Bush plan beat obstacle to Gaza assault By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - 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. 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 many
Hamas won 56% 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 US, the European Union, the 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 value-added tax and customs duties it collected on
behalf of the Palestinians under the Paris Protocol signed with the Palestinian
Liberation Organization as part of the Oslo Accords.
When Abbas continued to resist US 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.
Rice was then 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, and then accepted his promise
to do so within four weeks, according to a later US State Department memorandum
published in Vanity Fair magazine.
There was one problem, however, with the US 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
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 long-time 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's Fatah faction. In a later interview with Vanity Fair, Dahlan admitted
that he had carried out "very clever warfare" against Hamas in Gaza for many
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 US "clearly pushed for
a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas ..." He recalled that the "US envoy" to
a February 2, 2007 meeting of the Quartet in Washington had twice declared,
"How much I like this violence", because "it means that other Palestinians are
That US envoy was 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 January 5, 2007
Reuters story, datelined Jerusalem, revealed an internal US document showing
that the United States had pledged US$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". The plan threatened that
the "international community" would "no longer deal exclusively with the
presidency" if it did not go along with US demands, and that "[m]any countries
in the EU and the G-8" 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 ceasefire 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 US plan was kept secret but 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 and hundreds of rockets and thousands of hand grenades for the Fatah
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 which 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 January 2 in
justifying the Israeli operations against Gaza.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing
in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book,
Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was
published in 2006.