Palestinian public opinion is diverse and changing when it comes to domestic political views, according to West Bank experts.
The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), an independent nonprofit institution based in Ramallah, has been surveying Palestinian opinion since the mid-1990s, and following trends in political views.
Its latest poll found that 62 percent of Palestinians want President Mahmoud Abbas to resign and consider the Palestinian Authority “a burden on the Palestinian people.”
Director Khalil Shikaki told Al Arabiya English that President Abbas’ popularity has gone down steadily since 2014 for several reasons including the public’s belief he is not doing enough to unify the West Bank and Gaza.
First elected to the position of president in 2005, Abbas is now in his 15th year of a four-year term because of the suspension of elections.
Abbas’ party, Fatah, is the rival to Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in 2007, after talks faltered between Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Abbas.
Multiple agreements have been signed between the two since, but all collapsed.
“The overwhelming majority of Palestinians think that reconciliation with Hamas is the most vital factor in uniting the West Bank and Gaza,” said Shikaki.
Palestinian opinion varies by area
PSR – which polls Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem – has found that Gazans and East Jerusalemites both generally feel that Abbas has abandoned them.
“Gazans feel that the lack of reconciliation shows Abbas does not want Gaza,” said Shikaki.
“East Jerusalemites in our survey are generally the most critical of Abbas. They tend to believe the PA is abandoning them, that it’s not doing enough to help them, and that they have to rely on themselves,” he added.
East Jerusalem, home to an estimated 360,000 Palestinians and considered the capital of a future Palestinian state by the PA, was annexed by Israel following the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 - a move condemned by the UN and the international community.
Currently 72 percent of Palestinians in Jerusalem live below the poverty line, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
The community is split off from Palestinians in the West Bank due to the separation wall erected by Israel, which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has concluded is against international law.
While Palestinian popular support for 84-year-old Abbas declines, popularity is increasing for his Fatah colleague Marwan Barghouti, according to Shikaki.
PSR polling has found that Palestinians see Barghouti, 61, as the successor to Abbas, despite the fact that Barghouti is currently jailed in Israeli prison on several life sentences.
“Palestinians see Barghouti as the best person to achieve reconciliation with Hamas and more democratic than Abbas in that he would likely not remain in office beyond his term,” said Shikaki.
“He is by far the most popular Palestinian leader,” he said, adding that under Palestinian law, Barghouti is eligible to become president despite being jailed.
Barghouti, who has been called Palestine’s Nelson Mandela and previously served as Secretary-General of Fatah, is currently serving five life terms after an Israeli court convicted him of directing two shootings and a bombing that killed five people.
The latest PSR poll found that if Palestinian presidential elections were held, Barghouti would defeat both Abbas and Haniyeh.