Scenes from a Palestinian Tragedy

RAMALLAH, West Bank —On the recent morning he became a minister in the Palestinian “emergency” cabinet, Ashraf Eid al-Ajrami’s mobile

RAMALLAH, West Bank —On the recent morning he became a minister in the Palestinian “emergency” cabinet, Ashraf Eid al-Ajrami’s mobile phone alternated between calls of congratulations and calls of desperation from the Gaza Strip.

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“If I can help you, I will do my best,” Mr. al-Ajrami, a Fatah operative who writes for the party newspaper, told colleagues hoping to flee the dawning of Hamas rule in the blighted coastal swath of 1.5 million Palestinians.

Mr. al-Ajrami worked from a cushy arm chair in the lobby of the Grand Park Hotel, a high-end Ramallah hotel which had become an absorption center for dozens of disheveled Gaza political activists. The sight of the deposed Fatah party hacks and security men quietly consoling each other after being exiled by their own countrymen was a microcosm of what many believe to be the worst crisis to befall the Palestinians in generations.

“Unfortunately, said Mr. al-Ajrami, who was wearing an electric-purple tie framed by a well-pressed pinstriped suit, “it is a historic day from a negative perspective.”

The turbulent birth of diametrically opposed political entities—one a secular Western-orientated government in the West Bank and the second a radical Islamic regime in Gaza under the influence of Iran—is a nightmare scenario for Palestinian statehood. It raises the specter of a whole new generation of Palestinian political refugees, which would earn it a place alongside the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 and the 1948 nakba, or catastrophe, of Palestinian dispersion as a tragic historical landmark in their recent history.

And because this disaster more than any of the others was primarily a breakdown of the domestic Palestinian political order, it is potentially the most serious reversal of all. What started as limited inter-factional skirmishes between rival militias belonging to Hamas and Fatah ended in the subdivision of West Bank and Gaza into two separate entities. Palestinians are now realizing they’ve achieved what they once considered to be Israel’s unspoken goal.

“What we have right now is a complete departure, and a fundamental transformation in the Palestinian political landscape right now, both on the ideological level and the field level,” said Basem Ezbidi, a political-science professor at Bir Zeit University outside of Ramallah.

“We have two places with two governments, with two realities, and two platforms for liberation. This is a huge rift in the Palestinian body politic. It is no longer one body, one political world, one goal. It’s a very different situation now.”

Scenes from a Palestinian Tragedy