What: Hamas and Fatah battle for Gaza
When: June 14, 2007
Hamas's surprising landslide election victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election was met with anger and hostility, especially in Washington. The US reacted with a series of covert operations spearheaded by the US State Department that were initiated to topple the Islamist party which Washington and its allies have labelled a "terrorist group".
Details of the US initiated coup emerged quickly after. Confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the US and Palestine, exposed a covert initiative, approved by President George W Bush and implemented by Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National Security Adviser, Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war.
Immediately after the election results were announced, Abrams met with a group of Palestinian businessmen in Washington and spoke openly of the need for a "hard coup" against Hamas. According to the Palestinians present, Abrams was "unshakable" in his resolve to topple Hamas. When they expressed concerns about the harm this would bring to Palestinian society, Abrams apparently dismissed their concerns, claiming that this would not be the fault of the USA.
Equally surprised by its victory, Hamas made overtures to Fatah to form a government of national unity. The proposals were initially rejected. Hamas's attempt to gain legitimacy was also blocked by the US. Rice moved to thwart the group's efforts to engage with friendly governments by writing a letter to US embassies all over the world urging them to insist that their host countries refuse to engage with the newly victorious Palestinian group.
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Violent confrontation between Fatah and Hamas continued to gather momentum throughout the autumn, with both sides accused of committing atrocities. By the end of 2006, dozens were dying each month, some of the victim's non-combatants.
In an attempt to end the blood-letting and reconcile the two groups, the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia summoned the President of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas, and head of Hamas, Khalid Meshaal, to Makkah in February 2007. Fatah and Hamas finally agreed to form a government of national unity, in what became known as the Mecca Agreement, signed under the auspices of King Abdullah.
Under the terms of the Makkah Agreement, Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, would remain Prime Minister, while Fatah members would be granted several important posts. The agreement was celebrated across Palestine. When the news hit the streets that the Saudis had also promised to pay the PA salary bills, Fatah and Hamas members in Gaza celebrated together by firing their Kalashnikovs into the air.
What happened next?
The US viewed the Makkah Agreement as "a devastating blow." The Neo-Conservative American government had no interest in de-escalating the tensions and remained determined to deny Hamas any form of legitimacy. As soon as Hamas had formed a government, and had it approved by the Palestinian Parliament, the USA set about trying to isolate and undermine it. Several EU countries followed suit, prohibiting their diplomatic corps from making any contact with the new government. Their justification was identical to that used by the USA – they stated that they would offer no development assistance to the Palestinian Territory while it was administered by a government that did not recognise Israel and was committed to armed resistance.
At this point, the US State Department intensified its efforts to topple the unity government. It even prepared a blueprint for a coup, entitled "An Action Plan for the Palestinian Presidency – 2007". The plan, dated 2 March 2007, outlined objectives, steps and timelines to enhance the power of the PA and its President. It also includes the transformation of the Palestinian security forces and a budget showing costs amounting to $1.27 billion.
The US government sent arms and ammunition to Fatah fighters, via Egypt and Jordan, under the guise of assisting the PA in fulfilling its commitments under the Road Map to dismantle "the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza".
A new Palestinian security plan was initiated by the US. It strengthened the power of Muhammad Dahlan, who the Americans labelled "our man" in Gaza. Under "Plan B" as it was called, Dahlan would assume responsibility for all Palestinian security forces and the Americans would help supply weapons and training. Its objective, according to a State Department memo that has been authenticated by an official who knew of it at the time, was to "enable [Abbas] and his supporters to reach a defined end-game by the end of 2007. The end-game should produce a [Palestinian Authority] government through democratic means that accepts Quartet principles."
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In April 2007, the secret plan was exposed after a portion of one early draft was leaked to a Jordanian newspaper, Al-Majd. From Hamas's perspective, it could amount to only one thing: a blueprint for a US-backed Fatah coup. Another leak in early June reported that Abbas and Lieutenant General, Keith Dayton, who had been appointed the US security coordinator for the Palestinians, had asked Israel to authorise the biggest arms shipment. Around the same time, a new element was added to Gaza's toxic mix when 500 Fatah National Security Forces recruits arrived at the besieged Strip, fresh from training in Egypt and equipped with new weapons and vehicles.
After the arrival of the first Egyptian-trained fighters, and reports of torture and killing of Hamas operatives – about 250 Hamas members are said to have been killed in the first six months of 2007- Hamas launched its military operation against Fatah. The fighting was over in less than five days. It began with attacks on Fatah security buildings in and around Gaza City and in the southern town of Rafah. By 16 June, Hamas had captured every Fatah building, as well as Abbas's official Gaza residence.
With the US plan to topple Hamas thwarted, Israel moved to impose a full land, air, and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, following the Islamist group's victory over Fatah.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.