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Poll says most Palestinians favor violence over talks

Two boys held portraits of Alaa Abu Dheim, who relatives say shot and killed eight yeshiva students. Two boys held portraits of Alaa Abu Dheim, who relatives say shot and killed eight yeshiva students. (Peter Dejong/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ethan Bronner
New York Times News Service / March 19, 2008

RAMALLAH, West Bank - A new poll says that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians support the attack this month on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem that killed eight young men, most of them teenagers, an indication of the alarming level of Israeli-Palestinian tension in recent weeks.

The survey also indicates unprecedented support for the shooting of rockets on Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip and for the end of the peace negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

The pollster, Khalil Shikaki, said he was shocked because the survey indicated greater support for violence than any other he had conducted over the past 15 years in the Palestinian areas. Never before, he said, had a majority favored an end to negotiations or the shooting of rockets at Israel.

"There is real reason to be concerned," Shikaki said in an interview at his West Bank office. His Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which conducts a survey every three months, is widely viewed as among the few independent and reliable gauges of Palestinian public opinion.

His explanation for the shift, one widely reflected in the Palestinian media, is that recent actions by Israel, especially attacks on Gaza that killed nearly 130 people, an undercover operation in Bethlehem that killed four militants, and the announced expansion of several West Bank settlements, have led to despair and rage among average Palestinians who thirst for revenge.

Shikaki's poll also suggested that the militant Islamist group Hamas, which Israel and the United States have been trying to isolate, is gaining popularity in the West Bank while its American-backed rival, the more secular Fatah, is losing ground. Asked for whom they would vote for president, 46 percent chose Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, the current president, while 47 percent chose Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

Three months ago, Abbas was ahead 56 percent to 37 percent. After Hamas forces pushed Fatah forces out of Gaza last summer, Shikaki's polls suggested that the Palestinian public was disillusioned with Hamas, and in the subsequent months many argued that Abbas, with the support of Washington and Israel, had an opportunity to win public support by easing living conditions and advancing in negotiations. That has not happened.

According to the poll, conducted last week with 1,270 Palestinians in face-to-face interviews, 84 percent supported the March 6 attack on the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, one of Israel's most prominent centers of religious Zionism and ideological wellspring of the settler movement in the West Bank. Shikaki said this is the single highest support for an act of violence in his 15 years of polling here. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

On negotiations between Ehud Olmert, prime minister of Israel, and Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, 75 percent said they were without benefit and should be terminated. Regarding the thousands of rockets that have been launched on Israeli towns like Sderot and Ashkelon, 64 percent support it.

The poll did indicate support for a two-state solution with 66 percent favoring normalized relations with Israel if it returned all land won in 1967 and a Palestinian state was established.

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