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As the Palestinian world turns

Searching for a new script to get Hamas and Fatah to cooperate.

Palestinian children take part in a Fatah rally in support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Qalqilya July 11, 2009. Bitter differences remain between the Palestinian groups of Fatah and Hamas. (Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Soap operas usually block out scenes with two cameras, one for each of the glaring opponents. The editor switches between each actor as they snarl and sneer. As for the plot, you can tune in every few months and nothing seems to have changed.

Sorry, did I write “soap operas?" I meant to type “current Palestinian politics.”

In the latest episode, Hamas — in the role of bad guy, at least according to most Western viewers of this particular soap — stares wild-eyed and affronted from the Gaza Strip toward Fatah in the West Bank. Fatah, playing the loose-living, stylish cousin, tosses its chin high and looks down its nose. Egyptian mediators pop in like script doctors searching for a new twist. But they come up with the same tired old plotlines.

Over a recent weekend, Egypt’s deputy chief of intelligence, General Muhammad Ibrahim, spent two days in Ramallah just trying to convince the different Palestinian factions that they ought to turn up in Cairo on July 25 for the next round in the “national reconciliation” talks — the seventh such meeting since the spring of 2007, when Hamas threw Fatah out of the Gaza Strip (and also threw some Fatah officials out of high windows).

Ibrahim’s suggestion, according to Palestinian officials, was for both sides to agree that Hamas would rule the Gaza Strip, while Fatah would control the West Bank.

Did I mention that he didn’t come with any new ideas?

The Egyptians hoped that if the two sides agreed not to be angry any more about the status quo, Fatah could be persuaded to contribute to rebuilding Gaza after the damage caused there by the war at the turn of the year. In return Hamas might consent to allow policemen from the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority to return to the Gaza Strip, the Egyptians suggested.

Ibrahim’s aim wasn’t to solve the entire problem of the Palestinian civil war, but rather to stanch the bleeding.

Without grabbing headlines, the blood is flowing. Hamas recently arrested a series of Fatah-affiliated Gazans who, according to human-rights organizations, face torture or injury during their incarceration. Fatah responded by rounding up more Hamas people in the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sounded in no hurry to make a deal when he said Sunday that he’d "accept any Egyptian proposal that ends the internal rift and lifts the siege imposed on the Palestinian people." Except the proposals put to him over the weekend, of course, which he appears to have rejected.

Like any good soap opera, the reason for such hardheadedness is trouble inside the family.