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June Violence in Gaza Weakens Hamas in the West Bank, Increases Support for Early    Elections
In mid-June, during and immediately after Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) conducted one of its regular public opinion polls in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The poll addressed the issues of the infighting, early elections, dissolution of the PA, confederation with Jordan, the American security plan proposed in May, and various facets of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The sample size was 1,270 adults, 830 in the West Bank and 440 in the Gaza Strip, interviewed face to face in 127 randomly selected locations. The margin of error was 3%.

The survey results show that the recent infighting has angered most Palestinians and has led to a loss of confidence in the leadership and most of the security services. They also show that while there is clear support for the American security plan and for holding early parliamentary and presidential elections, the public is split over other alternatives, such as the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and replacing it with an international trusteeship or the establishment of a confederation with Jordan. Findings show that more than 40% support alternatives to the status quo, such as the dissolution of the PA and its replacement with an international trusteeship or return to Israeli occupation. A similar percentage supports a confederation with Jordan, either now or after the establishment of a Palestinian state. Findings also show that Hamas has lost some of its popularity in light of the events in the Gaza Strip, but Fateh's popularity has not benefited from those same events.

Pessimism characterizes the public's assessment of domestic developments, with a majority describing infighting and lawlessness as the most immediate and dangerous threat to Palestinians. The Israeli occupation came third on the list of threats. A relatively large percentage expressed a desire to emigrate abroad. Similarly, a relatively large percentage said it was not proud of being Palestinian.

Despite the continued support for the peace process and the two-state solution, the poll shows a high level of pessimism regarding prospects for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the next five years. Pessimism also prevails regarding the chances of reaching a compromise agreement with the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Nonetheless, a large percentage expressed support for the American security plan after being told of its main components: The Palestinians ending terrorism, the launching of rockets against Israel, arms smuggling and lawlessness; and the Israelis opening international crossings, linking the West Bank with Gaza and removing checkpoints in the West Bank.

Early Elections and Domestic Balance of Power

Findings show that three-quarters of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip support early parliamentary and presidential elections, while 22% oppose it. The high level of support indicates the public's conviction that the split caused by the Gaza events might deepen with time, leading to a permanent separation between the two geographically separated entities. Support for early elections might reflect the public's desire not only to reject violence as a means to solve domestic problems but also to reunify the PA in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The attitudes of Gazans do not differ from those of West Bankers regarding early elections. In fact, support for early elections is slightly higher in the Gaza Strip (77%) compared to the West Bank (73%). Support for early elections is more prevalent among those who define themselves as supporters of the peace process (82%) compared to those who define themselves as opposed to the peace process (47%), and among supporters of Fateh (91%) compared to supporters of Hamas (60%).

Findings show that a majority of 56% supports the declaration of emergency and the formation of an emergency government, while 38% oppose it. The relatively low level of support for the emergency declaration compared to the level of support for early elections indicates that a significant part of the public is concerned about the effects of the formation of an emergency government on the infighting and the split between Gaza and the West Bank. Concern about the emergency situation is more widespread in the Gaza Strip, where only 49% support it compared to 59% in the West Bank. Support for the declaration of emergency and for the emergency government is also higher among those who define themselves as supporters of the peace process (62%) compared to those who define themselves as opposed to the peace process (30%), and among supporters of Fateh (83%) compared to supporters of Hamas (30%).

Survey results show that if new elections were held today, support for Fateh would remain as it was three months ago (43%), while Hamas' popularity would drop to 33%. Support for Hamas stood at 37% in our last survey in March 2007. Hamas popularity has dropped particularly in the West Bank (27%) compared to three months ago, when it stood at 35%. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas' popularity remains unchanged compared to three months ago (40%). Fateh's popularity has increased slightly in the West Bank (from 41% to 43%) and has dropped slightly in the Gaza Strip (from 46% to 42%).

