A 72-hour civil war last week left the nascent state of Palestine cut in two. A secular regime now rules in the West Bank; a Muslim one in Gaza. Eventually the two warring sides will realize they can never create a country for all Palestinians on their own. But when?
Palestinians everywhere still deserve a unified, independent state. The Middle East, too, deserves to see one created simply to remove the Palestinian diaspora as a reason for strife and terrorism.
Just how Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza someday reconcile will depend much on the actions of various nations, from Iran to the US, that have fingers in this newly divided pie.
The last outside force to reconcile Hamas and Fatah was Saudi Arabia, in March. It is itself ruled by a largely secular regime that made accommodation with powerful Islamists. Saudi money, too, goes far in the region, and lately to counter Iran's noxious influence.
For a few months, the Saudis were able to patch together a Palestinian government torn over the issue of who controls the security forces. Fatah holds the presidency while Hamas ruled parliament after last year's elections. But when President Mahmoud Abbas recently put an anti-Hamas associate as head of all security forces, Hamas decided to remove Fatah from its stronghold in Gaza. Its quick victory, against a Fatah force supplied with American weapons, will resonate in the Middle East for some time.
But it's a Pyrrhic victory. A religious party bent on destroying Israel can't long ignore the Palestinians' acceptance of the necessity for a two-state solution with Israel. And the new ad hoc regime in Gaza can't survive in the tiny, isolated strip without Israel and Egypt allowing aid and trade across the borders to feed about 1.5 million residents.
Economic strangulation of Gaza, which may tempt Israel, would only force Hamas to shoot rockets at Israeli civilians, hoping to evoke an Israeli incursion into Gaza and then win wide Middle East support. That old dynamic must be avoided.
Israel may also try to quickly negotiate a deal with Mr. Abbas to create a West-Bank-only Palestinian state, one to be well funded with aid. But that route ignores the possibility of Islamists in the West Bank resorting to suicide bombings.
In the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel agreed to treat the West Bank and Gaza as "a single territorial unit." That logic still makes sense today. And Abbas can't claim to represent all Palestinians if he achieves only a partial state.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should use this opportunity to fulfill his 2006 election promise to pull more Israeli settlers out of the occupied West Bank. Such an action would show Palestinians they can win more concessions.
But it is really Hamas that must change most of all. It now acts as a proxy for Iran in attacking Israel. And even though it was fairly elected to power, that vote was due largely to Palestinian unhappiness at Fatah's corruption, not as a vote for radical Islam. Its support of bombings against civilians reveals an antidemocracy ideology.
Arab leaders and Israel have a joint interest to not further fracture the Palestinian state. Together they can bring the sides together, and perhaps in the process, make further peace between themselves.