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A Palestinian boy carries a toy gun spray painted green, the color of Hamas. (Heidi Levine for The Globe and Mail/Heidi Levine for The Globe and Mail)
A Palestinian boy carries a toy gun spray painted green, the color of Hamas. (Heidi Levine for The Globe and Mail/Heidi Levine for The Globe and Mail)

ANALYSIS

Hamas: Agents of terror, partners in peace, or both? Add to ...

But it wasn't enough as far as Israel was concerned. It insisted that the group renounce violence and recognize Israel.

So, in September 1993, before Israel would formally accept the already negotiated Oslo Accords, Mr. Arafat sent prime minister Rabin a letter stating: "The PLO recognizes the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security."

To that, Mr. Rabin replied that Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, and the agreement then was endorsed.

There is no indication Hamas is about to take similar steps.

"Who needs the recognition?" an incredulous Mr. Hamad asked, noting that Israel is recognized as a member of the United Nations. "They [Israelis]want us, the victims, to recognize them."

Mr. Batniji said the Jewish community has the right to exist "in the world and in its own places: Romanians can be in Romania, and Russians can be in Russia, and Americans can be in America."

As for Israel existing in historical Palestine, Mr. Batniji was cutting. "Just because he's Jewish, the land is his and he has the right to evict the others, by force or killing?" he asked.

Others held to more moderate interpretations. Ahmed Yousef, until recently the deputy foreign minister in Gaza's Hamas government, advocates a binational state in all of Palestine, a state in which all the people of the book - Muslims, Christians and Jews - could live together.

For most Israelis, that is a non-starter, as it would destroy the Jewish character of their country.

Several others imagined a future in which two states, Israel and Palestine, would live side by side, with a truce (a ceasefire, not a treaty) between the two sides for a lengthy period of time.

But, on one point, everyone interviewed agreed: They still would not recognize Israel's right to exist.

That was the position spelled out by Hamas's senior political leader, Mr. Meshaal, when he spoke in early May in Cairo at the ceremony marking the reconciliation.

"Our aim is to establish a free and completely sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, whose capital is Jerusalem, without any settlers and without giving up a single inch of land and without giving up on the right of return [of Palestinian refugees]"

Can they change?

So, is Hamas still so wedded to armed resistance that it can never accept a political solution?

There is another way to view the group, said Alastair Crooke, author of Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution and a member of the Mitchell Report on the causes of the second Palestinian intifada.

"Hamas sees resistance as the means to generate the feelings that go into building community cohesion and self-respect," Mr. Crooke said.

The group "does not believe that their armed resistance, per se, can bring about the defeat of Israel militarily."

Rather, by "refusing subservience," he said, Hamas seeks to create "a psychological balance with Israel that may eventually facilitate a political solution."

In an interview with Mr. Crooke, Mr. Meshaal explained that Israel "needs to understand that, in Hamas, there is a tough negotiator, but one that, unlike others, stands by its commitments when given.

"We in Hamas," he said, "like most of the Palestinian factions, have accepted the idea of a state with the borders of 4 June, 1967. However, we have said that we will not recognize Israel."

Why is that? "It is because the Palestinian people are convinced that the land which Israel occupied is their land.

So, while they accept a state with the borders of 1967, they do not want to give legitimacy to those who occupied their lands 60 or 70 years ago."

The Hamas formula, Mr. Meshaal said, is simply this: "If through politics we come to agree to a Palestinian state with the borders of 1967, why should we be forced to renounce our beliefs and feelings too, by recognizing Israel?"

Back at the Etzion Junction, at least one of Hamas's victims remains skeptical. Ms. Gillis is now 48 and remarried.

Shortly after the night her then-husband was killed, she decided to erect a living monument to him in the form of a rest station for Israeli soldiers serving in the area. All day, every day except Saturday, the Sabbath, the soldiers file in for free coffee and assorted cakes.

"We want to believe them," Ms. Gillis said this week about Hamas. "We really do. But we can't.

"They don't have a place in their hearts for us," she said. "They're committed to destroying us."

Patrick Martin is The Globe and Mail's Middle East correspondent.

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