Earlier this week, thousands of Palestinians turned out in Gaza City for a rally marking the 31st anniversary of Hamas’ establishment. During a speech at the event, Haniyeh expressed a desire to forge long-elusive Palestinian unity and hold general elections within three months.

Both Dr. Wilf and Brom are, however, skeptical this will transpire. “[Haniyeh] wants to create a perception among the Palestinian public that he’s working for reconciliation because he knows it’s very popular right now,” Brom asserted.

“This is Hamas’ playbook: Play nice, say you want elections, and then when you get [a vote] you instead resort to force—you ‘cut them off at the knees,’ as the expression goes,” Dr. Wilf added.

After emerging victorious in the last Palestinian elections held in 2006, Hamas forcibly expelled Fatah from the Gaza Strip only months later in an internecine war. Since then, the parties have been at loggerheads over how to end the intra-Palestinian divide; this, despite the sides signing numerous reconciliation agreements that all have failed to materialize.

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