Page 1 of 2 No-goodniks and the Palestinian shootout
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke
This piece originally appeared on
www.conflictsforum.org, under the title "Elliot Abrams'
US Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams - whom Newsweek recently
described as "the last neo-con standing" - has had it about for some months now
that the United States is not only not interested in dealing with Hamas, it is
working to ensure its failure.
In the immediate aftermath of the Palestinian elections won by Hama last
January, Abrams greeted a group of Palestinian businessmen in his White House
office with talk of a "hard coup" against the newly elected Hamas government -
overthrow of its leadership with arms supplied by the US.
While the businessmen were shocked, Abrams was adamant - the US had to support
Fatah with guns, ammunition and training,
so that it could fight Hamas for control of the Palestinian government.
While those closest to him now concede that Abrams' words were issued in a
moment of frustration, the "hard coup" talk was hardly just talk. Over the past
12 months, the United States has supplied guns, ammunition and training to
Palestinian Fatah activists to take on Hamas in the streets of Gaza and the
A large number of Fatah activists have been trained and "graduated" from two
West Bank camps - one in Ramallah and one in Jericho. The supplies of rifles
and ammunition, which started as a mere trickle, have now become a torrent (the
Israeli daily Ha'aretz reports that the US has designated an astounding US$86.4
million for Abu Mazen's - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' - security
detail), and while the program has gone largely without notice in the US press,
it is openly talked about and commented on in the Arab media - and in Israel.
Thousands of rifles and bullets have been poring into Gaza and the West Bank
from Egypt and Jordan, the US administration's designated allies in the
At first, it was thought, the resupply effort (initiated under the guise of
"assist[ing] the Palestinian Authority presidency in fulfilling PA commitments
under the roadmap to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish
law and order in the West Bank and Gaza", according to a US government
document) would strengthen the security forces under the command of Abbas.
Officials thought that the additional weapons would easily cow Hamas
operatives, who would meekly surrender the offices they had only recently so
dearly won. That has not only not happened, but the program is under attack
throughout the Arab world - particularly among America's closest allies.
While both Egypt and Jordan have shipped arms to Abbas under the Abrams program
(Egypt recently sent 1,900 rifles into Gaza and the West Bank, nearly matching
the 3,000 rifles sent by the Jordanians), neither King Abdullah of Jordan nor
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak believe the program will work - and both are
now maneuvering to find a way out of it.
"Who can blame them?" a Bush administration official told the authors recently.
"While Mubarak has no love for Hamas, they [Egyptians] do not want to be seen
as bringing [it] down. The same can be said for Jordan."
A Pentagon official was even more adamant, cataloguing official Washington's
nearly open disdain for Abrams' program. "This is not going to work and
everyone knows it won't work. It is too clever. We're just not very good at
this. This is typical Abrams stuff."
This official went on to note that "it is unlikely that either Jordan or Egypt
will place [its] future in the hands of the White House. Who the hell outside
of Washington wants to see a civil war among Palestinians? Do we really think
that the Jordanians think that's a good idea? The minute it gets under way,
Abdullah is finished. Hell, 50% of his country is Palestinian."
Senior US Army officers and high-level civilian Pentagon officials have been
the most outspoken internal administration critics of the program, which was
unknown to them until mid-August, near the end of Israel's war against
Hezbollah. When then-secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld learned about it, he
was enraged, and scheduled a meeting with President George W Bush in an attempt
to convince him the program would backfire.
Rumsfeld was concerned that the anti-Hamas program would radicalize Muslim
groups among US allies and eventually endanger US troops fighting Sunni
extremists in Iraq. According to these authors' reports, Rumsfeld was told by
Bush that he should keep his focus on Iraq, and that "the Palestinian brief"
was in the hands of the secretary of state. After this confrontation, Rumsfeld
decided there was not much he could do.
The Abrams program was initially conceived last February by a group of White
House officials who wanted to shape a coherent and tough response to the Hamas
electoral victory of January. These officials, the authors were told, were led
by Abrams, but included national security advisers working in the office of the