Publically, each party presents itself differently. Hamas is seen as hardline, openly violent, has never met with the Israeli government, and is committed to its destruction. Fatah on the other hand appears less hardline, less violent, has been willing to meet with Israel’s leadership, and willing to accept Israel’s existence.
Yet is this really the case? One might assume there are distinctive differences between the two parties on key issues, based on their public images. Appearances can be deceiving, however.
One way to flush out the similarities and differences would be to identify their "official" positions by comparing their respective charters. While there are numerous issues in the conflict, we’ll look at three considered critical by most people- killing civilians, two-state coexistence, and Jerusalem.
In respect to the killing of civilians, Hamas' charter quotes Allah: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” Meanwhile, Fatah's charter says 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.
'Moderates more cagey'
In respect to coexistence and the two-state solution, Hamas' charter says: "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." Elsewhere it says: "The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up."
Similarly, Fatah's charter says "Liberating Palestine and protecting its holy places is an Arab, religious and human obligation," calling for "complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence." Elsewhere it says: "Establishing an independent democratic state with complete sovereignty on all Palestinian lands, and Jerusalem is its capital city.
As to Jerusalem, both Hamas and Fatah claim it as the capital of either an Islamic state or an independent Arab state.
Based on their respective charters the following conclusions are clear: Both parties sanction killing; both parties reject Israel’s right to exist; both parties require its elimination; both parties claim Jerusalem as their capital.
In addition to the charter comparisons, we have the following public statements in respect to recognition of Israel: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says “I do not accept Israel as a Jewish state.” Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal says his group “has not and will not recognize Israel." Also of note, Abbas Zaki, the PA Ambassador to Lebanon said “once we get Jerusalem we will drive all the Jews out of Palestine."
Thus we return to the central question: Is there a difference between the "moderates" and the "terrorists?" Whether one looks at their charters or public statements, in both cases the answer appears to be clearly – no. However, while speaking with former Muslim terrorist Walid Shoebat he told me there is a difference. “The ‘moderates’ are more cagey” says Shoebat. After thinking for a moment, I’m inclined to agree.