Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian terrorist leader jailed for life by Israel, would win most votes if an election were held to find a successor for 82-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a survey released on Wednesday found.
The poll was conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), which interviewed 2,150 adults in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Thirty percent of respondents named Barghouti, a member of Abbas’ Fatah faction whom an Israeli court handed five life sentenced for murder in 2004, as their favorite to replace the president.
Israel accuses Barghouti, 59, of masterminding attacks by Fatah’s armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Barghouti enjoys strong grassroots support among the Palestinian public and has good relations with all Palestinian factions, including the Islamist group Hamas.
The next most popular candidate was Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, with 23 percent support.
Questions about Abbas’ prospects were raised by his eight-day hospitalization in May for what officials said was a lung infection.
Wednesday’s poll found that 61 percent of the Palestinian public want Abbas to resign and 33 percent want him to stay in office.
Abbas became PA president in 2005 after the death of Yasser Arafat, and pursued US-led peace talks with Israel. But many Palestinians lost faith in him as his efforts yielded no gains and talks stalled in 2014.
Abbas’ democratic mandate expired nine years ago, with no new elections set due to the ongoing Fatah-Hamas power struggle.
Trailing Barghouti and Haniyeh as mooted Abbas successors were PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and former Gaza strongman Mohammad Dahlan with 6 percent support each, West Bank activist Mustafa Barghouti and former Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal (3 percent each), and ex-PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad (2 percent).
The PCPSR poll found that 48 percent of Palestinians believe that, post-Abbas, rival factions would be able to agree on a new election; 41 percent said they did not believe this.