Hamas and Fatah have once again demonstrated that the power struggle that has been raging between the two parties for the past three years is not over who is going to bring democracy and prosperity to Palestine. Nor is it over who is going to build schools, universities and hospitals. They are not fighting over what is good for the Palestinians. They are fighting over money and power.

This power struggle is one of the main reasons why the Palestinians are still far from reaching their goals, first and foremost the establishment of an independent state.

The two sides despise one another so tremendously that some Palestinians have been arguing that Hamas and Fatah hate each other more than they hate Israel.

Had it not been for Israel’s physical presence between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-dominated West Bank, it is highly likely that these two entities would be dispatching rockets and suicide bombers against each other.

Ironically, it is Israel that is preventing Muslims from killing Muslims. In the summer of 2007, when Hamas launched its “military coup” in the Gaza Strip, it was Israel that saved the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Fatah members and their families.

These Fatah operatives first tried to run away toward Egypt, but most were blocked by Egyptian security forces, which sent them to knock on Israel’s door for help. Israel was the only country that sent ships, ambulances and helicopters to save Muslims from being slaughtered by their Muslim brethren, to save Fatah from being destroyed by Hamas.

Today, it is Israel’s presence in the West Bank that is preventing the collapse of Fatah and a Hamas takeover. Ironically, if Israel carries out what Fatah is demanding in public - a withdrawal from the West Bank - Fatah will be the first to vanish.

Fatah is now demanding that the same IDF officers who are protecting it in the West Bank be put on trial for perpetrating “war crimes” during Operation Cast Lead. Fatah’s hypocrisy and insolence evidently know no limits.

During the war, Fatah did everything it could to help Israel end the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Fatah representatives provided Israel with vital intelligence about the location of Hamas figures and installations in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, they exerted pressure on Israel not to end the war without removing Hamas from power.

When Operation Cast Lead ended without achieving that goal, Fatah leaders privately expressed disappointment with Israel for failing to “finish the job.”

Fatah’s lies, corruption, incompetence, hypocrisy and failure to reform have severely undermined its standing among Palestinians. Yet this has not stopped Fatah from seeking new elections in the Palestinian territories.

Fatah will win the elections, when and if they are held, only if two things occur : if its leaders steal the vote, or if Hamas chooses to boycott the elections.

Although Hamas has also been a disaster for Palestinians, the Islamic movement is still regarded by many in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an “honest” and “clean” movement.

Now that the latest Egyptian attempt to force Hamas and Fatah to reconcile has failed, there is no point in talking about resuming the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Any agreement that Israel reaches with Fatah will be automatically rejected by Hamas and a large number of Palestinians.

Instead of focusing its attention and efforts on achieving peace between Jews and Arabs, the US Administration should first find a way to end the civil war that has been raging among Palestinians over the past three years. Peace between Palestinians and Palestinians could even pave the way for peace between Palestinians and Israel.

All Palestinians, particularly those living in the Gaza Strip, are continuing to pay a heavy price for the ongoing rift between Hamas and Fatah. Hundreds have been killed and injured in the fighting between the two groups over the past three years.

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