In 1993, after the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian Liberation Organization was transformed into the Palestinian Authority. The PA was to assume governing responsibilities for the Palestinian people, the first step toward statehood.
The dream of joining the family of nations was tangible.
What went wrong? In reality, Yasser Arafat continued to foster the status quo victim message of Palestinian oppressing as the direct result of Israeli occupation and Western (primarily U.S.) indifference, if not acquiescence - despite the fact that the PA had responsibility for civil affairs and security in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
Arafat's message: Assume no responsibility, blame someone else. Rather than focus on establishing a viable political and economic entity, corruption ruled. Nothing was built. It was a masterful missing of an opportunity.
Did Israel always do the right thing by the Palestinians? Absolutely not - significant mistakes were made by successive governments. But in accordance with Oslo, they did launch a campaign to prepare Israelis for the reality of peace, something we never saw in Palestinian society.
Fast-forward three years after Arafat's death, with the United States now trying to broker a resolution on a very bleak landscape.
Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, has never managed to get out of Arafat's shadow. Abbas is perceived as nothing but a vestige of the old guard. No surprise that Hamas emerged victorious in the 2006 legislative elections. The PA's institutionalized corruption provided Hamas with the formula for victory.
Throw out the party of corruption, elect the party of "integrity and honesty." The result is an ineffectual two-headed entity: Abbas, weak and incapable, is PA president; Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, is the head of a party that has engaged the PA in civil war and calls for the destruction of Israel.
Were Abbas seriously concerned about the Palestinian people, he would be working to reform the PA. Working with the United States, Europe, Arab regimes and Israel to provide better social programs would drive a stake through Hamas.
But to be a true reformer, any Palestinian leader will have to accept Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinian people must understand this. Whether Abbas is capable of doing so is an open question. Continuing to play the victim card is a lot easier than picking up the trash.
In order to have a real two-state solution, the Palestinians will have to take responsibility.
And that leads us to Hamas. By blowing open the border between Gaza and Egypt, allowing Gazans to buy food and other basic amenities in Egypt, Hamas succeeded in embarrassing three different regimes.
The episode was a superb political and media maneuver, allowing Hamas to come out with the upper hand. Israel was portrayed as the "prison guard" controlling Gaza (while Israelis are the targets of daily Hamas missile attacks), the PA was seen as a government that can't feed its people and Egyptian President Mubarak was at a loss how to respond to the hundreds of thousands of Gazans flooding Egypt and then how to seal the border.
Where does that leave the Israeli-Palestinian process? As long as Hamas calls the shots both in Gaza and along the Gaza-Egypt border, the threat to Israel will escalate. The danger of weapons smuggled into Gaza from Egypt is real and of extraordinary concern to Israeli decision-makers.
Abbas has been talking to the Israelis, but his weakness enables Hamas, again, to be seen as triumphant. After all, Hamas has effectively addressed the need for food and cohesion.
But the most important issue is strategic, not tactical. Where does all this lead to? It's not "Who won today?" but "How is tomorrow served?" The answer will tell us who's really in charge.
It appears that the most the Palestinians can expect from their leadership (Hamas or Fatah) is a continuation of the colossally failed Arafat system. Yet another leader too hesitant - or not brave enough - to take a different path, to actually lead.
Is victimology to be institutionalized? Are corrupt ways going to be the PA's eternal legacy? Will short-term tactics guide the PA and Hamas, not to mention continued shelling of Israeli towns?
Who's the boss? Who knows?
Amos N. Guiora is a professor at S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah. Asaf Romirowsky is manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum.