- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

TEL AVIV — A survey in the West Bank and Gaza Strip showed yesterday that Palestinians overwhelmingly favor the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party over the militant Islamic group Hamas.

But there was little confidence in a second Bush administration’s commitment to establish a Palestinian state in the next four years.

Palestinians said they would back a candidate from Fatah to replace Mr. Arafat by a 3-1 margin over a potential nominee from Hamas, according to the poll sponsored by An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus.

At the outset of the Palestinian election campaign, the first in eight years, the survey indicates a plunge in support for Hamas. Previous polls have shown the difference between the two parties to be within five percentage points.

The survey found that 34.3 percent of respondents said they would vote for a Fatah candidate, compared with 11.5 percent who would back an Islamic militant group such as Hamas to succeed Mr. Arafat, who died earlier this month.

Just more than one-third of the respondents said they were undecided.

“The political agenda of Hamas doesn’t conform with the Palestinian people,” said Mohammad Yaghi, a columnist at the Al Ayyam newspaper. “Most of the people believe in a two-state solution and believe in negotiations with Israel.”

Hamas isn’t expected to field a candidate for the Jan. 9 presidential election, but it wants to run for the legislature and has pressed the Palestinian Authority to set a date for a parliamentary vote.

A September poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed Hamas’ support at 22 percent, compared with Fatah’s 29 percent.

The poll, conducted Friday and Saturday among 1,360 Palestinians, showed Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as the early front-runner for the presidency, with the support of nearly one-fourth of the respondents, but almost half were undecided.

The poll didn’t include jailed Fatah militant Marwan Barghouti, who is considered the most popular political figure after Mr. Arafat.

Taken just days before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s visit to the region, the survey found that 11.6 percent of respondents think President Bush is serious about setting up a Palestinian state by the end of his next term.

Palestinian analysts said relations were bruised after the United States severed contact with Mr. Arafat. The Bush administration viewed Mr. Arafat as too tainted by terrorism to be a credible peace partner.

“With President Arafat under siege, we didn’t see high-ranking officials coming to visit. The relationship was cut off,” said Palestinian peace negotiator Manuel Hassassian.

Mr. Hassassian, who is optimistic about the Bush administration’s commitment to the peace process, also said the Powell visit was necessary to restore confidence.

But Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, said it remains to be seen whether the United States will truly become re-engaged in promoting the “road map” peace initiative after letting it languish for more than a year.

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