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A new poll shows that Palestinian support for Hamas has grown significantly in the West Bank since the war with Israel began 10 weeks ago. The finding suggests that the stated goal of Israel’s invasion and bombing of Gaza—to destroy Hamas as a political and military force that can never again threaten Israel as it did on Oct. 7, murdering 1,200 Jews—may be unachievable. And even if many militant leaders and fighters are killed, the death and destruction inflicted by Israel’s army and air force may just be strengthening Hamas in the future.

More than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war so far, according to the Gaza Health Ministry (the number includes an unknown number of militant fighters), and almost 1.9 million civilians—80 percent of Gaza’s population—have been displaced from their homes.

According to the poll, which was released on Wednesday, support for Hamas among Palestinians in Gaza has risen since September from 38 percent to 42 percent. Among Palestinians in the West Bank, it has surged from 12 percent to 44 percent. (The poll of 1,231 Palestinians was taken by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research between Nov. 22 and Dec. 2 and is said to have a 4 percent margin of error.)

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Israelis may take some assurance from the finding that less than half of the Palestinians in the territories support Hamas—and that this support has risen hardly at all in Gaza, which Hamas controls. In fact, the findings lend some credence to anecdotal reports that many Gazans blame Hamas at least as much as Israel for their present plight. The pollsters also add: “It is worth noting that support for Hamas usually rises temporarily during or immediately after a war and then returns to the previous level several months after the end of the war.”

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Even so, the sharp rise of pro-Hamas sentiment in the West Bank is alarming. Hamas has no official standing in those territories; the Palestinians there are relatively moderate. Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority, which is headquartered there, has long recognized the right of Israel to exist.

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The new poll suggests that a peaceful settlement will be much harder to reach. Fatah’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is widely viewed as decrepit, corrupt, and ineffectual—92 percent of West Bankers surveyed want him to resign (up 10 percent since September). Rising support for Hamas’ more militant approach may be a response to the drastic spurt of violence—murders, beatings, and burnings of property—committed by Jewish settlers against longtime Palestinian residents. Biden has recently imposed a visa ban on some of these violent settlers, but Netanyahu has done nothing. The ultranationalist minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who oversees the Israeli police in the West Bank, has even distributed rifles to the extremist settlers. (Some of the rifles may have come from the United States, which is why Biden has stopped the latest pending delivery.)

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The war, which has sparked massive protests around the world, is straining U.S.–Israeli relations, even among the Jewish state’s otherwise strong supporters. President Joe Biden, while upholding Israel’s right to self-defense, has urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu many times to minimize civilian casualties. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday, told Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that Israel had to wrap up the “high-intensity” phase of the war in a matter of “weeks.” Gallant replied that defeating Hamas would take “more than a few months.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Israeli officials earlier this month that international support—already diminishing—might not last as long as months.

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In what may be the most eyebrow-raising indicator of tensions between the two countries, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish lawmaker and prominent supporter of Israel who has close ties with Biden, tweeted on Thursday, “Netanyahu has gone way too far,” and “the bombing must be greatly limited or Israel will be without its last real friend, the USA & Joe Biden. The President is finished with Bibi’s Putin-like no holds barred war.”

At least so far, Israeli leaders seem to be waving off the pressure. Perhaps they don’t take it seriously. Except for halting the delivery of 20,000 M16 rifles, Biden has done nothing to stem the flow of larger weapons to Israel; nor has he scaled back the $14 billion worth of additional military aid that he requested last month along with $60 billion in various forms of aid for Ukraine.

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In a statement released after the meeting with Sullivan, Netanyahu said that Israel will continue fighting “until victory and the achievement of the common goals, which are, first and foremost, the elimination of Hamas, the release of all the hostages, the dismantling of Hamas’ military capabilities, and the end of its rule in Gaza.”

No one, least of all Netanyahu, has explained how Israel can achieve all of those goals without killing many tens of thousands more Palestinian civilians—or how they can achieve those goals at all.

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Biden has endorsed a two-state solution and has hopes that a revived Palestinian Authority might govern Gaza after Hamas is ousted. Netanyahu doesn’t want a two-state solution and doesn’t want to cede the security of Gaza to any Palestinians. This is yet another reason for his insistence on continuing—even stepping up—the war. It is also aggravating tensions—even threatening a rupture—between Jerusalem and Washington.

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Biden said at a private gathering on Tuesday night that the far-right members of Netanyahu’s government have to go. But when it comes to the goals of the war in Gaza, there seems to be little space between Netanyahu and the two voting members of his unity war cabinet—Defense Minister Gallant and former Deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz—who are centrists. Netanyahu is almost certain to lose power in the next election, whenever that takes place—but even if he were somehow to leave office now, Israel’s war policy is unlikely to change much.

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That being the case, what happens next? If Israel keeps up the “high-intensity” phase of the war not for weeks, as Biden has requested, but for “several months,” as Gallant insists, what, if anything, does Biden do?

And what happens to the 135 remaining hostages in Gaza, some of whom may be in Hamas’ tunnels, some of which Israeli troops are starting to flood with seawater? Some Israelis, especially the families of hostages, are urging Netanyahu to secure their release, no matter what compromises in the war this might require. Politics within Israel are on the verge of rupturing, too.

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Is Israel’s War in Gaza Strengthening Hamas?

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15.12.2023
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A new poll shows that Palestinian support for Hamas has grown significantly in the West Bank since the war with Israel began 10 weeks ago. The finding suggests that the stated goal of Israel’s invasion and bombing of Gaza—to destroy Hamas as a political and military force that can never again threaten Israel as it did on Oct. 7, murdering 1,200 Jews—may be unachievable. And even if many militant leaders and fighters are killed, the death and destruction inflicted by Israel’s army and air force may just be strengthening Hamas in the future.

More than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war so far, according to the Gaza Health Ministry (the number includes an unknown number of militant fighters), and almost 1.9 million civilians—80 percent of Gaza’s population—have been displaced from their homes.

According to the poll, which was released on Wednesday, support for Hamas among Palestinians in Gaza has risen since September from 38 percent to 42 percent. Among Palestinians in the West Bank, it has surged from 12 percent to 44 percent. (The poll of 1,231 Palestinians was taken by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research between Nov. 22 and Dec. 2 and is said to have a 4 percent margin of error.)

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Israelis may take some assurance from the finding that less than half of the Palestinians in the territories support Hamas—and that this support has risen hardly at all in Gaza, which Hamas controls. In fact, the findings lend some credence to anecdotal reports that many Gazans blame Hamas at least as much as Israel for their present plight. The pollsters also add: “It is worth noting that support for Hamas usually rises temporarily during or immediately after a war and then returns to the previous level several months after the end of the war.”

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Even so, the sharp rise of........

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