Analysts of the Middle East (including Eric Trager) have recently forecast a third "intifada," or Palestinian uprising, against the Israelis. Sunday's clashes between rock-hurling Palestinian youth and Israeli police at the Temple Mount in the old city of Jerusalem seem to underscore this. Moreover, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, speaking from his base in Syria, is fanning the flames, insisting that the future of Jerusalem will be settled "on the ground of confrontation and resistance."
While renewed conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is perennially possible, there may be another conflict brewing. Indeed, a new "intra-fada" between the Palestinian factions may be on the horizon.
Tensions between the two largest Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, are running high. In 2007, Hamas conquered the Gaza Strip, killing and maiming dozens of Fatah members in the process. Since then, the two Palestinian territories have split into two quasi-states led by two quasi-governments: the Iranian-backed Hamastan (or Gazastan) and the Western-backed Fatahland (or West-Bankistan). Hamas and Fatah occasionally clash, and reconciliation talks have repeatedly failed.
Now, the Palestinian Maan News Agency reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to run for reelection on the Fatah ticket. He scheduled elections for January 24, 2010. Hamas, however, rejects the legitimacy of the elections, and will likely not participate. Renewed conflict between these two factions is a real possibility.
The Obama administration, however, has elected not to make this a high-priority issue. This is a mistake. If the Palestinians again descend into war, or even if they simply remain at odds, they are still divided. Indeed, there is no Palestinian interlocutor – the most basic ingredient needed for peace talks. Until the administration addresses this, its Middle East peace initiative simply cannot succeed.