The Decline of Hamas?

A recent poll by Stan Greenberg has revealed that support for Hamas is relatively low in both Gaza and the West Bank. Within Gaza, 42% of respondents indicated that they disapproved strongly while a further 16% said that they disapprove of Hamas. In the West Bank, attitudes towards Hamas were somewhat less extreme, with only 16% of respondents stating that they strongly disapprove of Hamas and 41% saying that they disapproved.

The general interpretation tends to be that Hamas has lost popularity due to its record in office. After all, campaigning is much different than governing. Hamas won support in the 2006 election largely due to Fatah’s corruption and its rejection of the peace process. However, the outcome of Hamas’ rule in Gaza have lessened the popularity of these positions. Most important, the devastation of the Israeli attack on Gaza demonstrated the drawbacks of Hamas’ approach towards the peace process. Continued war and destruction is not the desired outcome for most ordinary Palestinians. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that Hamas has been involved in corruption itself, especially in the aftermath of the conflict in Gaza. For example, Hamas forces seized UN food aid in order to oversee its preferential distribution to its supporters. Somewhat weakened on these two issues, it is unclear how well Hamas would fare in a future election.

This interpretation, however, is overly simplistic. Even while in opposition, according to a poll done by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, support for Hamas was considerably lower than Fatah in late 2005. In fact, support was at that time was very similar to what Greenberg’s poll revealed. Shortly before the 2006 election, stated support for Hamas stood at 27.7% while stated support for Fatah was 45.0%. In the recent poll, Greenberg found that support for Hamas was 28% while support for Fatah was 45%.While elections are not likely at least until after a unity government is formed, Hamas finds itself at a familiar disadvantage that it was able to overcome in the last election when it won 44.5% of the vote. This time, however, Hamas has its own record in power to defend which makes it uncertain if it could overcome a similar deficit once again. Nevertheless, given the similarity between the numbers, it would be a mistake to assume that Hamas is down for the count.



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