Only 16 Percent of Palestinians Back Abbas, but Support for Others Even Lower

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C), joins a reading of the Koran prior to a meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee in Ramallah, August 22, 2015.Credit: Reuters

The Palestinian public has very little faith in its political leadership, the trust in the Fatah movement is higher than that for Hamas, and the great majority of Palestinians support keeping the Palestinian Authority. These are the main results of a public opinion poll released on Monday by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

Other major findings showed that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has no clear successor if he chooses not to run again, and a lack of any sympathy or support for ISIS or its sister movements, whether in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank.

The poll, conducted between August 19 and 23 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, revealed quite a number of surprises, unexpected answers, and even contradictions.

Only 16 percent of the Palestinian public said they trust Abbas, but the trust in other Palestinian leaders was even lower: Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh (12.5 percent); Marwan Barghouti of Fatah, who is serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison for murder (7.1 percent); Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal (4.2 percent); and the former leader of Fatah in Gaza Mohammed Dahlan (3.2 percent).

The lack of trust in the leadership stands out in particular in light of the high support for keeping the PA in its present format – in other words, preserving the existing political status quo: 71.7 percent of those surveyed said the PA should not be dismantled, as opposed to 23.7 percent who wanted to do away with it. This support comes despite the public’s dim view of the PA’s accomplishments.

While the trust in various Palestinian political movements is not high, it is still far higher than that for their leaders: 35.4 percent said they trust Fatah, while only 20 percent said they trust Hamas.

The survey was based on face-to-face interviews with 1,199 men and women over age 18: 749 from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and 450 from the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians’ distrust in their leaders stood out clearly when the participants were asked about how they would vote, especially if Abbas does not run in the next elections. Barghouti had the highest number of those saying they would vote for him as president, but this was just 10.5 percent of those polled. Next came Haniyeh with 9.8 percent, followed by Dahlan (5.1 percent), and then Erekat and Meshal.

In comparison, 41 percent said they would vote for Fatah in the legislative assembly elections, while 20.2 percent said they would vote for Hamas.

There was a rise in the percentage of those who support holding legislative and presidential elections, even if reconciliation between Hamas and the PA is not completed – from 34.8 percent in November, 2012 to 58.9 percent this August. In contrast, the percentage of those who support holding elections only once reconciliation is completed dropped from 60.8 percent in November, 2012 to 35.8 percent this August. In response to the question whether it is important for Palestine National Council elections to be held, 74 percent said it was important while 16.9 percent said it was not important. 

There has been a continuous but slight decline in the percentage of those who believe the two-state formula is the favored solution, with the percentage of its supporters dropping to 44 percent in August after it had been 48.3 percent in March this year and 52.4 percent in March, 2013. In contrast, the percentage of those who support a binational state rose to 21.3 percent in this poll from 16.3 percent in March this year and 23.4 percent in March 2013.

The poll clearly showed there is no sympathy for or any noteworthy presence of ISIS or Salafi movements in the Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip. The majority, 64.9 percent, said they did not sympathize with them, while only 3.8 percent said they were sympathetic.

Regarding the strength of Salafi movements in the Gaza Strip, the majority of respondents (60.3 percent) said the presence of Salafi movements in the Strip was limited and had little strength. Meanwhile, 2.8 percent said they were very strong.

Upon considering the responses to this question in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank separately, it is apparent that 53.4 percent of the West Bank and 71.8 percent of the Gaza Strip consider these movements to have little or limited strength. 

In regards to the latest reshuffle in Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s cabinet, the majority – 44.3 percent of those polled – said the step would make no difference, in comparison to 34.9 percent who said the step would serve the interests of the Palestinian people. 

It is clear from the poll that there has been a distinct setback in the level of support for and practice of boycott campaigns of Israeli products in general. The percentage of those who support the boycott of all Israeli projects dropped from 59.2 percent in March to 49.1 percent in August. Moreover, the percentage of those who support the boycott of Israeli settlement products only rose from 7.6 percent in March to 9.4 percent this August. 

In response to a question about their own practices of boycotting, the percentage of respondents who said they boycott all Israeli products dropped from 48.8 percent last March to 34.1 percent this August. 

As for the question on what should be a priority for the National Assembly, 27.4 percent clearly stated that the priority should be dealing with the cost of living, followed by 21.4 percent who said the priority should be the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip; this was followed by 20.3 percent who said it should be enforcing the law; 14.8 percent said confronting settler attacks, while 10.4 percent said education.

Another surprising answer came in response to the question: “How would you define yourself – only in one word – in terms of a particular affiliation?” The majority, 32.4 percent, answered Palestinian, 16.8 percent said Muslim, 6.8 percent said Fatah and 2.7 percent answered Hamas. 

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