PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
The fact is that Hamas, like
most political parties, is a big tent where internal debates rage all the time.
The latest debate is over a peace plan drawn up by Hamas
members together with Fatah members in an Israeli
prison. Their “prisoners’ document” envisions a state of
When the prisoners’ document was made public in May,
the top elected Hamas official, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said that it “contains worthy principles to which agreement is possible."
He and other Hamas officials told Israeli journalists
they wanted a long-term cease-fire with
But there are still some Hamas
members who believe that they should not accept the existence of
Haniyeh is also in fierce competition with the opposing Fatah party’s leader, President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas threw his full weight behind the prisoners’ plan, calling for a public referendum on it that he assumed would pass. He probably figured that would pave the way for his party to regain control of parliament in the next elections. Hamas understandably resists a referendum that would make Abbas look more powerful. The two sides are still negotiating to see if they can hammer out a common platform.
The outcome depends largely on
In fact, the Israelis have tried to destroy the peace
process. On June 9 they assassinated Jamal Abu Samhadana, a top-ranking Hamas
security official. That was just the beginning of an Israeli offensive
announced the same day by Defense Minister Amir Peretz. The next day the offensive exploded, leaving more
Palestinians killed than any time in the last a year and a half, including a
number of civilians picnicking on a beach. (Human Rights Watch discounted
Hamas quickly threatened retaliation and rejected the referendum idea outright. Haniyeh and other moderates had to step back from their peace offensive temporarily to save political face. The internal split in Hamas grew sharper. Abbas still insisted he would have the referendum; though public support for the prisoners’ document has dropped considerably, it remains above 50%. So tensions between Hamas and Fatah rose precipitously, too.
The Israeli government surely foresaw
all these results when they decided to respond to the Hamas
peace offensive with their own military offensive. They tried to justify it by
pointing to the small wing of Hamas militants who
fire crude (and usually harmless) rockets into
Now, when Hamas
was moving -- however slowly and stumblingly -- toward negotiating peace with
If the Israelis had to negotiate on
the prisoners’ document, they would come under immense pressure to accept some
of its terms, including an end to the occupation and dismantling even some
larger settlements. Israeli journalist Danny Rubenstein explained that, for the
Israeli government, “it is best that the Palestinians
remain extremists because then no one will ask the government of
The Israelis have always feared a unified Palestinian government. They once helped to create Hamas to prevent the PLO from getting sole power. Now they are provoking Hamas and arming Fatah to spur civil strife.
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