Before trying to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the US Administration might do well to recall that last month marked the third anniversary of the war that erupted between Fatah and Hamas.

This war has so far claimed the lives of hundreds of Palestinians and resulted in the emergence of two separate states -- one in the Gaza Strip, and another in the West Bank. The Palestinians are probably the only people in the world who have two governments, two prime ministers and almost two of everything.

It is a war between a party that won a free election in January 2006, Hamas; and another that lost the vote, Fatah.

The war was triggered largely by Fatah's refusal to accept its defeat, and Hamas's insistence on clinging to power.

The infighting is also the result of a series of grave mistakes that were committed by the Americans and Europeans over the past few years.

The first mistake was to ignore warnings by Israel and Fatah that a free parliamentary election was likely to lead to a Hamas victory.

Mistake number two was to allow Hamas to participate in the election unconditionally. The Americans and Europeans should have welcomed Hamas's decision to run in the election, but they should also have demanded that the Islamist movement meet three conditions: renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and pledge to respect previous agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israelis.

The third mistake was to support and encourage Fatah's attempts to overthrow the Hamas government. American and European meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians backfired, further discrediting Fatah, and boosting Hamas's popularity among Palestinians even more.

The Fatah-Hamas confrontation has been -- and remains -- an ugly one. It is a war that is being fought on many fronts -- in mosques, universities, colleges, hospitals, schools, charities, various professional unions and the media.

Prisons run by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Fatah in the West Bank, are full of detainees from both sides. Among the detainees are political activists, university students and professors, journalists and imams. Many of them are being held without trial and are often denied visits by family members, human rights organizations and lawyers.

Stories about brutal torture and human rights abuses by both parties have become commonplace.

Both Fatah and Hamas seem to be concerned only about how to tighten their grip on the small piece of land each party controls. Hamas's campaign against Fatah is aimed at thwarting any attempt by the Western-backed faction to return to the Gaza Strip.

On the other hand, Fatah's massive clampdown on Hamas is designed to stop the Islamist movement from extending its control to the West Bank.

Three years after the Fatah-Hamas War broke out, there are still no signs that it is on its way to subsiding. On the contrary; as time passes, the battle seems to become fiercer. For now, it seems that the Palestinians and the rest of the world will have to live for a long time with the reality in which the Palestinians are divided into two political camps and geographic areas.

Efforts by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and some Palestinians to end the war between the two Palestinian entities have so far been unsuccessful. And it is highly unlikely that Fatah and Hamas will be able to achieve "reconciliation" any time in the near future.

Those who are working toward achieving a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians can no longer ignore the fact that their vision has finally been realized, but in a different way.

In the end, it is the Palestinians who got two states.

It is hard to understand why the US Administration is bothering at all with "direct" and "proximity" talks between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction while ignoring the basic fact that the Palestinian president has no control over 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip who make up about half the total population of the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian president cannot even visit his private home in the Gaza Strip. So how and where is he expected to implement any agreement he reaches with Israel?

Decision-makers in Washington and European capitals need to wake up and realize that there can be no progress in the "peace process" when the Palestinians are busy throwing each other from the 15th and 18th floors of buildings, and establishing detention and torture centers for each other.

The only way to move forward is by insisting that the Palestinians first get their act together.

How can that be achieved? Leave it up to the Palestinians to find a solution. This should be an internal Palestinian and Arab problem, not a matter for US and EU diplomats to tamper with.

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