With Gaza in flames, and amid growing reports that HAMAS fighters are taking the upper hand in the vicious "civil war" enveloping the Strip and to a lesser degree the West Bank, it is time to take stock and regroup for the next set of developments. Ever since the first Intifada back in 1987, HAMAS has been on a slow and steady trajectory towards taking the undisputed reigns of the Palestine national movement, and no amount of fretting or wishing otherwise will change the outcome. The Fatah movement, once the undisputed master of the Palestinian destiny, has lost its way, lost its commanding presence, and fallen into chaos. Long before Yasir Arafat died in November 2004, Fatah was headed towards irrelevancy. If for no other reason, the grudging acquiescence by Arafat to Israel's demand to eliminate HAMAS (something Arafat occasionally agreed to, but never really effected) -- sealed the fate of Fatah. Try as it may -- adopting suicide bombing, creating a youth vanguard, mimicking the social services of HAMAS -- Fatah became a ghost. And once the "old man" was gone, all the seething disagreements and rivalries which he had so adroitly papered over for 35 years came pouring out into the open. When President George Bush, flush with talk of the spread of democracy in the Middle East, squeezed President Mahmud Abbas into calling snap legislative elections in Jauary 2006, the die was cast.
Cease fires have come and gone, and now there is talk of civil war. It won't last long. HAMAS will soon be the supreme ruler of the Gaza Strip. The question now is whether the West Bank will follow.
HAMAS is holed up in Gaza; the more cosmopolitan and sweet-talking Fatah is based in Ramallah, the political and cultural capital of the West Bank just a short drive north of Jerusalem. Once Gaza falls to the salafis, there will be no turning back. What conceivable scenario is there for the eradication of HAMAS in Gaza? Not even an Israeli invasion and reoccupation would be sufficient.
And so now there emerges two kinds of Palestine. One Palestine is made of HAMAS, an Islamist movement wildly popular in downtrodden Gaza. It fantasizes at erasing the outcome of 1948 and relies on the Qur'an and international jihadi support. The other Palestine is made of Fatah, which enjoys great support in the relatively more affluent towns and cities of the West Bank. It is a secular movement which intends to liberate whatever portion of Palestine falls on its plate with international and Israeli complicity. The rift is so great between these two competing Palestines that each denies the national legitimacy of the other. Said one HAMAS activist of Fatah after yesterday's carnage: "They are not Palestinians, they are lost people."
For Israel and the international community, only one choice remains: isolate the new HAMAS Gazastan, and pour all remaining funds and legitimacy into the West Bank Fatahstan. When the dust settles on this civil war, we will need to talk of a 3-state solution: Israel, an internationally recognized Palestine A, and an Islamist hot-spot Palestine B.