Mohammad Torokman/Reuters

Support for Hamas, armed confrontation spikes after Gaza war, poll finds

Results published amid reports that Israel will not attend this month's meeting in Cairo to advance Gaza cease-fire

Support for Hamas and its armed struggle has soared among Palestinians following Israel’s 50-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, an opinion poll released on Tuesday showed.

Over 60 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip polled by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research said they would vote for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh if he were to run in presidential elections. Just 32 percent said they would vote for current President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the survey.

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The same poll, when conducted in June — before Israel’s deadly 50-day offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, found that only 41 percent of Palestinians would back Haniyeh over Abbas. 

West Bank Palestinians have criticized Abbas’ security coordination with Israel in the occupied territory as more land continues to be confiscated for settlement construction — a process deemed illegal by the United Nations. Critics argue that 20 years of peaceful negotiations with Israel under terms established by the 1993 Oslo accords have done little to end the occupation and realize a two-state solution.

The majority of Palestinians, at 72 percent, said they supported bringing Hamas’ style of armed resistance against the occupation to the West Bank, the poll said.

Hamas won the most recent Palestinian parliamentary elections in both the West Bank and Gaza in 2006, but the U.S. and Israel encouraged President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement to ignore the result and maintain their grip over all instruments of government. Tensions reached a boiing point the following year in a bloody battle for control of Gaza, that left Hamas forces in control of the territory while Fatah ruled the West Bank — while the Palestinian legislature was prevented from functioning, and the terms of office of both the parliament and President Abbas expired without elections being held. 

The swing in Palestinian popular opinion to a more hard-line position is mirrored among Israelis, with a poll taken at the end of August showing increased support for political parties that took a hawkish stance on Gaza, Israeli daily Maariv said. The majority of Israelis said in the poll that it was a mistake for the government to accept a ceasefire with Hamas.

According to the truce terms, Israel would immediately expand Gaza’s approved fishing zone to as much as six miles from shore, and continue to expand it over time. Israel also agreed to ease its seven-year blockade on Gaza and allow increased movement of people and goods through its border with the coastal enclave. In return, Hamas agreed to stop indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel.

Israeli warships fired on Gaza fisherman on Tuesday, in what Palestinian news website Maan News said was a violation of the truce. The fishermen said they had been within the agreed-upon six-nautical-mile zone. No injuries were reported.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the men had “deviated from the designated fishing zone,” after which warning shots were fired into the air, according to Maan. When asked how far out the fishermen were, the spokeswoman said she did not know the exact distance but said that it was further than six nautical miles.

Further issues relating to the truce will be discussed in Cairo at the end of the month, assuming the parties do not renege on the meeting taking place. These issues include the construction of sea and air ports, the release of prisoners, and the demilitarization of Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks to his cabinet in a closed session that he would not send a delegation to Egypt, Israeli television news Channel 10 reported on Monday.

Qais Abd al-Karim, a member of the Palestinian negotiation team, told Maan that if Israel showed a lack of commitment to the terms of the cease-fire, it would be rendered null and void. He added that the Palestinian side is awaiting an Egyptian invitation and is committed to the terms of the truce. Egypt has mediated indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel throughout the latest conflict that led to the truce.

In earlier remarks, Netanyahu said that if Hamas honored the truce, indirect negotiations would begin within a month, but added that the cease-fire did not include any of Hamas’ demands.

“The Egyptian ceasefire proposal has no time limit. It includes none of Hamas’ declared conditions for ending the fighting: Hamas does not receive an airport; Hamas does not receive a seaport; Hamas does not receive the release of prisoners; and Hamas does not receive money for its payroll,” the prime minister said on Aug. 26.

Al Jazeera was unable to reach Netanyahu’s spokesman for further comment.

Netanyahu has faced harsh criticism from a large segment of the Israeli public as well as ministers from within his own cabinet for ending the assault on Gaza. Critics argued that the Israeli military did not do enough to ensure Hamas would not resume firing rockets into Israel.

A poll published by Israeli news website Haaretz found that 54 percent of respondents said there was no clear winner in the latest war. Hard-line Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman opposed ending the assault and even advocated for re-occupation of the Gaza Strip.

In response to the criticism, Netanyahu explained at a weekly cabinet meeting that Hamas lost the war, and even withdrew its conditions for a cease-fire.

“We struck Hamas very hard. The [Israeli military] killed almost 1,000 terrorists, struck at the heads of the organizations, and struck at their network of tunnels and their terrorist high-rises … At the same time, Hamas withdrew from all of its demands for a cease-fire, with neither time constraints nor other conditions.”

Officials have said that the majority of those killed, around 80 percent, in Israel’s offensive in Gaza were non-combatants, including Palestinian women and children.

With wire services

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