Palestinians want peace deal but don't reject Hamas
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Most Palestinians who want a state of their own would like to achieve it through a peace deal with Israel but there is still substantial support for the Islamist Hamas group which favors resistance, according to a new opinion poll.
The survey by New York pollsters Charney research for the New York-based International Peace Institute (IPI) was carried out over the summer in Gaza, where Hamas rules, and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, under the authority of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement.
"Fatah is seen as the party of governance and peace, while Hamas now is only seen as the party of resistance, although that, too, resonates with Palestinians," said Craig Charney, head of Charney Research.
IPI said the poll "reveals major changes in attitudes since 2000, when Palestinians rejected compromises proposed at the Camp David summit with Israel, and the 2006 Palestinian elections, when Fatah was defeated by ...Hamas."
"A clear majority of Palestinians -- 55 percent -- favor a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza ... just 11 percent favored either of the other alternatives under discussion, a bi-national state of Palestinians and Israelis or a confederation with neighboring Jordan and Egypt."
The survey was conducted in June and July. This week, U.S. President Barack Obama intervened personally in a bid to relaunch stalled peace talks, bringing Abbas together with Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks in New York.
Netanyahu again resisted international calls to freeze Israeli settlement in the West Bank, which Abbas says it must do in order for talks to resume. Israel says the Palestinians are not in a position to make peace as long as Hamas rules Gaza.
Obama, softening the call for a full freeze, said Israel should "restrain" settlement activity and announced further, lower-level talks to be held next week. But analysts were pessimistic about the chances of serious negotiations restarting on a two-state deal.
Results from IPI's random sample of 2,402 respondents show that 64 percent support the two-state peace plan based on the 2003 "roadmap" versus 17 percent who preferred the status quo.
"The poll shows that Palestinian views have shifted considerably since 2000 when polling after Camp David showed that the Palestinian street also opposed the peace proposals that its leaders had refused to accept," IPI said.
"Now, the Palestinian public has shifted from rejection to acceptance of the overall package and of provisions for Israeli withdrawal, Palestinian demilitarization, and mutual recognition."
"Palestinians as a people are ready to be a peace partner for Israel," said IPI president Terje Roed-Larsen, a former U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East.
But the poll also reveals Palestinian ambivalence: Abbas and Fatah still face a significant challenge from Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and rejects international calls to end armed resistance.
In a head-to-head election, Abbas would defeat Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh by a "narrow margin" of 52 percent, it showed.
"The poll gave Fatah 45 percent of the parliamentary vote and 24 percent to Hamas, although a Fatah legislative council majority would depend on the choices of swing voters and the electoral system used."
Palestinian elections are expected in early 2010.
(Writing by Douglas Hamilton, editing by Joseph Nasr and Samia Nakhoul)
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