By Tobias Buck in Jerusalem, The Financial Times – 6 Feb 2009
Palestinian support for the Islamist Hamas movement has soared in the wake of Israel’s three-week offensive against the Gaza Strip, according to a poll released yesterday.
The survey, by the independent Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, also found that the majority of Palestinians thought the group had emerged victorious from the conflict. Almost one in two Palestinians said Hamas won the Gaza war, while less than 10 per cent said Israel had triumphed.
The finding is at striking odds with Israeli perceptions of the conflict. The government called an end to the military campaign on January 17, claiming the offensive against the Hamascontrolled Gaza Strip had achieved its goals by weakening the group, curbing rocket attacks and restoring Israel’s power of deterrence.
Yesterday’s poll found that Palestinians in the West Bank were more convinced of a Hamas victory than their counterparts in the Gaza Strip, where more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed and thousands of buildings destroyed by Israeli forces. In Gaza, 48 per cent said neither Israel nor Hamas won the war, and only 35 per cent said Hamas was the victor. In the West Bank, 53 per cent said Hamas won, while 31 per cent said neither side was victorious.
Israeli officials argue that Hamas has been severely weakened by the recent offensive, and say the group lost much of its military capability. Several Israeli leaders have also claimed that the war served to strengthen “moderate” Arab and Palestinian movements, while weakening Iranian-backed Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Lebanese Hizbollah.
However, in political terms Hamas itself appears to have benefited from the war – at the expense of the western-backed Palestinian Authority, which is headed by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party.
The JMCC poll found that if elections were held today, Hamas would win 28.6 per cent of the vote, up from 19.3 per cent last April. This would put it ahead of the rival Fatah party, which has seen its support plummet from 34 per cent last April to 27.9 per cent today.
Ghassan Khatib, the director of JMCC and a former minister in the Palestinian Authority, said: “This war has caused further radicalisation within Palestinian public opinion.”
He added that, far from weakening militant Islamist groups and their sponsors, “the war weakened and undermined to a very large extent the moderates – not only in Palestine but also in the region”.