Ah, Where Are Those Arabs?

Hamas is experiencing something that appears to be symptomatic; it is speaking differently not for the sake of Israel, but for itself and its public.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, was infuriated by Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas' political bureau. Last Friday, at a mass rally held at the Yarmuk refugee camp in Damascus, Meshal accused PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues of treason and surrender to Israel. That same day, all the floodgates opened and exchanges of gunfire took over the streets of Gaza. Israel celebrated: Hamas is starting to fall apart. But then there was a turning point - Hamas acted "contrary to expectations." Haniyeh said that if Meshal did not retract his statements, he and his government would resign. Meshal made some subdued remarks and relative quiet returned to the streets.

On the day of the Damascus rally, Jordan revealed that arms had been smuggled across its border from Syria, and it canceled Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar's scheduled visit. Haniyeh was facing another challenge: Hamas in exile was again tripping him up and hindering his efforts to establish proper and essential relations with the most important country - the one that controls the lifelines between Palestine and the Arab states.

The internal battle between Hamas inside and outside the territories is nothing new, but its scope is becoming more and more clear because the transition from a radical ideological movement - only a moment ago a terrorist organization - to a government that requires legitimacy has turned out to be an almost obligatory process. This is the same political logic that led Zahar on Thursday suddenly to speak about the possibility of conducting negotiations with Israel, and it is also expressed in the developing relationship between Abbas and Haniyeh. Both realize that they cannot function without the other. Abbas cannot offer a political or security alternative, and Haniyeh cannot fulfill his commitments to the public without the funds and connections Abbas can mobilize for him.

Hamas may now be experiencing the schism that the PLO and other organizations in the world underwent when they found themselves faced with the difficult choice between two types of legitimacy: that which is derived from an armed struggle and sacrifice versus that which demands responsibility and providing for needs. This dilemma, of course, does not interest decision makers in Israel, who are now beguiled by the charms of convergence: The slightest shadow of a partner threatens their pattern of thinking. It also perturbs those who "really know who those Arabs are."

This is because Hamas is experiencing something that appears to be symptomatic; it is speaking differently not for the sake of Israel, but for itself and its public. Thus, for example, official Arab spokesmen and leaders, as well as publicists, are saying and writing harsh words against Iran, which they view as a threat. The attack in Dahab was roundly denounced by all Arab and Muslim streams, and anyone claiming that Israel is behind the attack is already considered an eccentric. Along with the denunciation of American policy in Iraq, there is strong condemnation of the terrorism there. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did not succeed in convincing the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria to support Assad, and the Syrian branch actually called for comprehensive political reforms. The Islamic bloc in Jordan, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, makes sure to maintain good relations with the government and royal court, and religious intellectuals in Saudi Arabia support the government's installation of electronic surveillance equipment in mosques for monitoring the content of sermons.

Life is not perfect yet and fanatic streams still enjoy the support of various populations in the Middle East. But "those Arabs" who comprised the basis of the Israeli (and Orientalist) theories about the "Arab nature" or the "nature of Hamas," whose behavior was predictable and automatic, have "suddenly started" to develop nuances. They are sounding a different tone, distinguishing between terrorism and national struggle, between religious ideology and practical politics, and are even ready to split historical organizations against the background of differences in practical outlooks. Perhaps we should quickly herd them into the familiar framework: one people, one religion, one terror. Otherwise, heaven forbid, a partner might emerge here.