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Polls show soaring Palestinian support for Barghouti as Hamas, Abbas stumble

New polling of Palestinian adults suggests that Hamas has been more popular than Fatah in the West Bank, while Fatah is more popular than Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Polls show soaring Palestinian support for Barghouti

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Three Palestinian public opinion polls conducted in May 2024 and published in recent weeks showed sustained support for Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza and a slight improvement in support for Fatah. Notably, since the Oct. 7 attack and subsequent war, Hamas has been more popular than Fatah in the West Bank, while Fatah is more popular than Hamas in the Gaza Strip. 

The poll carried out by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between May 26 and June 1, 2024, which surveyed 1,570 adults, showed that “while support for Hamas over the past three months has increased by 6 percentage points and support for Fatah has risen by 3 percentage points across both the West Bank and Gaza over that period, more Gazans now believe that Hamas will not be the ruling power in the future.” 

Significant differences appeared between Palestinians surveyed in the West Bank and Gaza. “Only 46% of Gazans expect that Hamas will actually control that area [the Gaza Strip], compared to a higher 62% in the West Bank, up from 59% in both areas three months ago," the poll found when asking respondents about their expectations on postwar governance of Gaza. The result, the poll noted, represented "a decrease of 3 percentage points compared to the results obtained three months ago.”

Meanwhile, a second poll conducted by the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD), an independent think tank based in Ramallah, which surveyed 1,500 adults, showed a bigger drop in Hamas support in both the West Bank and Gaza. It stated that in November 2023, overall support for the group's decision to launch the Oct. 7 attack among Palestinians surveyed was at 75%, but it had dropped to 46% by May 2024. Notably, there is a significant difference in respondents' support, with 62% in the West Bank and only 21% in Gaza supporting the attack. 

Separately, the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (JMCC) conducted the survey only in the West Bank. Ghassan Khatib, the founder and director of the center, told Al-Monitor that while their poll was unable to find a representative sample in Gaza, "all polls indicate that the war increased the popularity of Hamas and weakened the popularity of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority." Khatib described public opinion in Gaza as "an ambiguous issue," linked partly to "the difficulty of finding a random sample due to the state of displacement and instability" and to the lack of statistics on the makeup of the current population given the wartime scenario. 

The poll was conducted May 22-25 and surveyed 715 Palestinians. 

Consistent findings 

All three polls showed extremely low favorability ratings for President Mahmoud Abbas and his handpicked prime minister, Mohammad Mustafa. In the AWRAD poll, where few Palestinians were able to even name the current prime minister, satisfaction with Abbas' performance stands at 12% and dissatisfaction at 85%. About 90% want the president to resign, with that number standing at 94% and 83% for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, according to the AWRAD poll.

Meanwhile, all three polls show overwhelming support for the imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, putting him ahead of any possible opponent if he were to run to replace Abbas.

The PCPSR poll showed that in a presidential election between three candidates — incumbent President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas' Doha-based political leader Ismail Haniyeh, and Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah stalwart currently in an Israeli jail after being charged with murder during the second intifada — Barghouti wins handily. 

In a two-way competition between Barghouti and Haniyeh, the former wins 60% of the vote compared with Haniyeh's 40%. In an open-ended question (i.e., without predetermined responses), Marwan Barghouti came first, with 29% of the public mentioning his name; followed by Ismail Haniyeh (14%); exiled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan (8%); Hamas' Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar (7%); and Mustafa Barghouti (2%).

Most Palestinians in the West Bank chose the economy when asked what needs to change, while Gazans were totally concerned with the end of the war. Though both expressed support for the end of the Israeli occupation when asked about “the most vital Palestinian goal,” some 47% said the main objective should be "to end Israeli occupation in the areas occupied in 1967 and build a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital." Meanwhile, 31% of those surveyed agreed that the priority of the Palestinian movement "should be to obtain the right of return of refugees to their 1948 towns and villages."

In the JMCC poll, support for the two-state solution has gone up to 32% from a low of 25% back in September 2023.

Despite all of the above, Fatah continues to be the most popular political party among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to the AWRAD poll, which shows that it is supported by 34% of the population. Hamas, by contrast, receives the support of 23%. 

Consistent with matchups between figures from these different parties, a hypothetical legislative election would also be characterized by high rates of uncertainty and abstention. Overall, 36% of the electorate is undecided or would not vote in such a contest, with the rate reaching as much as 48% in the West Bank. One-fifth of voters in Gaza (19%) also say they are unsure or would not vote. These results provide further evidence of a trend observed across AWRAD’s polling since 2011, namely that voters in Gaza are more critical of Hamas, while their counterparts in the West Bank are more critical of the PA.

Commentary about the polls varied, with a sizable percentage of Palestinian leaders and opinion makers expressing skepticism and a lack of faith in wartime polls. Ahmad Buderi, a senior reporter for Al Ghad TV, an Arabic-language channel based in London, told Al-Monitor that polls during war “are not final.” Similarly, Jamal Nazzal, a Fatah spokesperson living in Europe, said that in normal times people tend to support those “resistance fighters who have guns rather than those who present a reasonable political narrative.”

Diana Buttu, a former legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team, told Al-Monitor that people are looking for an alternative. “In the West Bank people are not happy with Abu Mazen [President Abbas] for not doing enough regarding the genocide in Gaza while in Gaza people are not seeing a clear path for their future.” Buttu said that Marwan Barghouti is popular “because he is among the leaders whose names are put forward regularly," emphasizing that as the possibility of his release in a prisoner swap gains attention, the longtime prisoner is gaining popularity. 

Talal Abu Afifeh, a lawyer and author from the Shuafat refugee camp, believes that Hamas has gained support because their attack against Israelis was popular among Palestinians. He believes that Barghouti is popular simply because he is in jail for the Palestinian cause.

From Nablus, Anees Sweidan, head of the PLO’s foreign relations department, told Al-Monitor that Barghouti is a member of the Fatah Central Committee and has a long history of fighting for the Palestinian cause. “All polls reflect his popularity, but he is especially popular among young people who see in him a leader that can accomplish their own national goals.”

Another reason for Barghouti’s popularity, according to Professor Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Birzeit University near Ramallah, is that he is seen as being an outsider to the current political class. “People are sick and tired of the current political factions, which they blame for the situation. People want to see change and want to get out of the predicament that they were in whether in Gaza or the West Bank.”

The JMCC poll appears to support this widespread apathy. Lack of trust in Palestinian political figures has gone up to 65.5% in the current poll. It was 59.4% back in October 2023.

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