Mahmoud Zahhar, a senior Hamas figure, was being ever so slightly disingenuous when he told the BBC that his movement would not attempt to halt the talks between Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu because in any case they are bound to die a natural death on their own.
Hamas has in fact reacted with its habitual brutality to the latest sign, however tentative, of Palestinian willingness to reach an accommodation with Israel. And in the event that, despite the PLO's political impotence and long-standing obduracy, the talks do not peter out as predicted, Hamas knows what to do. Like every Palestinian rejectionist movement dating back to 1917, it routinely disposes of Arabs whom it accuses of "collaboration" with Zionism; and it surely has Abbas, whom it has declared "not authorized to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people," in its sights.
Historically, of course, Hamas has found it efficacious to slaughter not only moderate Arabs but civilian Israeli Jews, thereby instigating IDF retaliations that in turn engender Palestinian casualties and thus insure that no one will be in the mood to talk peace. Between the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993 and the PLO's launching of the second intifada in September 2000, Hamas carried out dozens of suicide bombings. Earlier this month, it claimed "credit" for the drive-by murders of four Israelis in the West Bank. Since the talks have gotten under way, it has subcontracted Gaza-initiated terror to the so-called Popular Resistance Committees, which have escalated the number of rockets being lobbed into Israel. To the degree that the Abbas-Netanyahu talks create a perception of optimism, the peril of Hamas terrorism will increase exponentially.
What does Hamas want? Precisely what it says it wants: to establish the point that it and not the Fatah faction led by Abbas speaks for the Palestinian polity, and that it will not be obligated by any deal Abbas may strike with Netanyahu. As far back as 1974, the Islamists vehemently opposed the plan, adopted at Yasir Arafat's initiative, authorizing the PLO leadership to use tactical flexibility in its approach to liberating Palestine. As far as Hamas was concerned, Arafat's chosen means—destroying Israel through a combination of guile, negotiations, and episodic violence—was both too chancy and an affront to Muslim pride.
For his part, Abbas insists that his own faction, the PLO, is fully committed to the twin demands that Israel withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines and that millions of Arab refugees be allowed to "return" to Israel proper, and is fully adamant in its rejection of Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. But for Hamas, all this is beside the point. Unlike the PLO, Hamas is sworn never to become or to behave solely as a political movement, never to lose sight of the religio-political nature of the conflict, never to diminish the role of jihad in taking Palestine back for the Muslims, and never to abjure anti-Semitic incitement in its "battle against the Jews."
To be sure, Hamas is not a monolithic movement. Some of its Gaza-based leaders want to avoid another Operation Cast Lead and the concomitant possibility, albeit remote, of an outright IDF takeover that could result in a re-imposition of Palestinian Authority rule in Gaza. Ideologically, however, Hamas remains of one mind, seeing itself as the Islamist vanguard in Palestine and an integral component of the greater Muslim ummah. It is in line with this ideology that the movement denigrates women, indoctrinates religious fanaticism in youngsters, and haughtily casts aside such frills as elementary civil liberties.
None of this has deflected Western media from their fixation on the "real" threat to peace: namely, the September 26 expiration of Israel's self-imposed moratorium on West Bank housing construction. Regardless of how that issue is finessed in order to keep the negotiations ambling along, the actual looming threat lies elsewhere: in well-founded doubts as to the genuineness of the PLO's moderation, and in the bedrock certainty of Hamas's violent rejectionism.
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