A large majority of Palestinians believe that the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, won its 50-day war with Israel, a new Palestinian public opinion poll said Tuesday.
The poll, conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, found overwhelming support for Hamas and its leadership, and far less approval for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party.
The poll results may seem incongruous, given the seemingly lopsided nature of the war.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed, compared with at least 70 Israelis, most of them soldiers. Israeli bombardments caused massive destruction in Gaza, reducing many areas of the densely populated enclave to rubble. Israel sustained far less damage from Hamas’ rockets, many of which were intercepted by its Iron Dome defense system.
But from the Palestinian point of view, Hamas’ ability to stand up to Israeli’s vaunted military for 50 days, something no Arab country has ever been able to do, was a victory in itself, especially when the conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a surrender. They took satisfaction in Hamas’ ability to continue firing missiles at major Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, disrupting life in Israel and at times closing down its international airport, and inflicting significant casualties among Israeli soldiers.
As a result, according to the poll, 79% of respondents said that Hamas had won the Gaza war, while only 3% believe Israel did. Some 17% said both sides were losers.
In addition, nearly eight in 10 Palestinians blame Israel for the breakout of the war while only 5% believe Hamas was responsible.
The war began July 8 and ended with an open-ended cease-fire Aug. 26.
Negotiations are still planned in Cairo over outstanding issues not covered in the cease-fire agreement, including ending the years-long Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, and details of the reconstruction process.
According to the poll, overall support for Hamas was a striking 88%; the Palestinian Authority lagged far behind at 36%. In spite of the heavy cost of the war on the Palestinians, 94% of the respondents said they were satisfied with Hamas’ military performance and 78% were satisfied with its defense of civilians in Gaza.
“It is worth noting that the size of the change in favor of Hamas is unprecedented since 2006,” said the pollsters in a statement accompanying the poll results.
Hamas swept Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, ousting Fatah from power for the first time in decades.
The poll was conducted Aug. 26-30, and relied on in-person interviews with 1,270 adults in 127 randomly selected locations in the West Bank and Gaza. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Worried that Hamas’ popularity after the war may undermine his authority in the West Bank, Abbas was quoted in the minutes of a meeting he recently held in Qatar with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and other top Hamas figures as expressing strong doubt about the intentions of Hamas during and after the war.
According to the minutes, published by Arab news media, Abbas accused Meshaal and Hamas of plotting to overthrow his government in the West Bank by starting an uprising after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June, which resulted in a strong Israeli backlash in the West Bank and the eventual outbreak of the war on Gaza.
The PSR poll found strong support for the kidnapping, with a majority even expressing satisfaction that the three teens had been killed by their abductors.
Abbas sent his two top negotiators to Washington on Tuesday to meet with Secretary of State John F. Kerry in an effort to restart the stalled peace process with Israel based on a two-state solution.
According to Jamal Muheisen, member of Fatah Central Council, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and intelligence chief Majed Faraj were carrying an initiative that proposes a ceiling to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to establish the Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
If the initiative fails — and Israel has said that the status of Jerusalem is non-negotiable — Muheisen said Abbas intends to seek a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
However, with the U.S. expected to veto such a resolution, Abbas would then seek membership in hundreds of international organizations and treaties, including the International Criminal Court, hoping that this would strengthen his bid to win independence and sovereignty.
Abukhater is special correspondent.