The popularity of the Hamas terrorist group among Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has spiked significantly following the 50-day war with Israel, according to an opinion poll.
The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research and headed by leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, indicates that 61% of Palestinians would choose the Islamic terrorist group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, for president if Palestinian presidential elections were held today.
Only 32% would vote for current President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ rival, the survey suggested.
The support for Mr Haniyeh marks a stark increase from a poll in June, conducted by the same pollster, which found only 41% of Palestinians backed the Hamas figure. At the time, Mr Abbas had 53% support.
The poll also suggests a majority of Palestinians – 72% – support adopting Hamas’ armed approach in the West Bank.
The research centre said it is the first time in eight years that a majority of Palestinians has voiced such support for the Hamas leader. But, it said, Hamas’ popularity might fall in coming months, as it did following previous Israel-Hamas conflicts.
Polling started on the last day of the war, on August 26, and continued during the first four days of the cease-fire, the research centre said.
The poll said 79% of respondents believe Hamas won the war, and 86% support the renewal of rocket fire on Israel if a blockade on Gaza is not lifted, one of Hamas’ main demands.
But 25% said armed groups in the Gaza Strip should give up their weapons after the blockade ends and elections are held.
The latest poll, and the poll in June, both surveyed 1,270 Palestinians and had a margin of error of 3%.
Also today, Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid criticised Israel‘s expropriation of West Bank land announced this week, calling for “a more reasoned approach” in Israeli diplomacy following Israel‘s military operation in Gaza.
The expropriation of about 1,000 acres of West Bank land could help clear the way for new Jewish settlement construction. Mr Lapid said such moves create “redundant arguments with the United States and the world” and criticised the timing of the announcement following the Gaza war. Israel‘s justice minister, Tzipi Livni, also criticised the move this week.
Other leading Israeli cabinet ministers have criticised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct in the recently concluded war, with many saying he did not go far enough to neutralise Hamas’s fighting ability.
Mr Netanyahu has spoken vaguely about a new “diplomatic horizon” that has emerged following the 50-day Israel-Hamas war.
He has given few details on what he means, but the prime minister has said that he is not willing to renew peace talks with Mr Abbas, saying the Palestinian leader will have to first distance himself from Hamas militants.
Hamas and Mr Abbas’ Palestinian Authority recently agreed to a unity deal that saw the formation of a government backed by both factions.
“He has to choose,” Mr Netanyahu told Israeli Channel Two in a weekend interview. “It’s either yes to Hamas or no to Hamas.”