by Khaled Abu Toameh
The Palestinians' two most radical groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have launched talks aimed at merging under one organization.
This is, of course, bad news for moderate Palestinians who believe in the two-state solution and peace with Israel. It is also bad news for secular Palestinians, especially those living in the West Bank.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the two dominant groups in the Gaza Strip, home to some 1.5 million Palestinians.
Although most Palestinians do not understand the real differences between the two Islamist groups, Islamic Jihad has always been viewed as being more extremist than Hamas.
Hamas is different from Islamic Jihad the same way a red apple is different from a green one.
Both groups seek the elimination of Israel and do not recognize the Oslo Accords that were signed between the Israelis and the PLO in 1993.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad advocate the path of an "armed resistance" against Israel to "liberate all Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River."
Bo[th] groups are responsible for countless terror attacks that have resulted in the killing of hundreds of Israelis over the past two decades.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad agree on everything except reconciliation with Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, participation in Palestinian elections and incorporation into the Palestinian Authority.
Islamic Jihad leaders have come out in public against Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal's attempts to achieve reconciliation between his movement and Fatah.
Islamic Jihad is also strongly opposed to participation in the next presidential and parliamentary elections, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he hopes to hold in May this year. Unlike Hamas, Islamic Jihad boycotted the 2006 parliamentary elections which were won by Hamas.
More recently, Islamic Jihad voiced its staunch opposition to Hamas's agreement to form a unity government with Fatah -- a move that would see Hamas officially being incorporated into the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas says its plans to join the Palestinian Authority -- and perhaps the PLO -- do not mean that the movement accepts the peace process with Israel. Hamas believes that the reconciliation with Fatah would be the first step toward taking control over the Palestinian leadership. The next step would be to abolish the Oslo Accords and resume the fight against Israel.
Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, believes that the peace process can be destroyed only through terror attacks and without having to run in elections or join Palestinian Authority institutions.
Some Palestinians say the planned merger between the two radical groups reflects Hamas's fear of the rising power of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
Although Islamic Jihad has only a few thousand militiamen, the organization has in recent months openly challenged Hamas's totalitarian rule in the Gaza Strip. On several occasions, Islamic Jihad militiamen have defied Hamas instructions to honor an undeclared truce with Israel.
Hamas leaders are also worried about increased Islamic Jihad control over dozens of mosques and religious institutions throughout the Gaza Strip.
The expected merger between Hamas and Islamic Jihad is a by-product of the "Arab Spring" that has seen the rise of Muslim fundamentalists to power in a number of Arab countries.
There is nothing Abbas can do to stop the merger between Hamas and Islamic Jihad. All he can do for now is to join forces with Israel in making an effort to block the Islamic fundamentalist groups from extending their control from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.Khaled Abu Toameh
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