Strangely enough, a poll recently published by Near East Consulting (NEC,) an institution that conducts monthly surveys of Palestinian public opinion, was given hardly any attention by the Israeli media – despite its grave and far reaching ramifications. The results of the poll showed that when asked the question: "Does Israel have the right to exist?" an overwhelming majority (75 percent) of the respondents answered with a resounding "No."
However, worrying as these findings are, analysis of the results according to the age of those polled gives even more cause for concern. These show that the younger the respondents are, the greater their tendency to reject Israel's right to exist. For example, among those aged 18-21, about 90% stated that Israel had no right to exist. For younger age groups, the refusal to acknowledge this right was virtually absolute, reaching almost 100%. Accordingly, there appears little hope that future generations will be the harbinger of better understanding.
In spite of the gravity of these results, they should come as no real surprise to the sober observer of Palestinian society. After all, we should recall that the great majority of the Palestinian public belongs to, supports and/or identifies with, either the Hamas or the Fatah movements. This is reflected in the results of the last election for the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006, in which these two organizations won over 90% of the seats in the Council – 119 out of 132.
Just what the intrinsic nature of these groups is, can be easily ascertained from an examination of their founding charters, which reveal the fundamental raison d'etre for their existence and the motivations behind their creation.
In the case of Hamas, there is of course little room for doubt. In the opening paragraph of its Charter, one finds the following declaration: "Israel … will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors." The impossibility of accepting the State of Israel and its right to exist are further underscored in Article 28, which asserts: "Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims."
Presumably, the venomous style and content of the Hamas' texts will not come as a great shock to much of the Israeli public. This, however, is not the case when it comes to the Fatah, the organization headed by Mahmoud Abbas, a man invariably portrayed as the epitome of moderation and ardent advocate of peace.
Confront leaders with troubling question
In the public debate in Israel, the prevailing custom is to strive to differentiate clearly between the implacable enmity of Hamas towards Israel, and the allegedly more restrained Fatah attitude. However, cursory perusal of the Constitution of the organization will quickly dispel this illusion. For it is immediately apparent that it articulates the very same burning hatred of the Jews and very same repudiation of the right of Jews to a state in the Land of Israel.
Thus for example, Article (19) proclaims: "Armed struggle is a strategy and not a tactic, and the Palestinian Arab People's armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated." This sentiment is reinforced in Article (12), which declares that Fatah's goal is the "Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence."
So it turns out that the major difference between the extremist Hamas and the moderate Fatah is that while the former formulates its aspirations to destroy Israel in religious terms, the latter does so in more secular terms. But this cannot obscure the fact that both are immutably committed to erase all remnants of Zionism from the face of the Earth.
In light of all this, one might expect the Israeli public to urgently confront those charged with safeguarding its destiny, with a troubling and trenchant question: When the political leadership constantly stresses the need to strengthen "the moderate factions" among the Palestinians, who is it actually referring to? Who is it recommending should be allowed to control the hills overlooking Ben Gurion Airport, to deploy along the length of Highway 6 (the trans-Israel motorway,) to take over vital water sources east of the coastal plain and the approaches to the "strategic installations" around Ashkelon? Those who wish to destroy Israel in the name of Islam; or those who wish to do so in the name of a more secular rationale?
One might expect that the democratic duty of the Israeli public would be to force this question onto its leadership and insist on clear, coherent and convincing answers. But will the public take the time to put aside the weekday pressures of mortgage payments and the weekend pleasures of barbeques and beaches to do so? If the past is any criterion to judge by, this would appear doubtful – and perhaps that is exactly what the political patrons of the myth of moderation are counting on.