These findings show that the Gaza events did not have a great impact on the domestic balance of power between Fateh and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, support for Hamas has dropped while support for Fateh has increased slightly. Yet, most of those who defected from Hamas have not shifted their loyalty to Fateh and have opted instead to become "undecided." Survey results show that the undecided category has increased from 8% in our March survey to 13%. The implication is that the decrease in Hamas' popularity could be temporary and that Fateh remains unable to benefit from Hamas' mistakes. Findings also show that the other parties and factions have also failed to present themselves as an alternative to the two large factions, Fateh and Hamas. The combined strength of all other parties remains unchanged at 12% compared to three months ago.

Findings regarding a hypothetical presidential race show a decrease in the popularity of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. In a competition between Haniyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the former receives 42% support and the latter 49%. But 40% say they will not participate in such elections if the only two candidates are Haniyeh and Abbas. If the competition is between Haniyeh and Marwan Barghouthi, the non-participation rate drops to 31% and Barghouthi wins by 59% compared to 35% for Haniyeh overall. Barghouthi wins against Haniyeh both in the Gaza Strip (55% compared to 41%) and in the West Bank (62% compared to 30%).

Infighting, Performance of Public Institutions and the Future of the PA

Findings indicate that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians do not blame outside parties for the infighting. Instead, responsibility is placed equally on Fateh and Hamas. Only 9% believe Fateh and Hamas are not responsible for the infighting, and 59% blame both sides equally, while 15% believe Fateh is more responsible and 14% believe Hamas is more responsible. Moreover, a majority of 71% believes that Fateh and Hamas have not come out winners from the infighting. But in light of the reality of Hamas' control in Gaza, 18% believe it has emerged a winner, while only 4% believe Fateh is the winner.

Findings also show that the public has lost confidence in its leadership and in the majority of the security services and armed resistance groups. Satisfaction with the performance of Abbas during the infighting does not exceed 13% and dissatisfaction stands at 84%. Similarly, satisfaction with the performance of Haniyeh does not exceed 22% and dissatisfaction stands at 74%. Dissatisfaction with the overall performance of Abbas drops from 53% three months ago to 36% in this poll. Findings also show a great disappointment with the performance of the national unity government during the last three months, with 81% saying that they are dissatisfied with its performance and only 17% expressing satisfaction.

Confidence in the security services and armed groups ranges between little and moderate. Confidence in the Preventive Security services stands at 33%, General Intelligence 34%, Executive Force 35%, Presidential Guard 37%, al-Qassam Brigades 45%, the National Security forces 48%, al-Aqsa Brigades 50% and police 58%.

The worsening conditions and the lack of trust in the PA leadership and institutions are forcing people to seek alternatives. Findings show that 41% support the dissolution of the PA and 49% oppose it. The 41% who support PA dissolution include both those who want to replace it with an international trusteeship (26%) and those who want to replace it with a return to full Israeli occupation (16%). Similarly, findings show that 42% support and 52% oppose the establishment of a confederation with Jordan. The 42% who support a confederation include those who want such a confederation now - before the creation of a Palestinian state - (25%) and those who wish to have a confederation with Jordan but only after a Palestinian state is established (17%). There is equal support for a confederation now in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Support for this step is broader among residents of cities (29%) compared to residents of refugee camps (20%), among illiterates (28%) compared to holders of bachelor's degrees (22%), among those over 52 years of age (35%) compared to those between 18-22 years of age (19%), and among supporters of Fateh (28%) compared to supporters of Hamas (17%).

Other Domestic Issues

An overwhelming majority of Palestinians (90%) describes current condition as bad or very bad, while only 6% describe it as good or very good. Findings show that the most immediate and dangerous threat confronting Palestinians today is infighting and lawlessness as perceived by 56% of the public, followed by poverty and unemployment as perceived by 21%, Israeli occupation and settlements as perceived by 12%, and finally international boycott and financial sanctions as perceived by 10%. Seventy-three percent say they do not feel safe or secure in their homes, while 26% say they do. It seems that with Hamas' control over Gaza complete, more Gazans (41%) feel safe and secure than do West Bankers (18%). Findings also show that a great majority of 85% believes that corruption exists in the PA institutions and that among those 59% believe that it will increase or remain the same in the future.

