Until mid-2007, there was a serious political
obstacle to a massive conventional war by Israel against Hamas in Gaza: the
fact that Hamas had won free and fair elections for the Palestinian parliament
and was still the leading faction in a fully legitimate government.
But the George W. Bush administration helped Israel eliminate that obstacle
by deliberately provoking Hamas to seize power in Gaza. That plan was aimed
at getting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the democratically
elected Hamas government something Bush had tried unsuccessfully to do for
Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Palestinian parliament in the January
2006 elections, and the following month, the Palestinian Legislative Council
voted for a new government under Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The Bush
administration immediately began to use its control over the "Quartet"
(the U.S., European Union, United Nations, and Russia) to try to reverse the
results of the election.
The Quartet responded to the Hamas victory by demanding that Hamas renounce
all armed resistance to Israel and even "disarm" before a political
solution was reached. That was in effect a demand that Israel be allowed to
use its military and economic controls over the West Bank and Gaza to impose
its own unilateral solution on the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration and the Europeans cut off all financing
for the Palestinian government, while Israel refused to hand over to the Palestinian
authorities the VAT and customs duties it collected on behalf of the Palestinians
under the Paris Protocol signed with the PLO as part of the Oslo Accords.
When Abbas continued to resist U.S. demands for an end to the elected government,
both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi
Livni told him at the United Nations in September 2006 that they would not accept
a Palestinian government with Hamas participation.
Then Rice was dispatched to Ramallah in early October 2006 to tighten the screws
on the Palestinian president. She demanded a commitment from Abbas to dissolve
the Haniyeh government within two weeks, then accepted his promise to do so
within four weeks, according to a later U.S. State Department memorandum published
in Vanity Fair magazine.
There was one problem, however, with the U.S. demand: under Article 45 of the
Palestinian Authority's "Basic Law," Abbas could fire the prime minister,
but he could not appoint a new one who did not represent the majority party
in the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Abbas failed to act on the dissolution promise, so the Bush administration
gave him a memo demanding that Hamas be given a "clear choice, with a clear
deadline" to accept or reject "a new government that meets the Quartet
principles." The memo, published in part last January in Vanity Fair,
said that if Hamas refused that demand, "you should make clear your intention
to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government explicitly
committed to that platform."
It further demanded that Abbas "strengthen his team" by bringing
in "credible figures of strong standing in the international community."
That was a reference to the longtime director of Fatah's paramilitary forces,
Muhammad Dahlan, who had long been regarded as the candidate of the Bush administration
and its allies. In April 2003, Yasser Arafat had been under pressure from British
Prime Minister Tony Blair and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to name Dahlan
as head of Palestinian security.
In late 2006, Rice got Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to
agree to provide covert military training and money to equip a major increase
in Dahlan's militia.
But there was another element of the Bush administration plan. It encouraged
Dahlan to carry out attacks against the Hamas security and political infrastructure
in Gaza, which were well-known to be far stronger than that of Abbas' Fatah
faction. In a later interview with Vanity Fair, Dahlan admitted that
he had carried out "very clever warfare" against Hamas in Gaza for
Other sources said that Dahlan's militia was carrying out torture and kidnappings
of Hamas security personnel.
Alvaro de Soto, then UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process,
wrote in his confidential "End of Mission Report" that the U.S. "clearly
pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas." He recalled that the
"U.S. envoy" to a Feb. 2, 2007, meeting of the Quartet in Washington
had twice declared "how much I like this violence," because "it
means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas."
That U.S. envoy was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The Bush administration seemed to want Hamas to know about its plan to help
Fatah use force against the Hamas organization in Gaza. A Jan. 5, 2007, Reuters
story datelined Jerusalem revealed an internal U.S. document showing that the
United States had pledged $86 million to "strengthen and reform elements
of the Palestinian security sector controlled by the PA presidency" and
"dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order
in the West Bank and Gaza."
When Abbas negotiated a new agreement with Hamas in Mecca in February 2007
on a Palestinian unity government, the Bush administration responded by drafting
a secret "action plan for the Palestinian presidency" which threatened
that the "international community" would "no longer deal exclusively
with the presidency" if it did not go along with U.S. demands, and that
"[m]any countries in the EU and the G8" would "start looking
for more credible interlocutors on the Palestinian side who can deliver on key
issues of security and governance."
The plan, dated March 2, 2007, called for Abbas to "start taking necessary
action against groups undermining the cease-fire with the goal of ensuring all
armed groups within Palestine security institutions in stages (between 2007
and 2008)." It promised to help Abbas to "impose necessary order on
the Palestinian street" through "superiority" of Fatah forces
over Hamas, after which there would be new elections in autumn 2007.
Again that U.S. plan was not kept secret but was leaked in April 2007 by the
Jordanian newspaper Al-Majd. That could only have happened if Jordanian
intelligence services, which cooperative very closely with the United States,
made the decision to leak it to the press.
Then, on June 7, 2007, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz revealed
that Israel had been asked to authorize the shipment of dozens of Egyptian armored
cars, hundreds of rockets, and thousands of hand grenades for the Fatah security
The leaked plans for a military buildup were an open invitation to Hamas to
take preemptive action. The day after the Ha'aretz story, Hamas launched
a campaign that eliminated the Fatah security presence in Gaza in five days.
The day after the complete defeat of Dahlan's forces in Gaza, Abbas dissolved
the Haniyeh unity government and named his own prime minister, in violation
of the Palestinian charter.
The rout of Dahlan's forces was a predictable consequence of the Bush administration's
policy. As the commander of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Khalid Jaberi,
told Vanity Fair's David Rose, "We can only conclude that having
Hamas in control serves [the Bush administration's] overall strategy, because
their policy was so crazy otherwise."
But the Bush administration had not only accomplished its goal of eliminating
a Hamas-dominated government; it had also set up a new argument that could later
be used to justify an all-out Israeli offensive in Gaza: that Hamas had mounted
an "illegal coup" in Gaza. That was the term that Rice used on Jan.
2 in justifying the Israeli operations against Gaza.
(Inter Press Service)