There is nothing more intoxicating, more soul-stirring, nothing more thrillingly, unstoppably transcendent, than nationalism. Until, that is, the moment that you begin to become a nation.
Take the Palestinians. Take this week.
Time was, if a large explosion rocked Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, killing a Hamas official and wounding his eight-year-old son, you knew at once where to point the finger. Directly at Israel.
Time was, if there were a severe governmental dispute over partitioning the Holy Land, over the concept of having two independent states, over a national unity government, over the pre-1967 borders of the West Bank, over the possibility of holding a referendum to decide the issues, you knew precisely who was having the debate – Israel.
Time was, if someone around here told you "If it weren’t for our common enemy, we’d be tearing each other to pieces," you could be absolutely certain that the person around here was Israeli.
Well, times have changed.
And the Palestinians, whether they like it or not, are changing as well. At this point, the times are giving them little choice.
For the first time since 1947, the Palestinians are facing a Partition Plan.
Hamas, a force for unvarnished maximalism since its founding in 1987, suddenly faces mounting domestic Palestinian pressure to take a step seen as implicitly recognizing the state of Israel.
Tensions between Fatah and Hamas hit critical levels over the past week. A partial list:
— On Thursday, no fewer than 10,000 Palestinian security members, loyal to Fatah, staged a mass demonstration in Gaza against the Hamas government, firing into the air, trying to break into the Palestinian parliament building, and hurling rocks and other objects at its windows.
— On Friday, Palestinian gunmen, apparently from Hamas, shot to death a senior officer in the Preventative Security Service, a Palestinian Authority agency closely linked to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah.
To the south in Khan Yunis, a gun battle between Hamas men and Preventative Security officers left three PSS members wounded.
— On Saturday, a force of some 2,500 Fatah militants deployed in Jenin as a new security arm, further escalating tensions with Hamas.
Later, in an apparent Fatah assassination operation, gunmen seriously wounded a junior commander in the Hamas military wing.
— On Monday, two more apparent Fatah assassination operations were carried out in the Strip. In Jabalya, a large explosion ripped through a house, killing Hamas member Ahmed Sari and wounding his son, 8.
Earlier in the day, masked gunmen fired on a car carrying a Hamas gunman and his wife, 20, who was eight months pregnant. Both were killed in the hail of fire.
Through it all, Abbas has been pushing the Prisoners’ Document, authored in part by Fatah leader-turned-lifer Marwan Barghouti and jailed representatives of Hamas and three other Palestinian factions.
In a rare case of Hamas misreading Palestinian public opinion – perhaps the surest sign of the transition into government – the fundamentalist movement was quick to oppose the Document.
A poll released Tuesday by a respected Palestinian opinion research team showed that on the critical plank of the Document, fully 83 percent of Palestinian respondents said the supported the creation of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 war borders of the West Bank and Gaza.
The clause is widely seen as expressing implicit recognition of Israel, a step Hamas has sought desperately to sidestep.
In all, 77 percent of respondents told Bir Zeit University pollsters that they supported the Prisoners’ Document, more bad news for the Hamas government, also on record as opposing a referendum on the manifesto.
Worse still, the poll showed a dramatic drop in support for Hamas, until recently – until taking office – a supremely popular political force.
Only 37 percent of respondents said they would vote for Hamas if elections were held now, down from a full 50 percent in April. In the January election, Hamas won nearly two-thirds of the parliamentary seats up for grabs.
The Palestinians now are facing issues which recall those that the Zionist movement faced in 1947, on the eve of the creation of a state.
At the time, David Ben-Gurion, leader of the predecessor of the Labor Party, favored a plan under which the Holy Land would be partitioned into two states, one Jewish, one – much larger – Arab.
He was bitterly opposed by the hardline Menachem Begin, commander of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi underground, and the more radical Lehi, commanded by Yitzhak Shamir.
Though Ben-Gurion was a maximalist by nature, he argued that creating a small state when the chance presented itself, was vastly preferable to holding out indefinitely for an ideological ideal that might never be realized.
It’s a point that, to the consternation of Hamas, and of many hardline contemporary Israelis, Palestinians may well have now taken to heart.