The results were more or less predetermined, since Odwan’s page is frequented mainly by Hamas supporters, and because Abbas is perhaps the most frowned upon politician in Palestinian history. In addition to being a chief architect of the reviled Oslo Accords, under his presidency, Gaza was lost to Hamas, East Jerusalem was de facto annexed by Israel, and the West Bank Israeli settler population has nearly doubled.
However, things didn’t go as expected. Odwan’s poll surprisingly backfired. In just a few hours, over 10,000 individuals voted; 71% of them answered “yes” to re-electing Abbas instead of Hamas.
Odwan was clearly shocked, and the poll was soon removed. He accused Fatah supporters and Israeli intelligence of swarming to ruin the results. The next day, Odwan posted a new poll that was largely promoted by Hamas activists, but even then, 54% of more than 30,000 participants again voted “yes” to re-electing Abbas.
This time, Odwan deleted the poll once and for all and dismissed the results. He declared his sudden and selective disbelief in polls and discredited their legitimacy.
Had it played the other way around, of course, his attitude would have been completely different. Hamas members always praise surveys that show decreased support for the PA.
One poignant example is a widely-praised poll of 1,270 adults that was conducted the year before by The Palestinian center for Policy and Survey Research which showed that two-thirds of the Palestinian population and 80% of Gaza’s population wanted Abbas to resign and leave office.
So who is right? Does Hamas have widespread support, or do most Palestinians feel that Abbas is doing a great job?
The truth is, neither of those conclusions is likely correct.
A recent survey, conducted by the Jerusalem Media & Communications Center, a Palestinian non-governmental organization based in East Jerusalem, projected statistical findings over the last two decades, showing a sharp increase in the number of Palestinians who don’t trust Hamas, Fatah or any other Palestinian political party.
These results show what most Palestinians already know to be true: a new disenfranchised generation of Palestinians are disenchanted by both the “peace process” and “the resistance.” What remains of the dream of Palestinian statehood is governed by a rentier regime that has neither full sovereignty nor the power to govern.
The Palestinian Authority’s power is only symbolic: the Palestinians have a flag and national heroes, and the Palestinian authority issues passports, but the PA also violently polices its own people for Israel’s benefit and relies on Israel and international governments for basic utilities.
The JMCC graph begins in 1994, shortly after the Oslo peace process was first initiated. Back then, Gazans welcomed the returning Palestine Liberation Organization leadership with huge street celebrations, and their popularity stood at over 40%, nearly double what it is today. The PLO’s rise was then perceived as emancipation from both Israel and Hamas. People threw roses and flowers at Arafat and his incoming troops.
Unlike the PLO, Hamas was perceived to be obstructing and inhibiting the peace process — until the peace process failed to deliver on its promises. “Peace” began to be confined to security collaboration between Israel and the PA, with the latter bound in exclusive servitude to the former and its settler population. This arrangement is “peaceful” only to the extent that the complete tyrannical repression and subjugation of a people can be considered peace.
But to many, this faux peace was a false calm in the eye of a growing storm. In 2005, following Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, there was a marked increase in support of the warmongering Hamas and decrease in that of the “peaceful” PA. The inappropriately-implemented unilateral disengagement from Gaza boosted Hamas’s popularity. The disengagement was viewed as a result of Hamas’ armed resistance, since the PA couldn’t claim any victory in “progress” that Israel made without coordinating with the PA or with the international community.
Even today, Hamas leaders often will use the disengagement card to remind people of their fantastical narrative featuring a dichotomy between how armed-resistance set Gaza free, while negotiations destroyed the West Bank. This past Tuesday, Hamas held a parliamentary session in the former Israeli settlement in Gaza, Netzarim, where Hamas MPs took turns boasting about their alleged glory.
The other reason why Hamas’s popularity surged in 2005 is that the disengagement cut off Gaza’s entire labor force from the Israeli market. Increasing restrictions also dramatically reduced Gaza’s levels of trade and compromised its economy to a degree described by the World Bank as “the worst economic depression in modern history.” In 2005, Gazan unemployment was around 34%. Understandably, many of these Palestinians perceived the peace process as detrimental to their well-being. They opted to end the disappointments and dysfunction of the Fatah-controlled PA through elections, and brought Hamas to power in 2006.
The JMCC graph shows how during wartime, Hamas’s popularity gets a slight bump when it’s deemed the brave defender of Gaza’s population from Israeli killing machines and military forces. However, these bumps are just that — they’re not long-lasting, and today support for Hamas hovers at just over 10%.
25 years into the saga of wars and repeated crises that followed Oslo, the current growing distrust of all political groups is significantly influenced by the failure of both parties to come up with any solutions, or at the very least, transcend their internal division and reconcile for the sake of their people.
The repeated failures of the reconciliation process developed a collective sense of skepticism, and the belief that neither one of the Palestinian political groups have the people’s wellbeing and interests at the heart of their agenda.
In January 2013, when Egypt was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood Movement and Gaza’s borders with Egypt were almost completely reopened, Hamas’s local government permitted its rival group Fatah to commemorate its anniversary.
Hamas activists imagined that nobody would show up for that event. To their great regret, about one million Gazans marched in the open square, most of them young politically unaffiliated Gazans.
As Former US President Bill Clinton once concluded about us, “Palestinians are the least radical in the Middle East.”
All that Palestinians need is a moment of respite and to be seen by the world as equal humans deserving of dignity and solidarity.
Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip. He was the PR officer at the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights in Gaza, and is currently a student of Development Studies at Lund University.