GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — After decades of false hopes and shattered dreams, the Palestinian people finally have their two-state solution. Only it's not the two-state solution they were expecting.
By the time disciplined Islamist Hamas fighters dispatched their secular Fatah rivals last week in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian people were living under divided rule.
Hamas controls the more conservative Gaza Strip, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah allies run the larger, more secular West Bank.
Fatah's collapse came as a shock, but not necessarily a surprise. And while the Hamas triumph was seen by some as a death knell for the real two-state solution, Israel and the United States were moving quickly moving to turn things to their advantage.
On Saturday, the Bush administration and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government both indicated they would take quick steps to shore up Abbas by restoring normal diplomatic and financial relations with the Hamas-free emergency government he is expected to establish Sunday.
For many pro-Western Palestinians, the move by Israel and the United States to bolster Abbas was woefully late.
For nearly two years, Abbas allies have been calling on the two countries to provide the pragmatic Palestinian president with the political, military and financial support he needed to deliver tangible progress for the 4 million residents he represents.
Israel and the United States were reluctant to help Abbas counterbalance Hamas influence. That left Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, with little to show for his conciliatory attitude towards the West.
"Israel and the Americans repeatedly said that they would support Abu Mazen, but materially they did not," said Ayman Shaheen, a political analyst at Al Azar University in Gaza City. "We saw during these five days of fighting the superiority of the Hamas forces."
Many trace the roots of the Hamas victory to the summer of 2005, when Israel unilaterally ended nearly 40 years of military rule in the Gaza Strip by dismantling its Jewish settlements.
Instead of coordinating with Abbas and planning for what would come next, Israel carried out the pullout plan on its own. That allowed Hamas to claim, with some legitimacy, that it had pushed Israel out with its dispiriting suicide bombing campaign.
Before and after the pullout, Abbas sought permission from Israel to reopen the destroyed airport near the Egyptian border, begin building an operating port and establish a healthy import-export system for the Gaza Strip economy.
None of it came to pass.
Instead, four months after Israel shuttered its Gaza Strip settlements, Hamas stunned the world by taking control of the Palestinian Authority in democratic elections. Israel and the United States responded by leading an international diplomatic and economic boycott of the Hamas-led government.
Though they retained tentative political relations with Abbas, neither government did so with much delight. Abbas has always lived in the shadow of the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and has never established himself as a decisive leader.
Political talks between Olmert and Abbas stagnated, despite direct intervention from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
With the Hamas-led government starving, the Islamist party that refuses to renounce its violent pledge to destroy Israel instead turned to Iran for help. And Iran was more than happy to oblige.
Iran provided essential money, support and military training. Hamas also used underground tunnels to smuggle new weapons into the Gaza Strip from Egypt.
In October 2006, clashes broke out between Fatah and Hamas fighters over the political impasse. The fighting led to the first of at least 16 broken cease-fires over the next eight months.
It wasn't until the end of 2006 that the United States and Israel moved to help Abbas counter the military buildup. The two gave the green light for Egypt to send several thousand rifles and two million rounds of ammunition to Abbas forces in the Gaza Strip.
Even with the influx of weapons, the president's forces were woefully outgunned. Abbas made more requests for military support that Israel never approved.
One Israeli government source, who spoke on a condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said his nation was reluctant to let more weapons in for Abbas.
"When we have passed money and equipment to moderates, we have seen, unfortunately, that reaching the wrong people," said the source.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the Israelis faced a Catch-22: If they didn't support Abbas, they were viewed as undermining the moderates. But if they offered overt backing, it was used by Hamas to make the Palestinian president look like an Israeli stooge.
As Israel debated what to do, the Bush administration announced plans in late 2006 to spend $100 million to train the Abbas fighters. But the idea quickly stalled in Congress, where lawmakers from both parties voiced reservations. Some worried that the plan would only fuel the nascent Palestinian civil war between Hamas and Fatah that had claimed hundreds of lives.
The plan was cut nearly in half when the head of the Bush administration's security coordinator with the Palestinians told Congress last month that there were "hopeful signs" that Abbas forces could take on Hamas fighters and win.
"When you train these people and you actually invest in them, they take pride in what they do," Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton told Congress.
Three weeks later, with Abbas still waiting for the money and training to arrive, those same forces were routed in battle after battle with Hamas.
(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Cliff Churgin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.)