Nearly 80% of Palestinians Want Abbas to Quit
‘Half of Fatah is demanding the president resign,’ pollster says
There is troubling news for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: The great majority of Palestinians wants him out of office. A record-high 78% of respondents called on him to resign, a survey by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) found.
In addition, support for Abbas’ Hamas rivals remains high, months after the 11-day Gaza war in May, the survey conducted by veteran pollster Khalil Shikaki and released on Tuesday found
PSR director Shikaki told The Media Line this is a rare case where there is near unanimity among the public that the president should resign.
“Usually, Gaza has a lot of anger at the president, but in this poll, the same anger was found in the West Bank,” he says.
The latest findings are particularly troublesome for Abbas because there is a feeling in the West Bank that the PA is not properly performing its functions, Shikaki says.
The poll found that not only Hamas and other opposition groups are against the president, but he is facing “growing criticism” within the Fatah movement that he heads, the pollster adds.
“Half of the Fatah movement is demanding the president’s resignation. When the percentage of those who demand Abbas’ resignation reaches 80%, this means that there is very strong resentment within the movement.”
A total of 1,270 Palestinian adults were interviewed face to face for the survey across the West Bank and Gaza between September 15 and 18, in 127 randomly selected locations. The margin of error is +/-3%.
Shikaki says the president’s popularity has been declining, especially in the last five years if not longer, and that several factors led to this.
“Postponing or canceling the elections indefinitely is the main reason behind the downturn in his popularity,” he says, but recent events have also contributed, such as the killing of activist Nizar Banat at the hand of PA security, and how the president managed this crisis.
“The way officials and security have dealt with the president has done him a lot of damage. Many found the PA’s handling of the killing of Banat was a failure.”
Banat was arrested at his home near Hebron in the West Bank on June 24. His family members told media outlets he was severely beaten during the arrest and was dragged away screaming. The Hebron Governorate said in a statement that Banat’s “health deteriorated” following his arrest. Banat, 42, died in a hospital in the West Bank.
Dimitri Diliani, spokesperson of the Democratic Reformist Current within Fatah, a faction affiliated with Abbas rival Mohammed Dahlan, told The Media Line that despite the high levels of dissatisfaction expressed by the poll respondents, they still fail to reflect the reality on the ground.
“His disapproval numbers should be a lot worse,” Diliani adds. “This huge disapproval of President Abbas is a result of the human rights violations, anti-democratic practices, real failure in all kinds of policies, especially when it comes to the economy, health services and education.
“Add to that a lack of any progress in the diplomatic track and the ever-expanding illegal settlement activities,” Diliani says.
Palestinians are angry with Abbas, as evidenced during a series of demonstrations over the summer against him and the PA’s security forces.
The gruesome killing of Banat gained massive international and local media attention. Infuriated with the way the dissident was killed, thousands of Palestinians filled the streets of Hebron and Ramallah to protest Banat’s death, demanding an independent investigation and political reforms.
These demonstrations were met with an iron fist from the PA security forces, which dealt with them aggressively and violently, and carried out large-scale arrests.
One of the biggest criticisms of Abbas is that he is out of touch with the people. Observers say the PA is controlled by a tight, influential circle that makes decisions on behalf of the president.
The PSR poll also found that 63% of Palestinians believe the two-state solution is no longer achievable due to the expansion of settlements, and 73% say the chances for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in the next five years are slim to none.
“Not dead, but in a coma,” Shikaki explains.
“If you ask the Palestinians if they have an alternative, they’ll say no. It seems that although people are no longer supporting it, the reason they are not supporting it anymore has more to do with the perception that it is no longer feasible,” he says.
But Shikaki insists it is possible to change people’s views by making the two-state solution more attainable.
“If there are viable negotiations, if Israel issues an announcement regarding a settlement freeze − again these are not realistic options, but if they happen − we will see a shift in people’s attitude,” he says.
US President Joe Biden said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that a sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the best way to ensure Israel’s future.
“We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all the people of the Middle East,” Biden said.
The PSR poll also found that in a presidential election between Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas, the former would receive 56% of the vote and the latter 34%. If Marwan Barghouti is the Fatah candidate, Haniyeh receives 39% of the support and Barghouti wins with 55%.
If the presidential competition is between PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh of Fatah and Haniyeh, the former receives only 31% and the latter 60%.
Shikaki adds that not holding elections hurt Abbas badly, but the surprise finding concerns the poor showing by Shtayyeh.
“He used to do better than Abbas but in this survey, Shtayyeh is doing worse than Abbas. Abbas is really in a bad situation. I’ve never seen him in such a bad situation in our surveys. This is the lowest point for Abbas.”
He attributes the prime minister’s low numbers to his government’s handling of the pandemic.
“Shtayyeh is suffering from the failure of the PA to deal effectively with the coronavirus. He’s paying the price for that.”
Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian affairs at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, told The Media Line that Shtayyeh is “irrelevant” in Palestinian politics.
“He’s become a punching bag for everyone and the failures of Abbas’ policies are put on him. He is not given the authority that he needs to implement his vision.”
Abbas, now 85 years old, was elected president in 2005, for what was supposed to be a four-year term.
He dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2019, suspending a main pillar of democracy, and has been ruling via executive orders.
It is one-man rule in the territory under Abbas’ control in the West Bank, and he has total and unprecedented control over the Fatah party, the PA and the PLO, as he is simultaneously the head of all three bodies.
The autocratic president has been facing a legitimacy crisis, and the only way out of it was to call elections. But Abbas’ decree to hold elections, issued in January, exposed him to the electorate, throwing his political future into the unknown, and providing opponents from within the Fatah movement a rare opportunity to challenge his rule.
He canceled the parliamentary election slated for May and the presidential vote set for July.
Palestinians accuse the international community of looking the other way. The economy in the Palestinian territories is teetering on the verge of collapse and the internal Palestinian divide is growing deeper.
“I don’t understand how the United States, the symbol of democracy around the world, continues to support somebody who is unwanted and imposes himself on the people by force,” says Diliani, adding that the “failure of Abbas and the continuation in office of right-wing Israeli prime ministers have caused us to reach this point.”