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A new poll Sunday showed the Palestinian Authority's governing Fatah party capturing 50 percent of the vote in January parliamentary elections and Hamas, running in national elections for the first time, winning 32 percent.
The results suggest that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has held his ground against Hamas, despite predictions that his failure to impose law and order in Palestinian territories would hurt him in the electoral race. Hamas has been campaigning on an agenda of clean government and end to years of Fatah corruption.
A September survey by the same pollster, Khalil Shikaki, gave Fatah 47 percent and Hamas 30 percent, putting the rise reported Sunday roughly within the margin of error. The survey polled 1,316 people and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
The poll also showed 36 percent of respondents favoring jailed uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, a member of Fatah's young guard, as prime minister, compared with 20 percent for Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar and 8 percent for the current prime minister, Arafat-era holdover Ahmed Qurei.
Shikaki said these results show that "the role of the old guard is over, and we are now in a transition period for the young guard to take over the leadership."
Younger-generation Fatah activists swept the party's troubled primaries recently as voters sought an alternative to corruption-tainted leaders affiliated with longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. For years, the young blood tried to break into powerful positions but were blocked by Arafat, the Fatah founder who led the movement for 40 years. Upon Arafat's death a year ago, they began jockeying for more power, and Abbas agreed to hold primaries.
Fatah supporters told pollsters they thought the party could improve the shattered Palestinian economy and strike a peace deal with Israel. Hamas supporters think the terrorist movement will defend the rights of Palestinian refugees in negotiations with Israel, preserve law and order and fight corruption.
Fatah's popularity appeared to rise particularly in Gaza, where the poll showed the ruling party capturing 53 percent of the vote, compared with 47 percent in September. Shikaki attributed this to changed priorities in the impoverished coastal strip since Israel evacuated it in September.
"The occupation is not taking top priority any more," he said. "Improving the economy, and building institutions and fighting corruption are now taking top priority, and people believe that Fatah is better able than Hamas to improve the economy."