Most Palestinians want unity government, poll finds

RAMALLAH, West Bank Wed May 27, 2009 3:25pm EDT

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Most Palestinians support efforts to forge a unity government as the way to heal an internal rift that has hurt the chances of achieving a peace deal with Israel, an opinion poll published Wednesday showed.

A survey by Birzeit University, based near the West Bank city of Ramallah, found 58 percent of Palestinians thought a joint coalition of the Western-backed Fatah movement and Hamas Islamists could best resolve their crisis.

Egyptian-sponsored talks between the factions, whose rift broke into open conflict in 2007 when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, were scheduled to resume in July after months of unsuccessful sessions, the latest of which was held on May 18.

A unity government could help overcome the crippling effect of a Western economic boycott of Hamas for its refusal to recognize Israel. The West backs Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who supports dialogue with the Jewish state.

The poll, for which 6,398 people were questioned in early April, gave a breakdown of opinion for those in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and those living in Gaza -- unusual in polls of Palestinians.

It showed that contrary to past polls, more than 37 percent of Palestinians in Hamas-ruled Gaza would vote for Abbas's Fatah movement if a new parliamentary election were held, and just 23 percent would choose Hamas.

The overall result in such an election would be 31 percent for Fatah and 17 percent for Hamas, the poll showed. Hamas won the last Palestinian parliamentary election held in 2006.

Other poll figures predicted Abbas could defeat Hamas Islamist leader Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential election scheduled to be held next year. A separate survey conducted in March had given Hamas the electoral edge.

The survey also found two in three Palestinians living in Gaza, were optimistic about their future, despite an Israeli offensive in January that devastated parts of the territory.

About 1,400 Palestinians were killed and some 5,000 homes were destroyed in the 22 days of fighting Israel launched in response to rocket fire by Gaza militants at its cities. Fourteen Israelis also died in the conflict.

"Despite the tragic situation in Gaza, despite the last war, people look to the (Mediterranean) sea and they have hope. Without hope, it's difficult to carry on," researcher Ayman Abdulmajeed said of the poll.

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