A choice between Geneva and Hamas

Palestinian and Israeli fundamentalists both have an ardent nationalism with extremist religious beliefs.

Marzel 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Marzel 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
On October 12, 2003, a Sunday morning, a group of 20 Israelis and 20 Palestinians finally agreed on a blueprint for peace between the two peoples. They had labored on the document for more than two years. They had fought like tigers over every word in it. Indeed, not until that Sunday morning did the participants believe that they would reach an agreement, but agree they finally did, in a 45-page document spelling out in full detail how a final peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians would read. The agreement, which came to be known as "The Geneva Accord," was widely hailed by both Israelis and Palestinians. It demonstrated that, in spite of the violence, a way out of the morass could be found. The 40 participants in the endeavor, none representing anyone but themselves, wished to demonstrate to governments and to people that it was possible to reach an agreement that would overcome all the problems. Yet, unsurprisingly, the fundamentalists and extremists - Israeli and Palestinian alike - were up in arms against the Geneva Accord, some going so far as to demand that the participants be brought to trial for treason. There was an almost mirror-like reaction from extremists on both sides, who viewed this exercise in peacemaking with abhorrence. Neither Muslim nor Jewish extremists want an agreement that could bring peace to the Holy Land, because it can only be attained by a compromise, by a price that both sides would have to pay. It would leave a recognized Jewish state in place (anathema to Palestinian Muslim fundamentalists), as well as a Palestinian state on part of the Land (unacceptable to Israeli extremists). Palestinian and Israeli fundamentalists share a basic trait: both are absolutist in their beliefs, both have entwined an ardent nationalism with extremist religious beliefs. Yet, despite identical reactions to the Geneva Accord, there are, of course, enormous differences between fundamentalists on the two sides. The Palestinian fundamentalists have adopted acts of terror as their main weapon. For the Israeli extremists, consolidating the occupation through the establishment of settlements is their action of choice. There is a world of difference between the modus operandi of the Israeli and Palestinian extremists, but their objective is identical - to prevent the other side from having any foothold between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Hamas, the embodiment of Palestinian fundamentalist ideology, negates any rapprochement with the Jews in Israel. Its doctrine is that it is the duty of every believing Muslim to take up the sword against the Jews until they are expelled from the holy Muslim land of Palestine. For them, jihad against the Jews is a religious diktat to which every Muslim must subscribe, because jihad is called for when infidels rule over Muslim land. The Hamas Covenant is an eye-opener. Its description of Jews, who seek "to overthrow societies, destroy values, undermine alliances, trample morality and destroy Islam," could have been taken out of Mein Kampf. The demand of so many people in the world - and even in Israel - that we speak with Hamas is unrealistic because Hamas will not speak with us. "All the initiatives and international conferences are a waste of time and a futile game," according to the Hamas Covenant, and many Jewish extremists would subscribe to that belief. "There is no solution to the Palestine problem other than jihad." Our extremists would not, of course, use the word "jihad," but they, too, believe that peace is impossible and that we are destined to live by the sword, from one war to another, until our sovereignty over the entire Land is established and accepted. When Yitzhak Rabin shook the hand of Yasser Arafat and agreed to divide the Land, this was as much an act of treason for Gush Emunim as it was for Hamas. Neither the Palestinian extremists nor the settlers and their supporters are fringe phenomena. Their doctrines have greatly influenced the political agendas in both our societies, to a large extent dictating the actions and the political decisions taken both by Israeli governments and by Palestinian leaders over the years. In the course of the past 60 years, both Israelis and Palestinians have made many mistakes, missed opportunities for peace. The most glaring failure of the Palestinians was their refusal to accept a state when the UN offered it to them on November 29, 1947. That refusal, and their decision to try to overthrow and destroy the nascent Jewish state, was the real cause of their nakba, much more than the establishment of the Jewish state. Our biggest mistake was our refusal to attempt to reach an agreement with the Palestinians in 1967, after the Six Day War, when Fatah was still in its infancy, Hamas did not exist, there were no settlements on the other side of the Green Line and a group of prominent Palestinians were willing to enter into an accord with us. Since those days hatred has flourished and violence has become endemic, with both peoples suffering. The result has been two-fold: the extremists have become stronger - Hamas is a powerful example - and, at the same time, the silent majority has moved towards more moderate attitudes. Twenty years ago, even the most dovish Israelis did not dare to declare support for a Palestinian state; today it has become the expressed view of the government and of the majority of Israelis. Twenty years ago, an Israeli could be sent to prison for speaking with someone from the PLO, while on the Palestinian side the declarations of Fatah leaders were similar to the most extreme statements of Hamas that we hear nowadays. The hatred is still intense, on both sides, but more and more Palestinians are realizing that their continued violence will get them nowhere, and that their only hope to lead normal lives is to come to terms with Israel. In a poll taken by the Public Opinion Center of An-Najah University on May 15, 72.2 percent of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank supported the idea of a hudna, 59.4% approved of President Abbas's performance, and 40.1% declared their support for Fatah (compared to 17.5% for Hamas). The figures speak for themselves. Similarly, in Israel, the idea of two independent states, living side by side in peace, has taken firm roots, and most Israelis would welcome such a solution. The extremists have a different agenda. Their threat - Israeli and Palestinian - to mobilize mass demonstrations to prevent such moves, and to topple any government that attempts to go down that road, has provided ample excuse for inaction, for a continuation of the status quo. Both Israelis and Palestinians are heading for new elections, probably in the first months of the coming year, but maybe even sooner. Extremists will be pitted against moderates. There will be a new president in the White House. We are entering uncharted waters. It can go either way, the Geneva way, or the Hamas way. The future of both Israelis and Palestinians depends on us taking the right direction.