Analysis: Gazans reject Hamas tactics, want deal with Israel

Ordinary Gazans oppose the bloody, Hamas-led weekly border protests and want a ceasefire with Israel, newly released polling shows.

The research – carried out among representative samples of approximately 500 randomly selected Gazans during early October by the Bethlehem-based Palestine Centre for Public Opinion and by a Ramallah-based organisation – shows the conflict-weary population of the Gaza Strip adopts a far more moderate and less hardline approach towards the Jewish state than its Islamist rulers.

They also appear to oppose the effort to isolate Israel pushed by the BDS movement.

The polls showed that only 36 percent of Gazans support the “Great March of Return” border protests, which Hamas hijacked in March and which have seen bloody confrontations on a near-weekly basis, while 62 percent say they oppose them. A formal cease-fire with Israel wins high levels of support: 73 to 25 percent in one poll; 51 to 45 percent in the other.

Asked who is to blame for the slow pace of reconstruction in Gaza, the majority picked either Hamas (32 percent) or the Palestinian Authority (22 percent). Twenty-seven percent chose Israel. The UN was blamed by eight percent and Egypt by three percent.

Underlining opposition to the BDS movement among Palestinians, there were also high levels of support for improved relations with Israelis. In both polls two-thirds of Gazans said they wanted “direct personal contacts and dialogue with Israelis”. Three-quarters said they “would like to see Israeli companies offer more jobs inside the West Bank and Gaza”.

Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, following a 2007 coup against the Palestinian Authority by the Hamas terror group, both it and Egypt placed tight restrictions on the flow of goods and people in and out of the coastal enclave.

The research also probed Gazans’ attitudes towards a two-state solution and a comprehensive peace deal with Israel. It asked: should Hamas “stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders”? One poll saw an endorsement of this view by 53 to 45 percent; the other by 48 to 44 percent.

There were also signs of a more pragmatic streak among the people of Gaza on some of the most thorny issues which have hampered previous peace efforts than that shown by either Hamas or the PA. On the “right of return”, for instance, 68 percent say this could be limited to the West Bank and Gaza but not to Israel, “if that is the very last step required to end the occupation and achieve a real independent Palestinian state”. In the West Bank, support for this proposition was, however, 20 percent lower.

The Palestinian Authority insists that not simply Palestinian refugees displaced in 1947 and 1948, but also their descendants – a figure which is believed to run to several million – must be allowed to return to Israel, thus ending its Jewish majority. Israel has indicated it would accept a nominal number of refugees and pay some compensation, but believes the bulk of refugees and their descendants should be accommodated by a new Palestinian state.

Gazans also proved more pragmatic than the PA or those polled in the West Bank on what role the US should play in the conflict. Asked to pick “the one thing you’d most like the U.S. to do about the Palestinian issue these days,” 38 percent of people in Gaza responded: “Put pressure on Israel to make concessions.”  Twenty-three percent wanted the US to “increase economic aid to the Palestinians,” and 14 percent suggested “put pressure on the PA and Hamas to be more democratic and less corrupt”. Only 16 percent – as against nearly half in the West Bank – said the U.S. should “stay out of Palestinian and Middle East affairs altogether”.

A note of caution should, however, be sounded. Only half of those polled said that a two-state solution should “end the conflict”, roughly the same number who said that negotiations with Israel had produced “somewhat positive” results to date. Moreover, 55 percent suggested that “eventually, the Palestinians will control almost all of Palestine” – either because “God is on their side,” or because “they will outnumber the Jews some day”.

Surveying the results, David Pollock of the respected US-based think-tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote: “U.S. policymakers would be well advised to take two steps of their own. First, understand that Hamas has only minority support in Gaza, so it will likely fail in launching mass popular action against Israel. Second, pursue an approach that promises practical economic and humanitarian help to the people of Gaza, not to their Hamas overlords.”

Pollock added: “Popular attitudes in Gaza reflect a different reality than either the militant image propagated by Hamas, or the desperate anger at Israel often portrayed in outside accounts. The findings from these new polls offer a compelling corrective to those stereotypes.”