“Lies, damned lies and polls,” goes the old chestnut. But regardless of what you think of political polling, the results often bring about an instinctive, chin-rubbing reaction. That was my response when I read a new poll on Palestinian public opinion, sponsored by the nonpartisan Terror Free Tomorrow that concludes that the recent Palestinian elections were more a vote for Hamas than a vote against Fatah.
The poll results are especially significant in light of today’s confidence vote on the new Hamas-dominated government by the Palestinian Legislative Council–which will be followed on Tuesday by Israel’s general elections, and a near-certain Kadima victory. Israel says it won’t do business with any Hamas-led Palestinian government unless the group gives up its militancy and recognizes Israeli statehood. If the new poll is correct, those changes may not come anytime soon–if ever.
In the aftermath of Hamas’s stunning victory in the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections, conventional wisdom held that Hamas outpaced Fatah due to Fatah’s inability to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian people. In other words, votes weren’t cast for Hamas and its radical/terrorist agenda (e.g., suicide bombing attacks or destroying Israel), rather it was more a vote against Fatah’s years of failed leadership. This sort of voter behavior in open elections–namely “We want anyone but the current leadership”–isn’t uncommon. Moreover, many pundits and Middle East analysts seemed comfortable with the conclusion that the elections were more about Fatah than Hamas.
This conclusion isn’t necessarily so. Terror Free Tomorrow’s mid-February poll seems to take issue with this widely accepted assumption–or at least part of it. The poll infers that it wasn’t just dissatisfaction with Fatah that led to Hamas’s victory. According the poll: “popular support for Hamas’s radical views is overwhelming among Hamas voters themselves.”
“The poll found that the Palestinian people as a whole are almost evenly divided on whether Hamas should retain its aim of the elimination of Israel or pursue peace based on a two-state solution. Nearly half agree with the Hamas Charter calling for the complete elimination of Israel, while a little more than half favor peace based on a two-state solution,” according to Terror Free Tomorrow’s press release on their findings.
Some of the polls other findings are equally shaking:
‐Almost 75 percent of Hamas voters agree with the Hamas Charter calling for the elimination of Israel, while only 25 percent favor peace and recognition of the Jewish state;
‐Among Fatah voters, the numbers are just the opposite, with Fatah voters favoring peace and Israeli recognition by over 75 percent;
‐Similarly, Hamas voters are against changing any part of the Charter, including the elimination of Israel by jihad, by a 3 to 1 margin. Similarly, by 3 to 1 spread, Fatah voters would change the Charter.
If the survey is accurate, it would seem there is strong agreement with Hamas’s radical Islamic agenda among its supporters, leaving the group no motivation at all to moderate its political platform, as some have speculated it would. It goes without saying that if Hamas keeps the reins of power, it doesn’t bode well for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace. Iran and Syria’s support and meddling won’t help the situation, either.
It’s also curious that, according to the poll, among all Palestinians–even Hamas voters–there is a strong desire for more American engagement. In fact, nearly 50 percent of Hamas supporters want more U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process, while almost three quarters of Fatah voters feel that way. This despite the fact that Palestinians widely believe the U.S. is anti-Islam.
Sure, we all know that political polls have their shortcomings. They can employ leading questions and often use a statistically limited sampling, giving only a political snap shot of prevailing public opinion. Moreover, their real value may be more in showing trends in public opinion than detailing general public opinion itself.
Nevertheless, polls, especially ones that go against the grain of conventional wisdom, are worth considering. And as we wrestle to formulate policies for dealing with a Hamas-led Palestinian government, which is scheduled to be sworn-in on Wednesday, this new Terror Free Tomorrow poll should at least be given a once over.
–Peter Brookes is senior fellow for national-security affairs and director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation. He is author of A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States.