Don't count Abbas out, Palestinian pollster says

Dont count Abbas out, P

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has suffered a serious blow to his standing versus Hamas in recent weeks, but he should be able to recover that ground, according to a top Palestinian pollster. Recently reported surveys show Abbas having lost support to Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh, with them each now commanding about 16 percent of the Palestinian public as opposed to a month earlier when Abbas pulled twice that figure. But Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told The Jerusalem Post that despite Abbas's setback, "this is only temporary" and the PA president "can overcome it long before the elections," currently scheduled for 2010. Shikaki, who was speaking on the sidelines of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's fall conference, said that Abbas had faced similar challenges to his popularity - notably during the IDF's campaign against Hamas in Gaza last winter - and still rebounded. Earlier this month, Abbas gave in to US pressure to delay by six months the consideration of the Goldstone Report, alleging Israeli war crimes in the Gaza war, before the UN. The move, which Shikaki termed "a fundamental mistake" by Abbas, triggered furious Palestinian criticism and calls for him to resign. However, Shikaki said that Abbas's reversal on the issue, which included pushing for a special UN session on the report, should reduce the popular anger. He added that Abbas would be aided by the new configuration of the Fatah party, following a recent congress in Bethlehem that gives him added legitimacy as its leader. While Shikaki didn't conduct the recent polls registering Abbas's loss of support - which he said could even be lower than Haniyeh's at this point - his estimation of popular attitudes meshed with a recent survey conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center. "If this had happened before the Fatah Congress, he would be in deep trouble," Shikaki said of Abbas's handling of the Goldstone Report. Now, though, "Fatah is a lot more united and strongly behind him."