“Do you hate Jews?” Barely able to speak English and blissfully unaware that I’m Jewish, the Palestinians in the Ramallah barber I visited a few years ago nevertheless managed to string those four words together to ask me what they felt was an important question.
For many politicians and diplomats, however, such open antisemitism in Palestinian society is hardly an issue worth seriously combatting. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one can consistently rely on world leaders to prioritise comforting narratives over harsh reckonings with the reality: that is, Hamas is far from being an outlier Palestinian movement and, indeed, enjoys popular support among voters in Gaza and the West Bank.
Unfortunately, Western leaders’ remarks to the contrary have been no different since the October 7 atrocities perpetrated by Hamas in Israel. Speaking in the Senate nine days after Hamas terrorists committed the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong confidently asserted that “Hamas [does not] represent or speak for the Palestinian people and their legitimate needs and aspirations. We need to be clear in differentiating Hamas from the Palestinian people.”
Wong wasn’t alone. At an October 25 press conference with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, United States President Joe Biden made clear that “Hamas does not represent the vast majority of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip or anywhere else”.
Reassuring as these statements sound, they have no basis in reality. Hamas won the last Palestinian elections in 2006 in both the West Bank and Gaza. In the years since, Hamas’s popularity has been a major, if not deciding factor, in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to hold elections, well aware that Hamas would seize power from his Fatah party.
To understand what Palestinians think of Hamas, it’s important to look at the opinion polls. A June survey from the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research asked Palestinians “what has been the most positive or the best thing that has happened to the Palestinian people” since 1948. It reported “the largest percentage (24 per cent) said that it was the establishment of Islamic movements, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad and their participation in armed struggle”. Fifty-seven per cent of Palestinians, meanwhile, voiced support for “armed attacks against Israeli civilians”.
As for who Palestinians would vote for in parliamentary elections, Hamas garnered the most support at 34 per cent, with Fatah at 31 per cent. In comparison, Labor received only 32 per cent of first-preference votes in Australia’s 2022 federal election. Hamas, it appears, is more popular among Palestinians than the ALP is among Australians.
The circumstances in Gaza vary drastically from the West Bank and have differing impacts on Palestinian sentiment. The survey addressed this, asking Palestinians by territory if they would vote for Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in an election. Abbas attracted 30 per cent of the vote in Gaza, while Haniyeh had 65 per cent. In the West Bank, Abbas and Haniyeh received 37 per cent and 47 per cent respectively.