Poll shows Palestinians now favor Hamas over Fatah

From the Los Angeles Times

Poll shows Palestinians now favor Hamas over Fatah

The militant group, which opposes peace talks and Israel, has reversed a two-year decline in popularity.

By Richard Boudreaux
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

March 18, 2008

JERUSALEM — During three months of foundering peace talks overshadowed by violence, the U.S.-backed Palestinian leadership in the West Bank has lost popular support and is now viewed as less legitimate than the Islamist government of rival group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, according to a poll released Monday.

The survey is the latest sign that the Bush administration’s effort to shore up secular Palestinian leaders and isolate Hamas is failing. That effort, part of a strategy to stabilize the Middle East through an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, includes diplomatic support and promises of economic aid to the West Bank.

Polling data collected in the West Bank and Gaza this month show that Hamas, which rejects peace talks and continues to fight Israel, has gained sharply in popularity since December, reversing a two-year decline.

The poll was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, an independent think tank the administration has cited in the past to make the case that its strategy in the region is working.

According to the poll, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would receive 47% of the vote if the Palestinian Authority held presidential elections today, compared with 46% for the U.S.-backed incumbent, Mahmoud Abbas.

The center’s polling in December showed Abbas defeating Haniyeh in such an election by 56% to 37%.

Haniyeh was prime minister in a power-sharing government that Abbas dissolved in June after Hamas gunmen evicted Abbas’ Fatah-led security forces from Gaza. Abbas completed the violent split by appointing a West Bank government led by former World Bank economist Salam Fayyad.

Hamas’ armed takeover in Gaza badly hurt the movement’s popularity. When pollsters asked in December which Palestinian government was the legitimate authority, 38% of the respondents said Fayyad’s and 30% said Haniyeh’s.

In this month’s poll, 34% said Haniyeh’s government was the legitimate one; 29% said it was Fayyad’s. Nearly one-fourth said both governments were illegitimate.

“This is a major shift in Hamas’ favor,” said Khalil Shikaki, head of the survey group. “Abbas and Fayyad had a six-month window of opportunity to take advantage of their support. Last summer Hamas was shunned. It had lost the ability to sell its political line. Now it’s regaining that ability, at the expense of Abbas and his team.”

Shikaki and other Palestinian analysts attributed the turnabout to several factors:

The current peace talks, launched by President Bush in November, have failed to stop Israel’s military incursions and airstrikes in Gaza. Nor have they halted the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank; eased Israel’s security checkpoints there; or made evident progress on the big issues of a final peace accord, such as the borders of an independent Palestinian state and the status of Palestinian refugees.

Meanwhile, Hamas has boldly reasserted itself. In January it demolished parts of a wall along the Gazan-Egyptian border, enabling Palestinians to leave en masse to stock up on goods made scarce by an Israeli blockade of Gaza. Later, Hamas carried out its first suicide attack in Israel in more than three years and stepped up rocket attacks on Israel during a five-day Israeli incursion early this month that left more than 120 Palestinian militants and civilians dead in Gaza.

To Palestinians, “these developments managed to present Hamas as successful in breaking the siege and as a victim of Israeli attacks,” the survey’s authors wrote. “These also presented . . . Abbas and his Fatah faction as impotent, unable to change the bitter reality in the West Bank” or end the Israeli occupation through diplomacy.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week that Israel and the Palestinians had not done “nearly enough” to meet peacemaking obligations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted Monday that Israel would continue to build Jewish homes in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians, despite Rice’s objections to the project as an obstacle to peace talks.

“Abbas’ problem is that for him, there is no other path than negotiations with Israel,” said Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank. “Israel has given him little to show for it, so he is trapped, and Palestinians feel it.”

The survey, which queried 1,270 Palestinians in the wake of the fighting early this month, showed Hamas has regained the popular support it had on the eve of winning the 2006 parliamentary elections and steadily lost after forming a government.

In a new parliamentary election, Fatah would defeat Hamas by a margin of 42% to 35%, according to the poll, but the gap is less than half what it was in December.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.




Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No (27)

With Increased Dissatisfaction with the Performance of Mahmud Abbas and with the Government of Ismail Haniyeh Seen as Having Greater Legitimacy and Better Performance
than the Government of Salam Fayyad, Hamas’s and Haniyeh’s Popularity Increase and Fateh’s and Abbas’s Decrease

13-15 March 2008

These are the results of the latest poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between 13 and 15 March
2008. This period witnessed a limited lull that prevailed between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the Israeli incursion into Gaza in early March that left more than 130 Palestinians dead and after the bombing attack in West Jerusalem that led to the death of 8 Israeli religious students. Total size of the sample is 1270 adults interviewed face to face in 127 randomly selected locations. Margin of error is 3%. For further details, contact PSR director, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, or Walid Ladadweh at tel 02-296 4933 or email

Main Findings:

Findings indicate that a major shift, in Hamas’s favor, had occurred during the last three months with about 10% of the population shifting their attitudes and perceptions. The change included increased popularity of Hamas and its leadership, increased support for its
positions and legitimacy, and greater satisfaction with its performance. These changes might have been the result of several political developments starting with the breaching of the Rafah border with Egypt during the last week of January and first week of February, followed by the Israeli military incursion into the Gaza Strip leading to a large number of Palestinian causalities and an increase in the number of rockets launched from the Gaza
Strip against Israeli towns such as Sderot and Ashkelon, the two suicide attacks in Dimona and Jerusalem leading to the death of nine Israelis, and ending with the failure of the Annapolis process in positively affecting daily life of Palestinians in the West Bank, in stopping Israeli settlement activities, or in producing progress in final status negotiations. These developments managed to present Hamas as successful in breaking the siege and as a victim of Israeli attacks. These also presented Palestinian President Abbas and his Fateh faction as impotent, unable to change the bitter reality in the West Bank or ending
Israeli occupation through diplomacy.

