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Amal Attar-Guzman: Palestinian support for Hamas grows as conflict endures

Commentary

Last month, I wrote for The Hub about the complicated and changing opinion polls of Palestinians who reside in Gaza and the West Bank. The article was published in the middle of the temporary ceasefire. As tensions have since resumed, new polling from the region provides a further window into the extent to which the conflict may be strengthening Palestinian support for Hamas. 

On December 13, the independent, non-profit think tank, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, released a new survey, in conjunction with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Ramallah, of residents in Gaza and the West Bank. Conducted between November 22 and December 2nd, the poll’s findings show some troubling trends that impact not only Palestinians and Israelis but the region as a whole. 

Over two months into the conflict, a plurality (43 percent) of respondents in Gaza and the West Bank now say that they support Hamas, a near doubling (22 percent) since prior to October 7. Support in the West Bank has actually more than tripled from 12 percent to 44 percent. In Gaza, support has climbed to 42 percent from 38 percent three months earlier.

The Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, Fatah, by contrast, has seen its support significantly fall to just 17 percent including a ten-percentage point drop (26 percent to 16 percent) in the West  Bank and a 7-percentage point decline (from 25 percent to 18 percent) in Gaza. Further, 88 percent of Palestinians say they want President Mahmoud Abbas to resign, a 10 percentage-point increase since September 2023. 

If elections were held today, 51 percent say that they would vote for Hamas while only 19 percent would vote for Fatah. This represents a major swing from three months earlier when support for Hamas and Fatah was essentially equal (34 percent for Hamas and 36 percent for Fatah). 

Regarding the October 7th attacks themselves, the polling finds that an overwhelming majority (85 percent) of respondents say they haven’t seen the evidence and footage circulating on international and social media of Hamas’ actions against Israeli civilians. A large majority (90 percent) also says that it doesn’t believe that Hamas committed atrocities shown in the video footage. 

Turning towards Israel’s military campaign, over half (53 percent) say that Israel’s goal is to destroy the Gaza Strip and kill or expel the population, while 42 percent say the goal is to have revenge against and destroy Hamas. Regarding the outcome of Israel’s military campaign, a large majority (70 percent) think that Hamas will not be eradicated, while 21 percent say that they will only be weakened by Israel.

In Gaza, as humanitarian conditions, including the rise of infectious diseases, worsen, 52 percent blame Israel, and 26 percent blame the U.S. for the current suffering of Gazans. Only 11 percent blame Hamas. 

Discussions have been circulating around the idea of a post-conflict arrangement whereby the Palestinian Authority might take over control in Gaza and run it alongside the West Bank. Support for this idea is currently low. Only 28 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank (20 percent) and Gaza (39 percent) would support the Palestinian Authority assuming control of both the West Bank and Gaza. 

Additionally, a large majority (70 percent) would reject a deployed Arab security contingent to Gaza, a sentiment also shared by Arab leaders at the recent Doha Forum. 

There may be limits to these types of polls. There has been speculation for instance that Palestinians are afraid to speak up or accurately express themselves against Hamas because of their influence and fear of retaliation. There are also questions about the durability of Hamas’s support. The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research’s director, Khalil Shikaki, observes that the historic trend is that Hamas’s popular support tends to rise during times of conflict. 

In overall terms, though, Hamas’ support appears to only be strengthening, taking advantage of current conditions to exert their influence, especially in the West Bank. Israeli allies are most likely taking notice, including U.S. President Joe Biden who has previously warned that settler violence in the West Bank can give Hamas the upper hand due to these escalations. He’s also recently warned Prime Minister Netanyahu about Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and the risk of losing global support. 

The poll therefore provides important context for Israel’s ongoing campaign, its allies’ support, and the political conditions in Palestine itself. It’s a reminder of the complexity of these issues and the inherent challenge to finding a durable post-conflict peace. 

Antony Anderson: The most divisive election in Canadian history

Commentary

Canadians’ ignorance of our own history is a pervasive and regrettable problem. The Hub is pleased to play a small part in attempting to turn this tide by presenting a weekly column from author and historian Antony Anderson on the week that was in Canadian history.

