Arafat’s legacy:

When Hamas gunmen killed seven Palestinians at a rally in Gaza Monday to mark the third anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death, the violence was part of a recurring pattern in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a chance for peace appears, and then is lost to internal conflict on one side or the other.

With a much-anticipated peace conference scheduled for Annapolis, Md, in the next few weeks, there could hardly be a worse time for the rivalry between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement to take another violent turn. When Hamas security forces fired on unarmed demonstrators, they were committing an act with symbolic connotations as well as practical ones. They were not merely signalling that Hamas will not brook any challenge to its dominion in Gaza. They were also shooting down the one consistent principle of Arafat’s leadership: his insistence on maintaining the unity of nearly all the ideologically disparate Palestinian groups and factions.

In his lifetime, Arafat - like his Israeli counterparts - missed many opportunities to forge a two-state peace agreement. If the current Palestinian and Israeli leaders hope to make the peace their predecessors failed to make, they will first have to knit their own peoples together in a peace-seeking consensus.