Hamas ain’t too poupular wit da people

02.18.10

The Palestinian people, anyway. This according to a new poll conducted by Ramallah-based Near East Consulting that surveyed 880 Palestinians. Overall support for Fatah is at 48%, while Hamas is down to 11% support:

“There is widespread support for Fatah,” Dr. Jamil Rabah, director of Near East Consulting in the PA, told The Media Line. “They support the Fatah political process and don’t think Hamas is on the right path politically.” 

[ . . . ]

“It doesn’t surprise me that the sentiments of the people are in this direction,” Abdallah Abdallah, chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s Political Committee, told The Media Line. “Over a year has passed since the Gaza war and still people are living in the streets. People want those responsible for this to go and I think the sentiments of the people after three or more years of this is that it’s about time that those who are not capable of running the affairs of the people – go.”

Hamas swept to power in Gaza first by exploiting people’s frustration with the corruption of the Fatah administration, and then through a violent show of force. Popular support for suicide bombings and attacks on Israeli civilians was high, and Hamas was able to claim to the world (though maybe not with an altogether straight face) that it was a “legitimate” political party. Now, after promising to “crush” Israel and succeeding in doing little more than crushing Gaza, it seems that the Hamas option has lost its shiny lustre to a lot of disillusioned Palestinians.

But it would be a mistake to take this polling data at face value. People vote out of ideology, sure, but also out of self-interest. And in the Palestinian territories, where hatred is a powerful weapon that can be stirred up almost at will to redirect people’s frustration, these things can shift quickly. There will be those who will back the strongest horse, those who go looking for the options that are even more extremist than Hamas, and those who will get disgusted with voting altogether in a place where democracy doesn’t exactly have deep roots.

We’ve seen this before. Support for a political approach rises among Palestinians when there appears to be no threat of any progress actually being made. The minute this threat arises – whether at Camp David in 2000, or after Oslo or Wye – the people balk and something triggers another wave of violence. And if it’s not Hamas out in front, then support will go towards whoever is shouting the loudest, shooting the most, and inspiring the most fear.

And what the poll won’t tell you is that the bigger picture in the Middle East is also a factor – maybe the factor. As Iran battles Saudi Arabia for regional dominance, Hamas is engaged in something of a proxy war against Iran-sponsored Hezbollah, jockeying for power using the gruesome metric of dead Israeli civilians as credentials.

But, for the moment at least, Hamas’s popular support is way down. And if the Palestinians actually had real elections, this might actually have implications.

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