We all see the world through a prism of our experience, our values, our context, and so on. The point is to try to balance this inevitable conditioning with intellectual integrity - both to be honest about what forms our position, and willing to change if the facts force us too. Not everyone can do this.
Quite some years ago I wrote an MA thesis about a group of mid-echelon SS officers in Berlin whose job it was to persecute Jews. I must have read a few thousand pages of their documents, but my conditioning was heavily influenced by the faddish interpretations of the time, and I explained that what I had learned was that they must not have liked Jews, those SS officers, but the persecution was mostly the result of peer pressure, situational pressure as cogs in a totalitarian bureaucracy, the winds of war, and so on. Once I had finished, I went on to write a doctoral thesis about a similar group, more widely cast over most of Europe. For the PhD I must have read tens of thousands of pages of their documents, as well as a significantly larger amount of literature.
In the doctoral thesis I proved that my MA thesis had been all wrong. It turned out, for example, that the bureaucrats had been committed antisemites years before they began persecuting the Jews, and that this was an important reason for their becoming SS officers in the first place. During the 1940s, they contributed significantly and very proudly to the evolution of the murder policy because they were convinced that it was the correct thing to do.
So when this afternoon I read that the leaders of Hamas in Gaza are announcing that the Annapolis summit is essentially part of a conspiracy against the Palestinians, because it won't fulfil the elementary Palestinian needs, I think I know what they mean: That the elementary Palestinian needs are to have no Israel controlling any part of their definition of Palestine. And that's what they really think. Not as a reaction to Israeli settlements, or roadblocks, or Colonialism, or what have you.
Not everyone agrees with me - perhaps because the facts don't support my understanding, they'd tell you. Or, perhaps because their understanding of the world doesn't include the concept of anyone really and truly thinking the way the Hamas fellows talk, hence it must be that they talk but don't meant what they say.
Who could I possible be referring too? Well, here's Henry Siegman of the New York Review of Books back in April 2006; and here he is now, quite unfazed by anything that has happened in the world since last year. If I find the time tommorrow, I may decide to systematically take apart his recent contribution.
Update: Here's my take on him.