The fall of the Gaza Strip to Hamas was a tragic event in Palestinian history. The brutality witnessed in the clashes between Hamas and Fateh is viewed by most Palestinians as an enormous setback in the national struggle for liberation and freedom. Instead of struggling together against Israel, politically or militarily, Palestinians turned their weapons on each other and one side came out on top.
After the victory of Hamas in the January 2006 elections, many believed that some kind of accommodations and understandings could be reached between the two Palestinian movements. While Hamas is firmly based on the roots of the Muslim Brotherhood as a pan-Islamic movement, it is clearly also a Palestinian national movement. Those who believed that Hamas could modify its positions based their hopes on a similar process that the PLO went through - that Hamas would within a short period accept, at least implicitly, the Quartet's conditions: 1) recognition of Israel; 2) adherence to previous agreements; and 3) renouncement of terrorism. Hope grew when Hamas proposed, and then observed, the tahdi'a - or calm - arrangement.
When internal strife erupted in Gaza after a year, the Saudis brought the parties to Mecca to reach an agreement for a national unity government. Once again, hope was voiced that Hamas was reforming its basic positions. It seemed that it had come to terms with some of the Quartet demands, with its agreement to "respect the previous agreements" and to speak about ending the occupation over the lands occupied in 1967, without recognizing Israel.
The national unity government was short-lived and in June 2007 fell apart in a wave of internal violence that, apparently, was aimed at strengthening Hamas' position vis-à-vis Fateh and not at a full military takeover. It quickly became clear that the Hamas forces were more organized, better armed and much more motivated than the national forces. Within a few days it was over, and Hamas took full control of the Gaza Strip.
In the current political reality, the Hamas takeover of Gaza has created a full separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This is an artificial separation which, at least for now, undermines one of the achievements of Oslo - the recognition by Israel of the territorial integrity of the Palestinian lands. While it is clear that there can be no resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will permanently separate these two territories, for the time being, it seems that political progress may only be possible vis-à-vis the West Bank.
Most observers and analysts have related to the event in Gaza as a tragedy, some even calling it the second Nakba. With all the sorrow that I feel for the loss of lives and the suffering caused by the fighting, I believe the Palestinian people have been offered a choice: between the national movement represented by the PLO and Hamas. It is in fact an opportunity for the Palestinian people, with no option of avoiding making a decision.
I have spent much of this past year attempting to create dialogue with senior officials and academics from Hamas, and the only real difference between the so-called moderates and the extremists within Hamas seems to be their willingness to talk with Israelis. Most Hamas people share the positions represented by the extremists and reject even talking with Israelis.
In my opinion, Hamas cannot compromise on its basic ideology and therefore will be unable to accept the Quartet's conditions. Their ideology is not political; it is based on their interpretation of religious principles. For them all of Palestine is Waqf - a Holy Islamic Trust - and in their understanding of Islam, there is absolutely no way to compromise that by recognizing Israel.
The Hamas leaders' conditions for a long-term hudna with Israel are more severe than the PLO's conditions for a full peace and end-of-conflict agreement. For them, hudna means the end of the occupation on the 1967 borders, the removal of all of the settlements, a full implementation of the right of return, and the division of Jerusalem with no rights for Israel in East Jerusalem, even over the Jewish holy sites.
The Palestinian national movement was established as a secular national movement. The Palestinian people believe in democracy and, in fact, demand democracy. Democracy is not only elections. The heart of democracy is the set of rights and obligations that guarantee civil rights and equality to all citizens. The Palestinian national movement has a right and an obligation to protect itself from Palestinian political parties that do not agree to the "rules of the game." In the case of Palestine, the rules of the game should be the internationally accepted norms laid down by the Quartet.
If people are dissatisfied by the political behavior and performance of Fateh, the alternative does not have to be Hamas. There could be more alternatives for the Palestinian national movement, including reforming and democratizing the Fateh movement and other options, but these are all for the Palestinians to decide.