THE LEVANT – The popularity of the Hamas militant 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 released Tuesday.
The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and headed by leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, indicates that 61 percent of Palestinians would choose the Islamic militant group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, for president if Palestinian presidential elections were held today.
Only 32 percent would vote for current President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ rival, the survey suggested.
The support for Haniyeh marks a stark increase from a poll in June, conducted by the same pollster, which found only 41 percent of Palestinians backed the Hamas figure. At the time, Abbas had 53 percent support.
The poll also suggests a majority of Palestinians – 72 percent – support adopting Hamas’ armed approach in the West Bank.
The research center 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 Aug. 26, and continued during the first four days of the cease-fire, the research center said.
The poll said 79 percent of respondents believe Hamas won the war, and 86 percent support the renewal of rocket fire on Israel if a blockade on Gaza is not lifted, one of Hamas’ main demands.
But 25 percent 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 percent.
Also Tuesday, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid criticized 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. Lapid said such moves create “redundant arguments with the United States and the world” and criticized the timing of the announcement following the Gaza war. Israel’s Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, also criticized the move this week.
Other leading Israeli Cabinet ministers have criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct in the recently concluded war, with many saying he did not go far enough to neutralize Hamas’s fighting ability.
The land announcement drew strong criticism from around the world, with the U.S., EU, Ireland, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – which represents 57 Muslim countries – and others condemning it.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Tuesday said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about the land declaration.
“We are also very concerned by reports that new settlement and East Jerusalem construction or planning announcements may be issued at any time, including for the sensitive area of Giv’at Hamatos in East Jerusalem,” Psaki said.
“These steps are contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed,” she said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued a strong rebuke to Israel over the decision and called for it to be revised.
“The decision, should it remain, sends a wrong signal at the wrong time,” he said.
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 Netanyahu has said that he is not willing to renew peace talks with Abbas unless the Palestinian leader distances himself from Hamas militants. Hamas and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority recently agreed to a unity deal that saw the formation of a government backed by both factions.
“He has to choose,” Netanyahu told Israeli Channel Two in a weekend interview. “It’s either yes to Hamas or no to Hamas.”
Later Tuesday, the Israeli military said a Palestinian tried to run over Israeli soldiers and civilians, injuring one person, near Qalqiliya in the northern West Bank. It said soldiers opened fire on the vehicle, injuring the driver and a passenger.