Just a year after Yasser Arafat's death, the Palestinian movement is falling apart. It should not too hard to understand the consequences of this development:
With no Palestinian leadership there is no one capable of making peace with Israel.
With no effective moderate Palestinian leadership there is no one who wants to make peace with Israel.
With the rising power of both Hamas and the young generation led by Marwan Barghouti, both the movement and Palestinian voters are embracing a harder line.
With Hamas setting the agenda, the movement is either returning to its historic goal of seeking to destroy Israel or - if you don't believe it ever changed - is simply being increasingly obvious about it.
The new locally-originated younger leadership owes its position to the use of terrorist violence. It is repeating in the 21st century the strategy that Arafat pioneered in the 1950s and 1960s.
For a dozen years, Palestinians have been subjected to an intense campaign of incitement to hate Israel and to believe that it will be defeated by violence. While many do not completely accept this and hold such reasonable goals as enjoying peaceful lives and educating their children, this perspective has no place in Palestinian politics today.
In short: There is no peace process and there isn't going to be a peace process. This is disappointing and shocking to many around the world; it certainly runs contrary to their expectations. One day it might change but for the foreseeable future what is needed is a new framework for understanding the conflict. How about this one:
Israel is targeted by genocidal reactionaries using terrorism, incapable of keeping their commitments, and unwilling to take the offer of their own state living alongside Israel in peace. As a result Israel has a right to defend itself and a claim for the world's support.
This is what the plain facts show. We have already seen the anarchy in the Palestinian-ruled areas, the factional violence, inability to enforce any law, refusal to stop anti-Israel terrorism (with rare exceptions), rule by gunmen, failure to impose any government in the Gaza Strip, rejection of compromise leading to a Palestinian state, widespread corruption and more.
Now this process of collapse and radicalization has visibly passed the point of no return. The two key events are Hamas's achieving equality with Fatah and the split within Fatah itself.
After doing well in the initial rounds of local elections - drawing even with Fatah in its control of local councils - Hamas fared even better in the critical final round. It won in the largest town, Nablus (with 72 percent), and al-Bireh (with 72%), while gaining a majority in Jenin. As for Ramallah, 60% of the seats went either to Hamas or the equally radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group also totally opposed to making peace with Israel.
HAMAS WILL control the lives of about half of the Palestinians and get international aid money to use for either civil or terrorist projects and to consolidate popular support. It can demand equality with the nationalists.
Hamas leaders praise Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for advocating that Israel be wiped off the map. That is their position, too. Thus, there can be no peace with Israel, no moderation and no end to terrorism for decades.
Barghouti set up his own party because his faction would not receive as many positions on the Fatah election list as its showing in primaries warranted. A Fatah split means a Hamas triumph in January's parliamentary elections, if they are held, perhaps even becoming the Palestinian assembly's largest single faction.
Of course, Barghouti might be coaxed back to the "official" ticket, but only if his hard-line group was given even more leverage in Fatah. An Islamist Hamas and a nationalist "Hamas" in terms of its political stand could soon be more than two-thirds of the Palestinian movement.
Here's a note for wishful thinkers. Barghouti is a complex man. He publicly stated that Palestinians could not wage an effective intifada, and then organized it in 2000. There's a good reason why he is sitting with several life sentences in an Israeli jail. More than anyone except Arafat, he is responsible for the terrorist war which killed over 1,000 Israelis and even more Palestinians.
If Barghouti became the movement's leader, perhaps after a decade or so, he might be ready for a compromise peace with Israel. But what would he do about Hamas then? At present, this scenario is an even weaker reed to cling to than believing Yasser Arafat would make peace.
Another interesting point is that a Barghouti-led movement would have no claim on the loyalty of Palestinians elsewhere. Already, Palestinians in Jordan largely back the Islamist movement there while their counterparts in Lebanon are headed by extremist movements sponsored by Syria or Iran. The split in Fatah will engender a split among Palestinians internationally.
How can Western countries, much less public opinion, maintain a strategy to help Palestinian moderates if there aren't any? How can they focus on a peace process when the movement rejects the very notion of peace? How can they ignore its return to a strategy encompassing just three tactics: terrorism, intransigence and propaganda?
The writer, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, is editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs.