The people of Hamas don't like the terms "extremist" and "moderate." It's a practical distinction, but also confusing, because the same Hamas officials have been heard on different occasions saying things that are "extreme" and "moderate" - especially on the possibility of a hudna (cease-fire) between a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders and the state of Israel.
So how should one distinguish between extremists and moderates in the Hamas? Here's a proposal - both believe Allah will ultimately fulfill his promise, as they understand it, and all of Palestine, from the river to the sea, will return to being Arab and Muslim. The extremists believe it will happen in a 50-year time frame. The moderates believe it will be more likely in, let's say, another 500 years.
Ah, say Israelis, so they all - extremist and moderate alike - aspire to the destruction of the Jewish state. That can be answered by pointing out that there are ministers in the Israeli government who wholeheartedly believe in the divine promise that we, the Jews, will inherit the entire land, with one or both banks of the river, with or without transfer.
Those ministers have no less orthodox believers in the Israeli army and settlements. And not only there. Those for whom the words of Allah or God are not a real estate certificate of ownership, should find out from them the more earthly circumstances that turn religious texts into political-military platforms.
During the Olso years a debate emerged in Hamas between two camps - on one side were those who pushed for the militarization of the organization and ever more hostility toward the Palestinian Authority, whether through attacks against Israel or direct open, public criticism of the PA. In Hamas terms, that was called "the continuation of the armed struggle against the Israeli occupation." For the PA, that was deliberate undermining of the PA, meant to take control.
On the other side, there was a school of thought in Hamas that demanded the movement take into account the here and now of the Palestinian people in general, and Hamas supporters in particular. This started with the attempt to integrate into the PA institutions, to the extent that Arafat's patrimony allowed, through respecting people's professional ambitions and hopes for their children's education, to participation in social debates, such as about the status of women.
The great challenge of Fatah and the PA in the years 1994-2000 was to increase the number of believers in Hamas who believed Allah's promise about the land would happen in another 500 years, and at the same time guarantee that fewer and fewer Palestinians translate their religious feelings into the Hamas' daily, earthly agenda.
In other words, in the competition for the hearts and minds of the public, Fatah and the PA had to prove two things, that their rule - no matter how limited and castrated it might be - takes into consideration the general welfare of the people, and that its gamble in Oslo as the path to an independent state was worthwhile. The first proof was dependent on the PA itself and its management style. The second proof depended on Israel's policies.
Hamas and other opposition groups were very suspicious of the quality of government Fatah could provide. Corruption, nepotism, internal rivalries that led to bloodshed. That's what the Hamas and minuscule leftist groups always claimed.
Arafat's regime did not give them much reason to be positively surprised. And Israeli government policy provided Hamas with plenty of opportunities to tell the public, "we told you so." We told you Israel does not mean true peace, that for Israelis, Oslo is just a trick.
If not, why does it expand settlements, delay withdrawals, destroy the social fabric of Hebron after the Hebron massacre and expels Palestinian Jerusalemites from their city.
From the Palestinian perspective, the intifada broke out because Israel, with or without the Torah's divine promise of real estate, exploited the negotiations to take control over most of the land meant for the independent Palestinian state. From their perspective, Israel undertook a policy of killing and collective punishment when the protests were still in the stone-throwing and mass demonstration stage, and as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the terror attacks inside Israel are an appropriate response to the unceasing harm done to the Palestinian people.
For three and a half years, death has been lurking in ambush for every and any Palestinian, especially in Gaza. The location of the settlements there, only a few dozen meters from every refugee camp, led to the scandalous IDF policy of quick fingers on the trigger and the bulldozer controls.
Those who live feel death is preferable to this life. They draw the conclusion that revenge for the loss of Palestinian life has proved to be effective. After all, Israel is also paying a price for the occupation. That's the reality that weakens those who think about the here and now: what kind of here and now is there left to nurture? And it is the atmosphere that encourages those who believe Allah's promise will come true in 50 years, not 500, those who want to believe that way it is easier to live this non-life now, in this world.
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