Islamic extremists who have been battling Israel and secular Palestinian forces have also begun targeting secular Palestinian establishments that engage in what the Arabs refer to as "haram," or "sinful activities."
Most of the oppression has occurred in the Gaza Strip where the Islamic movement Hamas has the Israeli-oppressed population in a tightly controlled religious headlock, although there have been some incidents in the more secular West Bank.
Although the "religiousization" of the Palestinian people began more than a decade ago, it only found its strength in the last few years and reared its ugly head publicly after Hamas took control of the Palestinian government.
No secular establishment is safe. An Internet cafe in the Gaza Strip was firebombed. A cultural center was forced to cancel a program deemed unacceptable to the principles of Islam, and other cultural organizations have been carefully screening programs so as not to "offend" the religious police.
Three Palestinian women, believed to be prostitutes, were murdered, each killed with a bullet to the head and chest, and dumped in a public location.
Clandestine Islamic groups with names like the Swords of Islamic Righteousness, suspected to be associated with Hamas or the Hamas security services, have claimed responsibility.
All or nothing
While I don't condone prostitution, the murder of any person is immoral. Not addressed by the religious zealots in the prostitution killings is the fact that the women are solicited by men who go unpunished. But that's not uncommon in a society where increasingly Palestinian women are being forced to wear a Hijab, or head scarves, as a political statement and to prove their faith.
It's no longer enough to believe in Islam.
The threat of the religious fanatics has been on the secular horizon for years. Increasingly during Ramadan, secular and Christian-owned restaurants in "Christian" towns like Bethlehem and Beit Jala have been forced to close their outdoor patios so as not to "offend" Muslims who are forbidden to eat during the daylong fasting.
What is happening is that the Palestine conflict with Israel, which began as a secular battle over land and national identity, is steadily transforming into a religious conflict driven by religious extremists who see secular Palestinians as enemies equal to the "Zionist entity."
That is troubling. While Israelis complained much about the failings of the secular Palestinian leadership, the reality is those secular Palestinians always viewed the conflict as one of achieving "justice" through violent resistance and also through negotiated compromise.
For the religious zealots, however, the issue is "faith." And for them, there is no compromise on faith. Only their version of "jihad."
It's either all or nothing, and they are willing to die for that nothing. For the past 60 years of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the 40 years since Palestinians took control of their own destiny, the Palestinians have achieved only fragile political gains, but very little substantive gains.
Although it is easy to blame the Palestinians, the truth is Israel has also contributed to the failure of peace by always only offering minimal concessions far short of what is acceptable to Palestinians and fairness.
Harder to deal with religious enemies
Israel's governments have consistently undermined peace through compromise. They have refused to acknowledge Israel's role in creating the Palestinian refugee problem. Their uncompromising and extremist policies have often intentionally provoked Palestinian violence. While claiming to negotiate peace in good faith, they have continued to expand illegal Jewish-only settlements. And, they have unilaterally imposed an unjust pre-condition insisting that Jerusalem will never be shared.
In fact, as the Palestinians fail to achieve peace, so to do the Israelis.Israelis are discovering that it is far more difficult for them to respond to the challenge from enemies driven by religious fervor. Just look at the powerful battle waged against Israel by Hizbullah in Lebanon.
When secular Palestinians become extinct - and that future is on the horizon, Israel's ability to negotiate peace will be extinguished too. While secular Palestinians may battle with a violent fervor, their political drive allows for the possibility of compromise.
There is no possibility of compromise with an individual or a movement that bases its drive on religious ideology.
Faith does not permit compromise, and promises a far more frightening future for Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel should negotiate with secular PA
If the Palestinians are incapable of overcoming the Hamas challenge, then Israel has the responsibility to step up to the plate and separate the religious fanatics from the secular leaders. Israel must continue to negotiate with responsible secular Palestinians.
Palestinian public attitudes are driven by the emotions and suffering of the times. When things are good, they are optimistic. When things are bad, they are inclined to anger and rejectionist sentiments reflected in recent polls.
If the Israelis impose a unilateral compromise on the Palestinians that is genuinely fair, most Palestinians will turn away from the religious fanatics and embrace the compromise as an inevitability of their tragedy.
But to refuse to push for genuine compromise or to negotiate with the Palestinians because of Hamas only plays into the hands of the extremists, in the same way that violence also undermines peace and strengthens the cards of the very perpetrators of that violence.
One day, Israelis will wake up and discover there are no more "Arabs" left in the world to negotiate with.
The Arabs will all have been replaced by a more formidable and impossible enemy to defeat, political Islamicists, who are as unwavering in their cause as they are unwavering in their faith.
Ray Hanania was named Best Ethnic American Columnist for 2006/2007 by the New America Media. He can be reached at www.hanania.com