Support for Prisoners’ Document High – Low for Referendum

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Overview:

A 19 June 2006 poll found that despite overwhelming support for the 18-point document (known as the "Prisoners’ Document") put forth jointly by imprisoned leaders of Fateh, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), less than half of those surveyed would support a referendum on the document were it held today. The poll also found that while a majority agreed that President Mahmoud Abbas has the right to call for a referendum, a larger percentage believes that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) government would dismiss the referendum results.

Meanwhile, representatives from the five main Palestinian political parties involved in the national dialogue have narrowed their differing positions on the Prisoners’ Document. According to officials participating in the talks, only three out of the 18 points remain outstanding and a final agreement is expected within two days.

The Poll Results

According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) poll, 74 percent of the 1,270 respondents support the Prisoners’ Document as a package. However, the poll found that if a referendum on the document is held today, only 47 percent would vote in its favor; 44 percent would cast a negative vote; and 9 percent remain undecided. The poll has a 3 percent margin of error.

While 56 percent said Abbas has a right to call for a referendum, 44 percent said they would stay away from the vote if Hamas called for a boycott. Only 23 percent believe Hamas would accept the referendum if it passed by a majority, compared to 67 percent who think Hamas would ignore the results.

However, if the Hamas government fails to acknowledge the popular acceptance of the referendum, 65 percent of respondents would support the reduction of the government’s authority and jurisdiction.

On the flipside, 60 percent believe that Fateh and Abbas would not accept Hamas’ political program and would not form a unity government if the referendum is defeated. Likewise, 61 percent would support a reduction in presidential powers and responsibilities if Abbas and Fateh refuse to form a national unity government with Hamas if the referendum is defeated.

Support for seven main articles of the document ranges between 62-85 percent. Three articles garnered the support of 85 percent of respondents: 1) the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital in the territory occupied in 1967; 2) the election of a new Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) National Council that would include Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with representation to be determined by proportional basis; and 3) the establishment of a national unity government based on a joint Fateh-Hamas program and the Prisoners’ Document.

Three Articles of Contention

According to officials involved in the national dialogue, the three articles still instigating disagreement between Fateh and Hamas are: 1) resistance of the occupation only within the 1967 occupied territory; 2) the formulation of a national consensus program on the basis of international and Arab legitimacy; and 3) the PLO’s status as the sole legitimate representation of the Palestinian people worldwide.

According to the PSR poll, 73 percent support restricting resistance to the occupation to the 1967 occupied territory; 70 percent support a national program based on international and Arab principles; and 69 percent believe that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Hamas and the PLO

From the introduction of the Prisoners’ Document, Hamas officials publicly acknowledged that their main reservation with the document was the clause that states the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, rather than the clauses that pertain to Israel.

In 1987, almost two decades after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his Fateh party took over the PLO, the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip founded Hamas as a direct challenge to the PLO’s hold on political power within Palestinian society. With the introduction of the PA into Palestinian society and territory, Hamas continued to be a main challenger for political power.

Although Hamas viewed itself as an alternative power to the PLO and PA, it shared a similar goal: a Palestinian state. However, its approach was different. Not only did Hamas believe in the Islamization of the fight for statehood, but it sought a state based on Islamic law, rather than the secular governance the PLO advocated.

Given the PLO-Hamas history, Hamas’ reservations regarding the PLO clause in the Prisoners’ Document is understandable. However, Hamas is now faced with new realities. It is itself the very PA that it initially competed against. Moreover, according to the PSR poll, its popularity and support has dropped to the same level as its historic foe Fateh, 39 percent respectively.

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