- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

TEL AVIV — A new poll has confirmed Palestinian fears that Hamas is rapidly gaining ground among voters and could defeat President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party in parliamentary elections this summer.

“If Fatah doesn’t solve the problems before the election, it will lose,” said Ghazi Hananiyeh, a Fatah legislator from Ramallah.

The poll findings released this week are just the latest indicator of a steady disintegration of backing for Fatah — the movement founded by Yasser Arafat, which is the backbone of Mr. Abbas’ support.

Both analysts and Fatah politicians say Hamas could win the most seats in the July parliamentary election, giving it unprecedented influence in the Palestinian establishment.

It is not clear whether a Hamas-led government would go ahead with negotiations with Israel for the formation of a Palestinian state, or whether Israel would even talk to leaders of a group that has been responsible for the majority of terror attacks on Israelis over the past four years.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with The Washington Times last week that participation in the political process may force extremist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon to moderate their policies.

“When people start getting elected and have to start worrying about constituencies … things start to change,” she said, noting that Hamas candidates in recent municipal elections had run mainly on issues such as schools and social services.

The poll, conducted last week by the independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, found that support for Fatah dropped to 36 percent from 40 percent in December, while backing for Hamas, an Islamic militant group, jumped to 25 percent from 18 percent.

Other questions in the survey made clear that Hamas’ rising stature stems mainly from dissatisfaction with corruption and mismanagement in the current Fatah government, not from approval of Hamas’ terror campaign.

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