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Palestine’s Necessary Civil War

Regardless of the latest hastily negotiated truce, the battle between nationalist Fatah and Islamist Hamas seems to be gaining intensity. Palestinian politics, always self-destructive, has reached new heights of internal conflict, pulling the population deeper into disorder and pushing them further away from statehood.

The movement’s remarkable ability to sabotage itself is not new. In the late 1960’s, the PLO, led by Fatah, antagonized its Jordanian hosts until they expelled it by force. During the 1970’s, the PLO entered Lebanon’s civil war, wearing out its welcome there. The sole issue on which Israel, Syria, and Lebanese political leaders agreed in the 1980’s was that the PLO should be thrown out of Lebanon. During the 1990's, the PLO botched its opportunity to govern the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, create a stable and development-oriented regime there, and make peace with Israel.

Rejecting a deal with Israel in 2000, Fatah instead launched a violent revolt that has lasted ever since then, destroying the infrastructure built up in the Palestinian territories during the previous decade. Massive foreign aid was stolen, squandered, or wrecked by unnecessary violence.

When Yassir Arafat, the perennial PLO, Fatah, and Palestinian Authority leader, died, Palestinians in theory had a chance to end this history of disasters. Yet Arafat’s replacement, Mahmoud Abbas, was a colorless, not particularly strong figure with no real political or military base of his own.