A new Palestinian movement was launched Wednesday in Ramallah in the West Bank aimed at the moderate middle of Muslim politics. Wasatia - Arabic for "moderation" - is the first Islamic religious party to advocate a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a tolerant, democratic society at home. Political science professor Mohammed Dajani, director of the American Studies Institute at Al-Quds University in eastern Jerusalem, hope to build Wasatia into a movement that will eventually compete with Hamas for the votes of what he calls the silent majority of Palestinians. "The new party will foster a culture of moderation and attract Palestinian voters who are moderate in their religious beliefs. The existing Palestinian Islamic parties breed radicalism and fundamentalism," Dajani said. "Charity and voluntarism - this is Islam," he said. "The creation of new jobs does not have to be related to arms and violence." The Wasatia platform does not endorse the return of the estimated 4 million Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel. "I would say to the refugees: 'Move on with your life.' We cannot let the past bury the future, even though it should always be remembered," said Dajani. He said most Palestinians are proud of their Muslim heritage but many are uncomfortable with the fundamentalism of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and, after years of disastrous armed resistance, are tired of their extreme militarism. "We have found that hardliners are not the majority among Palestinians," said Bashar Azzeh, a doctoral student who spent seven years in the U.S. "There is a feeling that people have tried violence, they have tried everything, and this is what we need now."
"A moderate, centrist Islamic party will take support from Hamas voters who will not vote for secular parties," said Hanna Siniora, a veteran Palestinian publisher. But Mahdi Abdel Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, said that centrist parties won only 6 of 132 seats in last January's election. "Without alliances with powerful elites in society, this new initiative will be born dead," said Abdel Hadi.