A poll was conducted between November 22 to December 2 of Palestinian attitudes in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel as a consequence of the Hamas-Israel War. The survey was taken by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, or PSR, and led by the respected Dr. Khalil Shikaki. The survey interviewed 1,231 people in the West Bank and Gaza (with an error margin of 4 percentage points). In Gaza, poll workers conducted 481 in-person interviews during the pause in fighting.
Dr. Shikaki spoke this week with the Vice President of Policy for J Street, Dr. Debra Shushan, and reported that attitudes of Palestinians in Gaza are at times very different from West Bank Palestinians, and both are different from attitudes of Israeli-Palestinian citizens.
The following are highlights of that conversation:
- Before October 7, Hamas never had a majority approval of Palestinians living in Gaza, and there was never majority support for a war with Israel. At the same time, 44% in the West Bank said they supported Hamas after the war began, up from just 12% in September. In Gaza, Hamas enjoyed 42% support, up slightly from 38% three months ago;
- Support for armed struggle against Israel totaled 35% of Palestinians during the term of the former Israeli government led by Prime Ministers Bennett and Lapid and rose to 53% for armed struggle against Israel during the current extremist government of Bibi Netanyahu;
- Despite the devastation of the war, 57% of Palestinian respondents in Gaza and 82% in the West Bank believe that Hamas was correct in launching the October attack. After October 7, Palestinians living in the West Bank increased their support of Hamas for two reasons: 1. the survey took place during the pause in which negotiations lead to the release of about 300 West Bank Palestinian prisoners to their West Bank Palestinian families; and 2. there is an overwhelming lack of support for the Palestinian Authority and PA President Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank;
- In response to the question whether Palestinians supported the Hamas massacre, rape and kidnapping of Israeli civilians on October 7 and whether Palestinians regarded the attack as war crimes, 80% of Palestinians recognize that killing women and children are war crimes. However, only 25% of Gazans actually saw videos of the massacre and of those 25%, they were ten times more likely to say that Hamas committed war crimes than those who did not see the videos. In the West Bank, 7% saw the videos and therefore the vast majority of West Bank Palestinians did not believe Hamas even committed war crimes;
- It is common during war, Dr. Shikaki noted, that each side tends to view news that supports its own narrative of the war. Palestinians overwhelmingly watch Al Jazeera news, and some watch Al Aqsa News or Palestinian television. None of the three networks showed the videos. Though some younger Palestinians watch social media, again, they tend to avoid looking at media that undermines their narrative to give them an element of deniability. Dr. Shikaki believes that in time, however, more Palestinians will see the videos of the massacres and their attitudes towards Hamas likely will change accordingly. While Israeli media coverage has focused intensely on the attack on October 7, Palestinian news has fixated on the war in Gaza and the suffering of civilians there;
- In response to the Palestinians’ preferred future for Hamas or the Palestinian Authority, attitudes are based upon which organization the people most trust to address Palestinian needs. Trust of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is very low and trust of Hamas in Gaza is very low. Since the war began, there has been a slight rise in support for Hamas in Gaza and more so in the West Bank. 60% of West Bank Palestinians say that the Palestinian Authority should be dissolved. 88% believe that PA President Abbas should resign and the PA’s continued security coordination with Israel’s military against Hamas, Abbas’ bitter political rival, is widely unpopular;
- Attitudes depended on which of the two options Palestinians believed was most likely to bring results – violence or diplomacy. Gazans preferred violence and West Bank Palestinians preferred diplomacy. West Bank Palestinians preferred also a national unity government of technocrats including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority with elections held within a year after the end of the war;
- When asked who is most likely a unifying Palestinian leader, the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank named Marwan Barghouti, the jailed Fatah and Tanzim leader who is serving in an Israeli prison 5 life sentences for the deaths of Israelis during the 2nd Intifada between 2000 and 2005;
- 66% of Palestinians preferred the leadership of a secular nationalist leader (i.e. Barghouti) and 33% preferred an Islamist (i.e. Nasrallah). Barghouti is preferred because he is regarded as incorruptible, a democrat, of the Palestinian mainstream with a nationalist agenda that includes a two-state solution with the Palestinian capital in Jerusalem and the border between Israel and Palestine based on the 1949 armistice lines. Palestinians regard Barghouti as supporting both the diplomatic and violent approach. In a two-way presidential race, Ismail Haniyeh, the exiled political leader of Hamas, would trounce Abbas while in a three-way race, Barghouti would be ahead just slightly;
- The poll showed that only 15% of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza trust Israel, similar to the numbers of Israelis that trust the Palestinians. However, Israeli-Palestinian citizens trust both sides by large margins. Palestinians trust Russia and China far more than they trust the United States, Germany, France, and the UK, and they trust Qatar most of all (note: Al Jazeera is based in Qatar). Palestinian regard for Iran and Hezbollah has increased during the war.
Conclusions: This survey is a snapshot of current Palestinian attitudes in three arenas – Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. Attitudes taken in the midst of this war can change dramatically once the fighting ends and more is known among Palestinians about what Hamas terrorists did on October 7 in southern Israel. Attitudes will also dramatically be affected the day after the war ends and it is determined what plans are made to govern over Gaza and the West Bank. Attitudes will be affected also by whether the current Israeli government of Netanyahu and his extremist ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich will continue to rule or not.