"Although opinion polls are as, the French proverb says, 'like perfume, to be smelled but not tasted,' they are also an indication of the public’s tendencies at the moment they are held," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
In Palestine, opinion polls are currently of special importance because they are among the few available signifiers in the absence of elections, which have not been held for ten years in the case of presidential elections, and nine years in the case of legislative elections.
The occasion for this comment arises from results of the recent survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) published on 21/9/2015. These results are interesting and warrant close consideration.
Perhaps the most important result is the drop in the president [Mahmoud Abbas/Abu Mazin] and Fateh's popularity – which is not surprising – and the rise in Hamas and [Hamas Gaza PM] Ismail Haniyeh's popularity – which is a surprise. The president's popularity fell from 47% in the previous survey to 44% in this survey, while Ismail Haniyeh's popularity rose from 46% to 49%. As for Fateh, its popularity fell from 39% to 35%, while Hamas's popularity rose after the  war from 32% to 35%, maintaining this proportion over the last two surveys. This result is interesting; for while Fateh's popularity used to rise and fall in the past, it remained higher than that of Hamas overall, even when Haniyeh's popularity surpassed 'Abbas's.
Another noteworthy result is that 65% of those polled want the president to resign, while 31% want him to remain in office. One-third of the public believes that the president's resignation as head of the PLO's Executive Committee is not real, while 23% believe that it is.
According to the survey, if presidential elections were to be held today and the main competition was between [Israeli-imprisoned Fatah leader] Marwan Barghouti and Ismail Haniyeh, Barghouti would secure 55% of the vote while Haniyeh would get 39%. Three months ago, Barghouti won 58% of the vote and Haniyeh 36%. If, however, the competition were to be between President 'Abbas, Marwan Barghouti, and Ismail Haniyeh, 'Abbas would get 24%, Barghouti 34%, and Haniyeh 36%.
According to the survey as well, if the inter-Palestinian [Fateh/Hamas] split continues this year, 56% will oppose holding presidential and legislative elections in the West Bank, and only 41% support such elections. At the same time, 62% oppose holding presidential and legislative elections in the Gaza Strip, and 36% support them.
As for armed action, 42% said that it is the most effective path towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside with Israel, while 29% say that negotiations are the most effective way to achieve that goal, and 24% say that peaceful popular resistance is the most effective path. Three months ago, only 36% said that armed action was the most effective way, while 32% said that negotiations were most effective.
Regarding the [Gaza] tahdi'a [lull or calming down] negotiations, 65% support Hamas’s indirect negotiations with Israel over a long-term truce in return for lifting the siege imposed on the Strip, while 32% oppose such negotiations. Only 48% support the two-state solution, while 51% oppose it. Three months ago, 51% supported this solution, while 48% opposed it.
Another interesting result is that 50% said that it is the PA that has the right to end security or civil coordination with Israel, while 19% said that that right belongs to the PLO and its Executive Committee. But that was expected since the PA’s role has become inflated, while that of the PLO has shrunk.
In previous polls, the president and Fateh's popularity would fall, while Hamas and Ismail Haniyeh's popularity would rise; but there was always some event that explained why that was the case. For example, after the last [summer 2014] Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip and in light of our people's legendary steadfastness under Hamas's leadership, Haniyeh's popularity rose and exceeded 'Abbas by 11 points. That was understandable; and that gap subsequently shrunk first to one point, then 'Abbas advanced over Haniyeh again.
Hamas's popularity has risen during and after Israeli aggressions on the Gaza Strip and during the period when the Muslim Brotherhood' popularity in the region was on the rise, since Hamas is seen as the Palestinian extension of that movement. But there is nothing to justify the rise in Hamas and Haniyeh's popularity in the latest poll, especially since Gaza is experiencing severe crises under Hamas's control. This manifested itself in the poll in the proportion of those wishing to emigrate from the Gaza Strip which now stands at 52%, while those wishing to emigrate from the West Bank stands at 24%. Moreover, the sense of personal security and safety in Gaza stands at 40% while that in the West Bank stands at 49%. Finally, the level of positive evaluation of the conditions in the Gaza Strip stands at 12%, while it stands at 31% in the West Bank. And to all of the above should be added the deterioration in relations between Hamas and Egypt, so much so that the Rafah crossing point is rarely, if ever, opened.
It is possible to explain these inconsistent results by reference to the confusion and muddle in the PA's performance on the West Bank, and the fact that a large section of the public holds the [Palestinian] national accord government and foreign parties to be more responsible for the Gaza Strip's conditions than Hamas.
There is no doubt that the reports of visits by foreign delegations, the meetings held by the UN and its secretary general's representatives and other Western officials, the tahdi'a negotiations and the exaggerated assessments of their chances of success – before it became clear that they are a huge illusion greatly exaggerated and promoted by both 'Abbas and Hamas, each for its own reasons – have all contributed to the rise in Hamas's popularity. For Hamas seemed to be able to bring an end to the siege and begin reconstruction, and to be drawing closer to setting up a floating port, without abandoning resistance or recognizing Israel. By way of contrast, Fateh and the president recognized Israel and abandoned resistance, but can find no solace at the negotiations table.
The outcome of the indirect [Hamas/Israel] negotiations clearly shows that Israel agrees to maintain what is already in place; i.e., a tahdi'a in return for greater facilities and an ease to the siege, with a little more added to that perhaps. And if Hamas wants even more, it will have to pay for it by halting the development of the resistance's weapons, ending the construction of tunnels, and perhaps going as far as to formally recognize Israel.
Yet what best explains the results of this poll is the growing gap that separates the people on the one hand, and the leadership, president and Fateh on the other, in light of deteriorating situation at almost every level – political, economic, and social – and especially in light of the escalating [Israeli] aggressions on the Aqsa Mosque and the intensification of settlement activities.
And what has also contributed to these results are the corruption scandals that have proliferated recently, the failure of the invitation to convene an ‘extraordinary’ Palestinian National Council (PNC) session regardless of quorum, and the retreat from holding a full PNC session for various reasons, the most important of which has to do with the escalating conflict between Fateh’s various wings and between them and the president, so much so that it has proven to be impossible for them to agree on Fateh's list of PLO Executive Committee members.
This means that had the PNC meeting been held, it would have witnessed a veritable political massacre because the battle for the president’s succession has already begun in light of his announcement that he intends to resign, and in the absence of an agreement on a successor or successors, and given that no deputy president (second-in-command) has been appointed.
In addition, the mechanism for handing over the PA's presidency remains unclear in the shadow of the Fateh/Hamas split and the difficulty of holding presidential elections within sixty days as happened after the late president Yasser Arafat's assassination [in 2004]. At the time, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) headed the PA; however, if the president were to pass away or resign or suffer from an illness that prevents him from fulfilling his task today, there is no agreement over the PLC speaker assuming the PA's presidency, since the PLC has been in suspension for a long time.
There are those who oversimplify the situation and say that it was the PLO that established the PA, and that it can fill the vacuum in the presidency should that occur, deeming the PLO Executive Committee to be the Palestinian State's government after international recognition of that state. Or it can appoint a president or a presidential body for a temporary period. But such a non-elected president would lack political and national legitimacy in light of the collapse of the so-called 'peace process' and in the absence of electoral legitimacy.
"This is the legitimacy that President Mahmoud 'Abbas obtained, and that Yasser Arafat obtained before him," concludes Masri.