With tomorrow's election for new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, the question of a societal division in the Palestinian population becomes more crucially relevant: The animosity between Gazans and West-Bankers has drastically increased since Yasser Arafat's death.
The so-called "right of return" of Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants has again become the sticking point, with various camps attempting to garner support among Palestinians in the Gaza and West Bank. The Palestinians know that this issue will not be resolved soon.
Socially, West Bankers see themselves as the upper echelon of Palestinian society; they are educated and come from money.
And, there are geopolitical and economic differences between the two societies. As journalist Nicholas Jubber writes, "the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are divided by their unequal economies, distinct dialects, and cultural animosities forged by their pre-1967 experiences under separate regimes - Nasser's Egypt and King Hussein's Jordan."
In terms of an extended social network, West Bankers do not rely on their "Palestinian brothers" in Gaza but rather on families and friends in Jordan. And Gazans do the same with Egypt.
Jonathan Schanzer points out that there is little intermarriage between the two sectors of Palestinian society, a factor that he calls "another dividing line."
Argues Schanzer, "While traditional marriages arranged between tribal chiefs are no longer popular among Palestinians, one study notes that 'kinship-based marriage arrangements now exist as a way to preserve the continued identity of dispersed communities.' These communities derive from specific, smaller areas of the former Palestine and, by nature, do not cross the West Bank-Gaza divide."
This multifaceted and fundamental divide will be tested at the polls on Sunday. Abu Mazen's expected victory will only be an actual triumph if he shows that he can truly bridge the two sectors of Palestinian society.
From a leadership standpoint, Abu Mazen's weakness is his lack of real control over Palestinian society. For all of Arafat's shortcomings (and he had many), he was the acknowledged authority for both Gazans and West Bankers. Arafat was the figure who put the Palestinians on the map, becoming a living symbol of their cause and making the PLO the representative body of the Palestinians recognized by the majority of the Arab world.
Abu Mazen has no such gravitas. Hence, we are hearing more and more statements about Abu Mazen continuing Arafat's ways. Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Abu Mazen's campaign manager and former Arafat aide, said of Abu Mazen that he "stood next to Abu Amar [Arafat] to achieve the peace of the brave."
Old habits are hard to break. Abu Mazen was an Arafat crony and comes from the Palestinian elite. He has consistently held the hard-line anti-Israel agenda since his years as a student. His doctoral dissertation was a full-blown foray into Holocaust denial and aimed to prove that Zionism and Nazism are branches of the same tree.
These are all question marks over his sincerity when he makes his claims to the Western press about wanting to bring about reform and create a civil Palestinian society.
Abu Mazen may wear a suit while Arafat wore fatigues but much of their world view is still the same - the destruction of Israel remains on the "to-do" list.
To be a true reformer, any Palestinian leader has to accept Israel as a Jewish state, and convince the Palestinian masses that this is clearly in their interests. Otherwise all we will see, and all the Palestinians can expect, is a continuation of the colossally failed Arafat system and yet another leader too cowardly to take a different path.
True co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis won't happen until Palestinian society experiences a breakthrough in democratic thought and values, one that accepts Israel's permanence and also allows for a middle class to grow, acknowledging that honest relations between Israel and Palestinians is normal and natural.
Asaf Romirowsky is a Campus Watch Associate Fellow for the Middle East Forum and the Israel advocacy associate for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.