Conditions described above lead 28% of Palestinians to seek immigration to other countries, while 23% say they are not proud of being Palestinians. It is worth mentioning that a little over a year ago, in May 2006, the percentage of those wishing to immigrate stood at 17% and the percentage of those not proud of being Palestinians did not exceed 2%.

Similarly, events in Gaza have affected the public's view of democracy. In this poll 41% (compared to 56% in March 2007) said that democracy is a viable system suitable for Palestine and 54% (compared to 40% last March) said that democracy is a failed system unsuitable for Palestine. Despite this negative assessment of democracy, 42% of those who said that democracy is unsuitable for Palestine said they want to maintain it despite its problems while 45% said it should be replaced with an undemocratic system.

Findings show that despite the spread of violence and calls for extremism in the Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (82%) describes acts such as kidnapping foreigners, burning Internet cafes and bombing foreign schools as criminal and deserving condemnation, while only 3% describe them as nationalistic and deserving support. Twelve percent say some of these acts are nationalistic and others are criminal.

Peace Process

The poll asked about public attitudes regarding various aspects of the peace process in order to assess the impact of the infighting on those attitudes. Findings indicate a slight decrease in support for the Saudi initiative and for the two-state solution but show support for security proposals aimed at restoring stability to Palestinian-Israeli relations. They also show a great deal of pessimism about the prospects for the creation of a Palestinian state or for reaching a compromise settlement with the Olmert government.

Support for the Saudi initiative is down to 66%, compared to 72% in our March poll. Opposition to this initiative stands at 31%. Findings also show that 36% of the public believe that Hamas supports the Saudi initiative while 41% believe it does not. Moreover, 25% believe that the Olmert government supports the initiative while 55% believe it does not. When, in an elaboration of a possible version of the Saudi initiative, we insert a proposed solution to the refugee problem based on the Clinton Parameters of 2000, i.e., a solution based on UN resolution 194 but in which return to Israel is subject to an Israeli decision, support for this version of the Saudi initiative drops to 46% and opposition increases to 49%.

Findings also show that 60%, compared to 63% last March, support a two-state solution whereby Israel is recognized as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine is recognized as the state for the Palestinian people after the establishment of a Palestinian state and the resolution of all issues of conflict, while 38% oppose it. In such an environment, 70% would support reconciliation between the two peoples.

Respondents were presented with a list of the major components of the American security plan that was presented to the parties in May 2007 and included, on the Palestinian side, putting an end to terrorism, the launching of rockets against Israel, smuggling of arms and lawlessness; and on the Israeli side, the opening of international crossings, linking the West Bank with Gaza and removal of Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank. Sixty-three percent said they support and 36% said they oppose the American security plan. Similarly, 63% supported and 34% opposed the plan presented by Abbas for a ceasefire with Israel that would start in the Gaza Strip and then be extended to the West Bank. Support for this ceasefire plan stands at 54% in the Gaza Strip and 68% in the West Bank.

Findings indicate a strong opposition to the deployment of armed international forces along the borders with Egypt and Israel in order to prevent smuggling and launching of rockets against Israel. Only 35% supported and 61% opposed this proposal. Support for the deployment of such forces is higher in the Gaza Strip at 38%, compared to 33% in the West Bank. Support also increases among supporters of Fateh (48%) compared to supporters of Hamas (18%).

Despite the support for the Saudi initiative and the two-state solution, only 26% believe that the chances are medium or high for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the next five years, while 70% believe the chances are low or nonexistent. Similarly, only 31% believe that it is possible these days to reach a compromise agreement with the Olmert government and 65% believe it is impossible.

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