Foreign Policy Blogs

What Gazans Want


Credit: “Gaza Strip map” by Lencer

As the war between Israel and Hamas nears the two-week mark, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) released the results of a very relevant poll. A survey of Palestinians conducted from June 15 to June 17 found that 70 percent of Gaza respondents agreed that Hamas should maintain a cease-fire with Israel both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Additionally, 57 percent of Gazans think Hamas should accept Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration that the Palestinian unity government recognizes Israel and accepts all previous international agreements.

The poll also found that 73 percent of Palestinians think that nonviolent resistance to Israel will have a positive impact and that 88 percent of Gazans support the Palestinian Authority sending officials to Gaza to take control of the territory.

In tandem with these results, the survey showed that Hamas political leaders have scant support among the Palestinian public. If presidential elections had been held in Gaza at the time of the survey, only 11.7% of Gazans would have voted for Ismael Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas in that territory, and only three percent would have voted for Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ exiled leader. Conversely, it found that a plurality of Gazans, 32.4 percent, would vote for Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. Muhammad Dahlan, the former Fatah official, came in second place with 20.2 percent. Haniyeh was the distant third choice.

The sample of Gazan residents was 450 with a margin of error of four percent.

The survey dovetailed with a Pew Research Center poll conducted in April and May that found 63 percent of Gazans have an unfavorable view of Hamas.

These statistics help shine light on one of the reasons Hamas recently agreed to a unity government with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. They knew their popularity in the Gaza Strip had dwindled to a dangerous level. Abbas was their lifeline.

Yet the attitudes of Gazans may have shifted — at least for now. Writing for the Middle East Eye, a website that covers events in the Middle East, Mohammed Omer reported on June 19 that Gazans are steadfast in their support of Hamas’s fight against Israel. “We have to make a choice — either they finish us or we finish them [Israel],” a 66-year old woman, Amnah Odah, told Omer. “People here are supporting the Resistance, which is obvious in all areas, despite our suffering,” Omer quoted a 45-year old father of four, Mohammed Joudeh.

Could this be a turning point? When this war is over, will a majority of Gazans support Hamas? Recent history says no. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research has shown in multiple polls conducted both before and after the Israel-Hamas war of 2008-09 and the mini-war in 2012 that any post-war increase in support for Hamas is short-lived. Instead, support for Hamas or Fatah fluctuated more because of internal, domestic issues. There is not much evidence that suggests this time will be any different.





Justin Scott Finkelstein

Justin Finkelstein recently received a Master's degree from New York University in Near Eastern Studies. He has spent most of his academic career and thereafter studying the Arab-Israeli conflict. His Master's thesis explored and analyzed the competing histories of the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem (1947-1949) and the potential for its solution.

He is currently a Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia. He has traveled to both Israel and Morocco and has attended the Middlebury Arabic School program.