Three young brothers, Salam, 4, Ahmed, 7, and Osama, 9, were gunned down outside their school on the morning of December 11. They had just arrived by car when they and the driver died in a wild spray of gunfire. Four other schoolboys who happened to be nearby were wounded.
It was an assassination attempt, and it failed. The target was the boys' father, Bala Ba'lousheh, but he wasn't in the car. He was a senior Fatah official with the Palestinian Authority's intelligence service in Gaza City, and his would-be assassins were almost certainly from Hamas, the rival Palestinian political party which won power in last year's election. After the shootings, demonstrations erupted in the West Bank and Gaza. Within 48 hours, a prominent Hamas leader was shot to death in the Gaza Strip.
The level of conflict between the Palestinian parties simmers just below the level of civil war, even as the spoils keep shrinking. The open wound inspires strong reactions among millions of people around the world with no direct stake in the problem.
For the sake of reality, let's put aside whatever views and prejudices you may hold on the Palestinian question. Put aside any animosity about grasping Jews or murderous Arabs. Put aside the Holocaust, and Muslim anti-Semitism. Put aside hopes and judgements. Simply look at what has happened on the ground. Stripped of all emotion and prejudice, right and wrong, one reality becomes clear: there is no chance of a sovereign, autonomous Palestinian state. Not within our lifetimes. No chance. None.
Not only won't there be a sovereign Palestinian state, there can't be.
It's no longer viable. At every historic juncture since Israel was created in 1948, rhetoric has taken precedence over pragmatism in the Arab world. As a result, every one of these historic junctions has resulted, without exception, in material defeat for the Palestinians.
In 1948, roughly 700,000 Palestinian Arabs - the number remains contested and inexact - heeded calls from the Arab world and fled their homes in the newly proclaimed Israel. The result? The Palestinian position of 1948 now looks infinitely superior to the Palestinian position of today.
In 1967, Israel was invaded by its Arab neighbours in the Six Day War. The result? The Arabs lost control of the holy city of Jerusalem and the Palestinians went from Arab rule to Israeli control.
In 1982, after the Palestinians sparked a civil war in Lebanon, Israel invaded Lebanon and Jordan's army attacked the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The result? The Palestinians were crushed in Lebanon and Jordan and Israel fortified its position in the West Bank.
In 1987, the first Palestinian intifada began at the instigation of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and suicide bombings came to Israeli life. It lasted almost five years. The result? Israel again fortified and expanded its positions and the West Bank was divided into military-controlled subdivisions.
In 2000, Arafat launched the second intifada, his response to Israel's final offer in the Oslo peace accords. It lasted six years. The result? What the Palestinians were offered in 2000 is now impossible today, because Israel has since encircled Jerusalem with settlements housing 100,000 Jewish settlers. And Israel began building the Wall.
In 2006, Hezbollah attacked Israel, in the cause of Palestine, and Hamas and other militant elements fired rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, as political opposition was Islamicised. The result? Some 175 Israelis were killed by Hezbollah, for which Lebanon paid with more than 1500 dead, and Hezbollah lost its military control of southern Lebanon. It thus lost its strategic forward position for no strategic gain.
In the West Bank, the dividing fence and wall became a reality, effectively halting suicide bombings but also annexing more sections of the West Bank. Israeli military control became more intense. According to B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, 1065 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in 2006, while 23 Israelis were killed by Palestinians.
Everyone I spoke to while visiting Israel recently hates the wall. One prominent Palestinian moderate, Khaled Abu Toameh, who once worked for the PLO and now writes for The Jerusalem Post, told me in Jerusalem: "The wall is a tragedy. The wall is bad. It is the direct result of Yasser Arafat's intifada. It will become the wailing wall for both sides. I'm not optimistic. Not at all."
A conspicuous critic of the wall is the former US president Jimmy Carter, who, in his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, writes: "An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers. In many ways, it is more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid."
Compare this fenced-off community of today with 20 years ago, before the intifadas. The Palestinian workforce was integrated into the Israeli economy, with relatively free movement into Israel. Education and health systems were built, universities opened, local governments were functioning, corruption was minimal, and life expectancy had soared from 47 under Arab rule to 68. Then came Yasser Arafat and Fatah.
"Fatah is the mafia," Abu Toameh told me. "It is responsible for most of the anarchy on the West Bank. Fatah is a monster." Nor does he think much of Hamas, though he thinks it is much less corrupt, much more competent, and more pragmatic. He believes the West erred shockingly in trusting and subsiding Fatah and has now mishandled the transition to Hamas.
"But on the Muslim side, the message has always been 'No', and 'No', and 'No'. They quote the Koran: God is on the side of the patient . . .
"And what is the West Bank now? It is six Arab cities, two refugee camps, 150 villages. A series of cantons, with no economic base. And Gaza? An awful place."
And Israel? Through all the wars, terrorist bombings and threats of annihilation, and despite intense internal divisions, Israel has grown into a muscular economy of almost 7 million, with a per capita gross domestic product far higher than any Arab neighbours, including Saudi Arabia. The Jewish population has grown from 600,000 to 5.3 million, with a birthrate higher than those in Western Europe. Per capita, Israel has the most engineers and the most high-tech economy in the world.
Untold damage would be done to this economy if one anti-aircraft missile, fired from the West Bank, brought down an airliner flying out of the futuristic new Ben Gurion International Airport. Israel can't afford to let this happen.
Sixty years of years of "No" has put an end to a sovereign Palestinian state, indefinitely. This pawn has been sacrificed in a much larger game.