On January 4, J Street hosted a webinar with Dr. Khalil Shikaki – a professor of political science, a leading pollster, and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) based in Ramallah. Dr. Shikaki and his team regularly take the pulse of the Palestinian public in the West Bank and Gaza, conducting more than 200 polls since 1993 as well as dozens of joint polls among Palestinians and Israelis since 2000.
During the humanitarian pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas at the end of November, the PCPSR polled, through in-person interviews, over a thousand individuals in random locations across accessible areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The poll asked key questions about the Hamas attack on October 7, the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, the future of post-war Gaza, and Palestinian perceptions of various relevant actors in the conflict.
Some of the findings were surprising, and J Street’s Director of Policy Dr. Debra Shushan had an opportunity to discuss them with Dr. Shikaki. Here are the highlights, including Dr. Shikaki’s important analysis and insights:
A majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza support violent struggle and Hamas’ “decision to carry out the offensive” on October 7.
Prior to the Hamas attack, support for violence grew among Palestinians over concerns about Jerusalem, holy sites, Israeli settler violence and annexation. The overwhelming majority of Palestinians believe that they have no diplomatic or nonviolent way to end the Israeli occupation, and, given only a binary choice between occupation and violent struggle, a majority choose the latter.
The survey found that a majority of Palestinians did support the decision for Hamas’ attack, even if they did not support the acts committed by Hamas militants. Notably, a much higher percentage of Palestinians in the West Bank supported the Hamas attack compared to those in Gaza, who appeared more skeptical.
It is also important to note that within Palestinian and Arab media, the true horror of the attack and the violence targeted against Israeli civilians in particular is rarely conveyed. Indeed, Hamas and its supporters have spread disinformation to falsely suggest it took care to minimize the impact on civilians and even sought to protect civilians during the attack – when in reality the majority of roughly 1,200 people killed in the attack were civilians.
Due to the continued support of Israel, and its actions in Gaza, by the United States and European countries, Palestinians are questioning these countries’ morals and commitments to international law. There is also overwhelming dissatisfaction with Arab states like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Egypt who have relationships with Israel, while support for Qatar, Yemen and Hezbollah is higher.
Usually, the outbreak of violent conflict corresponds to a decline in support for diplomatic solutions, since they are pessimistically seen as futile. However – possibly due to the renewal of regional and international attention to the issue – support has not declined, and around one-third of Palestinians still have some hope in the two-state solution. Those who still have confidence in the US and European countries are also more likely to support a two-state solution.
The survey showed that most residents in the occupied Palestinian territory know that international law prohibits the killing of women and children in their own homes. However, it also showed that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians in the West Bank had not seen videos of Hamas committing atrocities, while in Gaza about a quarter said that they had seen the videos.
According to the survey, if a person had seen the videos, they were ten times more likely to think that Hamas had committed atrocities on October 7. Dr. Shikaki explained that “particularly in Gaza the percentage was much higher, so essentially if you did see the videos you did come – by significant percentage – to the conclusion that Hamas did commit atrocities. This is extremely important because over time more and more people will be exposed to these videos and the correlation is very clear.”
Hamas’ popularity usually spikes during wartime, compared to “status-quo” periods in which its support is limited to those who share Hamas’ values.
Dr. Shikaki noted that support for Hamas in the West Bank was especially high at the time of the survey since Palestinian prisoners were being released into the West Bank in exchange for Israeli hostages being held in Gaza. The issue of prisoners is of deep personal concern for Palestinians, and for many, Hamas’ role in freeing them is a reason to lend support to the organization. Meanwhile, there is a sense that the Palestinian Authority – which played no role in the prisoner releases – has abandoned Gaza and has failed to protect people in the West Bank from settler violence.
The poll showed that there has still been little change in support for Hamas among Gazans, and Dr. Shikaki emphasized that any rhetoric claiming that all Palestinians support Hamas is false, saying that “never in the entire history of polling, not even during war times and not during this time today, there is no majority support for Hamas either in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip.”
The majority of Palestinians in Gaza oppose Hamas returning to control, and instead favor governance by the Palestinian Authority in some form, despite its many shortcomings. In the West Bank, people do not want the PA to govern Gaza and favor Hamas.
Dr. Shikaki noted that overall, there is some support for a national unity government of technocrats and all factions represented – including Hamas – that could lead to new elections in the framework of a Palestinian state.
According to the survey, the leading potential candidate remains Fatah-affiliated Marwan Barghouti over both Mahmoud Abbas and an Islamist candidate from Hamas. Dr. Shikaki explained that this could be for a number of reasons, but reflects a preference for secular nationalism and a desire to establish an independent Palestinian state with a legitimate democratic government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Surveys and polling like these are crucial to understanding the beliefs and trends of the public, and it is more important than ever to consider these Palestinian opinions as experts propose a path forward for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A lasting and sustainable peace will require not just an end to the Israel-Hamas War, but bold leadership, renewed diplomacy, and an effort to build a brighter future for both Israelis and Palestinians.
To read more about J Street’s recommendations for the Biden Administration and a peaceful path forward in the wake of the Israel-Hamas War, check out our issue brief or visit the J Street Policy Center Webpage. You can watch the full webinar with Dr. Shikaki here.