The poll also found surging popularity for Islamist resistance groups who fear an Egyptian security presence could tie their hands in conflict with Israel if, as now envisaged, it keeps Gaza sealed off and tries to annex parts of the West Bank after a withdrawal.
“We see considerable Palestinian concern that what Israel is proposing would leave them in a suffocating Gaza ghetto while it consolidates its main settlement enterprise in the West Bank,” said Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research which conducted the poll.
Cairo, one of only two Arab states to have peace treaties with Israel, has offered to send up to 200 security experts to Gaza help prevent any collapse into factional anarchy or an Islamist takeover on its borders after Jewish settlers leave.
Demands for merging
Over 80% in the poll backed Cairo’s demand for merging chaotic Palestinian security organs under an empowered interior minister. But just 51% of Gaza Palestinians favoured an Egyptian presence, with 46% opposed.
“The militant factions and their supporters do not want an arrangement where they would come under great pressure to give up the right to resort to arms if that arrangement means quiet on solely Israeli terms”
“This relative lack of support can be explained by a fear that one occupation would end only for another to begin,” Shikaki told reporters from Ram Allah in the West Bank. Egypt ruled Gaza from 1948 to 1967, when Israel captured it in war.
“The militant factions and their supporters do not want an arrangement where they would come under great pressure to give up the right to resort to arms if that arrangement means quiet on solely Israeli terms,” he said.
Palestinian President Yasir Arafat has publicly endorsed Egypt’s offer but resisted previous calls for security reforms.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has scheduled the Gaza evacuation for 2005, welcomed Egypt’s offer of security advisers but rejected any mediating capacity for Cairo.
Fifty-five percent in the poll backed continued resistance attacks on Israelis from Gaza if Sharon’s “disengagement” blueprint did not translate to a complete withdrawal.
Sharon foresees keeping Gaza isolated by land and sea, with Israeli troops on its border with Egypt, for security reasons.
Sharon foresees keeping Gaza
But a World Bank report last month said Gaza could not become peaceful without an end to Israeli closures to enable economic revival which would reduce the appeal of armed attacks.
The poll found 35% loyal to Muslim resistance factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza compared with 27% for Arafat’s faltering mainstream Fatah movement.
Fatah has been discredited among many Palestinians over its corruption, mismanagement and internal feuding. The poll showing was Fatah’s weakest against Islamist rivals since a revolt in Israeli-occupied territories led by fighters erupted in 2000.
Wary of Islamist sentiment, Cairo wants any Israeli removal of settlements in Gaza to be part of a broader pullout from all occupied territory. But Sharon’s plan falls well short of that.
Egypt’s initiative also hinges on a ceasefire to avoid its personnel getting sucked into conflict in Gaza. Seventy-nine percent of Palestinians polled favoured a ceasefire.
But Israel has shown little inclination for a truce as its forces continue to battle in Gaza to be able to claim “victory” in connection with a withdrawal.
The PSR questioned 1320 people from 24 to 27 June and the poll had a 3% margin of error.