This has become predictable. Given two minutes of breath, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas resorts to the old tactic of courting Hamas as a way of hiding from the disaffection of his own Fatah faction. The overtures towards Hamas are a smokescreen for what many Palestinians are beginning to perceive as the beginning of a revolt against Abbas.
Last week, Abbas held a surprise meeting in Qatar with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal. The meeting reportedly considered ways of ending the longstanding dispute between Fatah and Hamas and achieving "national reconciliation."
Abbas aides said the meeting also dealt with the possibility of forming a Palestinian "national unity" government and holding long-overdue presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The unexpected meeting was held under the auspices of the rulers of Qatar, a country that has long been the Number One sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, of which Hamas is an offshoot.
The surprising nature of the meeting between Abbas and the Hamas leaders makes sense: for one thing, the two sides had, prior to the encounter, denied that it would take place.
Moreover, the meeting came only weeks after Fatah and Hamas traded allegations over the cancellation of the Palestinian municipal election, supposed to be held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on October 8. Tensions between the two rival parties have since been mounting over the cancellation of the local election, with each side holding the other responsible for "foiling the democratic, electoral process."
So what is really behind Abbas's latest decision to throw himself into the open arms of Hamas? Is the PA president suddenly smitten with genuine concern for "national reconciliation", or did something else prompt him to rush to Qatar?
The timing of the meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha is
Abbas's chat with Mashaal and Haniyeh coincided with an unprecedented wave of violent protests that have erupted against him in a number of Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank. In the past few weeks, scenes of armed clashes between PA security forces and gunmen have become a daily scene in the refugee camps of Balata, Jenin and Al-Amari in the West Bank.
Palestinians say the confrontations are the worst in many years and pose a serious and open challenge to Abbas. The most recent clashes took place last week in Balata, when hundreds of PA security officers stormed the camp in an attempt to arrest "outlaws" and "criminals." At least four people were wounded during the exchange of gunfire between the gunmen and policemen.
Similar clashes have also occurred in the Al-Amari camp (near Ramallah) and the Jenin camp.
Abbas aides claim that ousted Fatah strongman Mohamed Dahlan is behind the latest unrest in the refugee camps.
They claim that Dahlan and his supporters are seeking to overthrow Abbas as part of a "wider conspiracy" to appoint new leaders for the Palestinians.
They also claim that some Arab countries, particularly Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, are backing the alleged conspiracy to remove Abbas from power.
Abbas's paranoia has reached the point that he has begun expelling or arresting any Fatah member whom he suspects of being affiliated with Dahlan. Hardly a day passes without the Palestinian Authority's expulsion of yet another unruly Fatah official.
According to Palestinian sources, at least thirteen Fatah officials have been run out of the faction in the past few months, most of them on suspicion of being linked in one way or another to Dahlan.
The most recent target of Abbas's crackdown is Jihad Tamliyeh, a top Fatah operative from Al-Amari, who was accused of trying to convene a meeting of Dahlan loyalists in the camp. After breaking up the gathering and threatening to arrest participants, Abbas signed an order expelling Tamliyeh from Fatah. The decision to ban the meeting and the subsequent expulsion of Tamliyeh from Fatah sparked a wave of violent protests and widespread condemnations in the West Bank.
Later, Abbas ordered his security forces to arrest Ra'fat Elayan, a senior Fatah official from East Jerusalem, also on suspicion of being affiliated with Dahlan.
Dahlan, who has denied any connection to the recent turmoil in Fatah, has accused Abbas of running Fatah and the PA as his private fiefdom.
"Since when was Fatah a company or a fiefdom from which people are expelled in accordance with personal agendas?" Dahlan wondered. He also denied that he has ambitions to replace or succeed Abbas.
Further evidence of the expanding turmoil in Abbas's Fatah faction emerged last week with a report that claimed that the PA security forces had uncovered a plot to assassinate three top Fatah officials: Ghassan Shaka'ah, Jamal Tirawi and Amin Maqboul - all critics of Abbas. According to the report, three of the suspects are PA security officers.
The rising tensions and skyrocketing discontent with Abbas's autocratic rule in Fatah are yet another sign of the failure of the PA president to control his own faction. Fatah is the dominant party in the PA; thus, the way it goes, so goes PA establishment.
Most, if not all, the members of the PA security forces are Fatah loyalists. So are most of the PA's civil servants. Many PA security officers and senior Fatah officials are said to be unhappy with the way Abbas is cracking down on suspected Fatah dissidents.
"The Palestinian Authority has violated the Palestinian law by raiding Palestinian refugee camps to prevent conferences," said top Fatah official Sufyan Abu Zaida. "What is happening in the refugee camps (in the West Bank) is dangerous and unacceptable."
Some PA officials have privately criticized Abbas for failing to realize the degree to which his Fatah faction represents a threat to him. They expressed surprise that he has not yet abandoned his globe-trotting habit and remained in Ramallah to tackle what they call the "Camp Intifada" against him.
The officials also pointed out that the increased tensions in Fatah could spoil efforts to convene Fatah's seventh conference to elect new members and discuss reforms in the faction. Abbas is hoping to convene the conference before the end of this year. The last time Fatah held a conference was in 2009.
Under the current circumstances, the likelihood that the long-awaited conference will actually take place appears to be nearly nil. The internecine fighting in Fatah and the growing challenges to Abbas's leadership are to thank for those poor odds.
Meanwhile, the 81-year-old Abbas is busy searching for ways to escape from the most recent fire to have broken out in his back yard. And the best way to do so, he remembers from eruption to eruption, is to appear to be getting his Fatah faction back into bed with the Islamist movement.
The prospect of a Fatah-Hamas unity certainly gets the world salivating. Only the very naïve, however, could ever imagine such a union, at least in the foreseeable future. Just as only the foolhardy could imagine Hamas relinquishing its goal of the destruction of Israel for the sake of a tryst with Fatah.
If the Fatah-Hamas rift was once considered the major obstacle to Palestinian statehood, today it has become obvious that divisions among Fatah pose even a bigger threat to Palestinian aspirations.
If Abbas is unable to make peace inside his own Fatah faction, how will he ever be able to end the dispute with Hamas? And the more crucial question: How can Abbas ever be expected to make peace with Israel when he cannot even control his own Fatah loyalists? The Palestinian political situation, plagued with anarchy on all fronts, is deteriorating on a daily basis.
Israel and the rest of the world are currently facing two Palestinian camps: one (Hamas) that does not want to make peace with Israel because it believes Israel ought not to exist, and the second (Fatah) that cannot make peace with Israel because it is too weak to do so. The next US administration, whatever political persuasion it may be, would do well to mark this reality.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.