December 17, 1917: The conscription election is held

How do you deal with fellow Canadians when they’re traitors to Empire, King, and Country? 

How could you be loyal to any country that insisted you die for a foreign monarch and a distant war? 

These were the irreconcilable accusations French and English Canadians hurled at each other as they lurched towards the most bitter, divisive election in our history. By 1917, close to 130,000 Canadians, all volunteers, had been wounded or slain in a bloodbath that was supposed to have been a short, jolly romp to thrash the Hun. The francophone solitude had no desire to march off to ravenous killing fields. The grieving anglophone solitude demanded the government bring in conscription to compel the slackers to do their duty. 

Prime Minister Robert Borden had originally promised not to bring in conscription but the first patriotic surges had dimmed and not enough men were rallying to the cause. Determined to maintain Canada’s commitment, Borden decided to break his pledge, knowing full well this would inflame Quebec and farming communities across the West desperate for hired hands. Anxious for a show of unity, Borden set out to establish a coalition government which would then bring in the dreaded legislation. Liberal leader of the opposition and the first francophone prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier refused to join. He would not break faith with his own people. The vast majority of his MPs held steady and did not cross the floor. Borden managed to persuade ten prominent Liberal anglophones to join the new Union Cabinet in a temporary uneasy alliance that gave the barest glimmer of unity. He called the election for December 17th.

To win the election, Borden did everything he could to rig the vote. Historians have called him cynical but that misses the mark. In 1917, the war was not some distant abstraction. Every family had been touched by death. Borden himself had sat at the bedside of wounded soldiers in Europe and wept. He felt duty-bound to honour their sacrifice so he was ruthless. He took the vote away from conscientious objectors and from immigrants who had arrived after 1902 from “enemy alien countries”, (Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire). He gave the vote to soldiers at war for the first time. He gave the vote to certain women for the first time, specifically those women with a father, husband, son or brother in uniform. The gerrymandering was breathtaking but it was all done, as Borden saw it, to defeat barbarism, preserve decency and democracy, save the Empire, and uphold Canada’s honour. In the furious campaign, both sides accused the other of treachery and moral corruption. Each was convinced of their own righteousness. Each refused to listen to the other.   

On December 17, 86 percent of the electorate cast their vote, the highest turnout in a Canadian election to this day. 1,077,569 loyal Canadians, 57 percent of the electorate, voted for conscription. Two of those votes were cast by future prime ministers, then in uniform, Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker. On the other side of the emotional chasm, 548,611 loyal Canadians, 35 percent of the electorate, voted Liberal. Triumph and devastation ruled the day. 

The Union party won a solid majority with 153 seats while the Liberals managed to hold 82. The provincial results revealed the true extent of the “racial” division. The anti-conscriptionist Liberals were decimated in the Maritimes and Ontario and nearly wiped out in the West. The survivors were anchored in Quebec, taking 62 of the 65 seats. The largely anglophone Union government had secured a poisoned mandate to compel Canadians into uniform by taking national unity to the brink. 

Despite all the rage and rancour, the wounded Dominion endured. The war would at last end the following year before many of the new conscripts would even reach Europe. The Union party no longer had a reason to exist and was dissolved for the next election. Tempers cooled though no one forgot. 

Perhaps the most lasting impact of the election was embodied in the person of the Liberal candidate for North York, Ontario, a former minister of labour in Laurier’s Cabinet, an anglophone who had remained loyal to the old leader. The candidate paid a predictable price for that loyalty in imperialist Ontario. Two years later, however, William Lyon Mackenzie King would go on to win the Liberal leadership, thanks to the support from francophone delegates who remembered his loyalty to Laurier.

King would become prime minister in 1921 and for the next two decades would make national unity his holy grail. To keep the Dominion safe from any future conflagrations across the ocean, he would wrench control of Canada’s foreign policy from the lethal imperial grip and then ensure that his country’s foreign policy was a masterpiece of evasion and circumventions and hesitations and inaction—and most Canadians would agree with his approach for a very long time until another world war tore apart that conventional wisdom. For a deeper dive, please read “Embattled Nation: Canada’s Wartime Election of 1917” by professors Patrice Dutil and David MacKenzie (Dundurn Press 2017).