Thursday, October 29, 2009

Amid slumping popularity, Hamas boycott call over elections suggests Israeli Gaza policy may be working

Robin Shepherd
Robin Shepherd Online
29 October 09

Cast your mind back to January of this year. Remember all those slogans and banners saying: “We are all Hamas now”? Remember all those BBC reports whose subtext was always that Operation Cast Lead could only succeed in stirring up the hornets’ nest? It’s the familiar narrative, of course: radicalisation is the product of oppression and occupation; the siege can only produce a siege mentality; Hamas can only benefit from Israel’s attempts to root them out. Talks not bombs are the solution.

Well, it doesn’t seem to have quite panned out that way. Hamas announced yesterday that it would forbid the people of Gaza from participating in elections announced for January in the Palestinian territories by Mahmoud Abbas. It seems that popular support for the Islamist terror group has collapsed since Cast Lead to the extent that Hamas would face a rout if elections were held any time soon. That doesn’t quite fit with the narrative, does it?

In reality, opinion polls (barely reported in the western media of course) have been showing for some time that ordinary Palestinians in the Gaza strip are somewhat less forgiving of Hamas than many of its western apologists.

As far back as February, a poll from the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion showed that support for Hamas in Gaza had fallen to 28 percent from 52 percent the previous November.

A poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center this month put support for Hamas at just 18.7 percent in the West Bank and Gaza compared with 40 percent for Fatah. Polling for Gaza alone put support for Hamas at 24 percent as against 43 percent for Fatah (see link below).

If the polls are accurate and if Hamas is as frightened of facing its electorate as it appears to be, this represents a pretty devastating blow to the critics of Israel’s Gaza policies.

Of course, no one but a fool would suggest that this all means Hamas is on the way out. It is quite capable of ruling without popular consent, and there is always the danger that it could trigger a new wave of attacks on Israel to deflect attention from its failings.

The point is, however, that we now have pretty convincing evidence that the Gaza campaign (and the ongoing sanctions regime) did not constitute the exercise in futility that western critics have been so quick to characterise it as.

The war against terror is a long war. There may be no such thing as a total victory. But sustained pressure can yield results.

I really wonder whether this interpretation is one you are likely to be hearing as you turn to the mainstream media for news and analysis in the weeks and months ahead. Care to place any bets?

To see the full breakdown of Palestinian opinion on a range of issues, see the second of the above mentioned polls here:

To purchase my recently published book on the broader subject, click here:


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