The gap between the standing of Fateh compared to the standing of Hamas decreases significantly in three months from 18 percentage points to 7. If new parliamentary elections were to take place today, Hamas would receive 35%, Fateh 42%, other electoral lists combined 12%, and 11% remain undecided. This represents a significant increase in Hamas’s popularity compared to December 2007 when it received 31% compared to 49% to Fateh, 10% to other lists and 11% undecided. Hamas’s popularity increased to 34% during the breaching of the Rafah border with Egypt during the last week of January while Fateh’s popularity dropped to 46%. Hamas is more popular in the Gaza Strip reaching 40% compared to 31% in the West Bank. Fateh’s popularity is slightly greater in the Gaza Strip,
reaching 43% compared to 41% in the West Bank.

The gap between the standing of Abbas compared to the standing of Haniyeh decreases significantly in three months from 19 percentage points to almost zero. If new presidential elections were to take place today, Mahmud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh would receive almost equal number of votes, 46% for Abbas and 47% for Haniyeh. Abbas’s popularity stood at 56% and Haniyeh’s at 37% last December. During the breaching of the Rafah border with Egypt, Abbas’s popularity dropped to 51% and Haniyeh’s increased to 43%. Haniyeh’s popularity today is the highest ever registered since Hamas’s electoral victory in
January 2006. However, if the competition was between Marwan Barghouti and Haniyeh, the former would receive 57% and the latter 38%. Moreover, the percentage of non-participation would decrease from 34% (if the competition was between Abbas and Haniyeh) to 24% (if the competition was between Barghouti and Haniyeh).

Findings show continued decrease in the level of satisfaction with the performance of Abbas and a greater positive evaluation for the performance of Haniyeh’s government over the performance of Fayyad’s government. Satisfaction with the performance of Abbas stands today at 41% and dissatisfaction at 56%. Satisfaction with Abbas’s performance stood at 50% last December and 46% during the breaching of the Rafah border with Egypt. Moreover, only 30% say that the performance of the Fayyad government is good or very good and 42% say it is bad or very bad. By contrast, 39% say the performance of the Haniyeh’s government is good or very good and only 34% say it is bad or very bad.

Findings show depreciation in the legitimacy of Fayyad’s government and a significant rise in public perception of the legitimacy of Haniyeh’s government. 49% say Haniyeh should stay in office as Prime Minister while 45% say he should not. Last September only 40% said Haniyeh should stay as prime minister. By contrast, today only 38% say Fayyad’s government should stay in office and 55% say it should not. Support for Fayyad’s government stood at 49% last September. Similarly, 34% say Haniyeh’s government is the legitimate Palestinian government and only 29% say Fayyad’s government is the legitimate one. 9% say both governments are legitimate and 24% say both are illegitimate. It is noticeable that Haniyeh’s government receives greater public legitimacy both in the West Bank (32% to Haniyeh’s compared to 26% to Fayyad’s) and the Gaza Strip (37% to Haniyeh’s compared to 34% to Fayyad’s). It is also worth mentioning that this is the first time that Haniyeh’s government has received greater public legitimacy than Fayyad’s. Last December, belief that Fayyad’s government was legitimate stood at 38% and belief that Haniyeh’s government was legitimate stood at 30%.

Despite the fact that the majority continues to reject Hamas’s June 2007 violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, only a small minority believes that Hamas alone is responsible for the continued political split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Rejection of Hamas’s violent takeover stands today at 68% and acceptance of the takeover at 26%. Rejection of the takeover stood at 73% last September. Acceptance of Hamas’s takeover increases in the Gaza Strip reaching 33% compared to 23% in the West Bank. However, only 17% believe that Hamas alone is responsible for the continued split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and in fact 21% say Fateh alone is responsible for the continued split. A majority of 54% believes that both Hamas and Fateh are responsible for the continued split. The tendency to avoid blaming Hamas alone for the continuation of the split reflects a change in public perception regarding the positions of the two factions regarding return to dialogue as an exit from the current crisis. Support for Fateh’s and Abbas’s position, which demands a return to the status quo ante as a precondition to dialogue drops from 46% last September to 39% in this poll. Support for Hamas’s position, which calls for
unconditional dialogue, increases from 27% to 37% during the same period.

Perception of personal and family security and safety diminishes considerably in the West Bank declining from 44% last December to 32% in this poll. Perception of security and safety improved greatly in the West Bank in December 2007 compared to September when it stood at 35%. In the Gaza Strip, perceptions of personal and family security and safety diminish somewhat from 52% to 46% between December 2007 and March 2008.

This PSR survey was conducted with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Ramallah


1 Response to “Poll shows Palestinians now favor Hamas over Fatah”

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