Thinking Aloud: Extremism, From a Safe Distance

Sept. 6, 2014 by Darius 

This week, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research released its latest poll on Palestinian public opinion.  The poll had one particularly interesting finding: for the first time in the eight years that PCPSR has been conducting polls, a majority of all Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank would vote for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.  But these results had a twist: each leader was more popular in the part of Palestine their government doesn’t run.

In the West Bank, Palestinians strongly supported Haniyeh over Abbas by a margin of 66% to 25%.  In Gaza, though, Haniyeh would receive only 52% of the vote, while Abbas’s share would increase to 43%.

What does this mean?  Among Palestinians, Hamas is overwhelmingly perceived as having won the recent war with Israel – 79% of Palestinians agree with that statement.  But only 59% feel that gains from the war were worth the human cost inflicted on Gaza.  PCPSR doesn’t break out the numbers between the West Bank and Gaza for that question, but the voting preferences make it pretty clear: West Bankers support armed resistance to Israel when it doesn’t end up with their houses, businesses, and families getting blown up.

The political phenomenon known as NIMBYism (for “Not In My Backyard”) cuts across cultures.  Palestine is no different.  Perhaps the residents of the West Bank would feel differently about the costs of armed resistance if they were the ones bearing the brunt of the cost. 

In the long term, it is exceedingly difficult to see Hamas governing all of Palestine, despite its current surge in popularity.  But this poll is a reminder that it’s easier to call for extremism from a safe distance.

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