OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: The popularity of Hamas among Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has spiked significantly following the 50-day war with Israel, according to an opinion poll released Tuesday.
The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and headed by leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, indicates that 61 percent of Palestinians would choose the group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, for president if presidential elections were held today.
Only 32 percent would vote for current President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ rival, the survey suggested.
The support for Haniyeh marks a stark increase from a poll in June, conducted by the same pollster, which found only 41 percent of Palestinians backed the Hamas figure. At the time, Abbas had 53 percent support.
The poll also suggests a majority of Palestinians – 72 percent – support adopting Hamas’ armed approach in the West Bank.
The research center said it was the first time in eight years that a majority of Palestinians voiced such support for the Hamas leader. But, it said, Hamas’ popularity might fall in coming months, as it did following previous Israel-Hamas conflicts.
Polling started on the last day of the war, on Aug. 26, and continued during the first four days of the cease-fire, the center said.
The poll said 79 percent of respondents believe Hamas won the war, and 86 percent support the renewal of rocket fire on Israel if a blockade on Gaza is not lifted, one of Hamas’ main demands.
But 25 percent said armed groups in the Gaza Strip should give up their weapons after the blockade ends and elections are held.
The latest poll, and the poll in June, both surveyed 1,270 and had a margin of error of 3 percent.
Also Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that the direct cost of the 50-day military offensive in the Gaza Strip was more than $2.5 billion.
He estimated that Palestinian militant groups’ collective arsenal of rockets dropped from around 10,000 to 2,000 during the conflict.
And Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid criticized Israel’s expropriation of West Bank land announced this week, calling for “a more reasoned approach” in Israeli diplomacy following the Gaza offensive.
The expropriation of about 1,000 acres of West Bank land could help clear the way for new Jewish settlement construction.
Other leading ministers have criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct in the war, with many saying he did not go far enough to neutralize Hamas’s fighting ability.
The land announcement drew strong criticism from around the world, with the U.S., EU, Ireland, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – which represents 57 Muslim countries – and others condemning it.
“We call on the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that echoed comments by an unnamed U.S. official Sunday.
“These steps are contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed,” she said.