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Elliot Abrams’ uncivil war vs. Hamas -

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_Israeli-Palestinian conflict_, _Neocons_, _Palestinians_, _Bush
Administration_ | _8 Comments_

*/Is the Bush administration violating the law in an effort to provoke a
Palestinian civil war?/*


Deputy National Security Advisor, Elliott Abrams — who /Newsweek/
recently described as “the last neocon standing” — has had it about for
some months now that the U.S. is not only not interested in dealing with
Hamas, it is working to ensure its failure. In the immediate aftermath
of the Hamas elections, 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 — the violent overthrow
of their leadership with arms supplied by the United States. While the
businessmen were shocked, Abrams was adamant — the U.S. had to support
Fatah with guns, ammunition and training, so that they could fight Hamas
for control of the Palestinian government.

While those closest to him now concede the Abrams’ words were issued in
a moment of frustration, the “hard coup” talk was hardly just talk. Over
the last twelve 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 West Bank. A large number of Fatah activists
have been trained and “graduated” from two camps — one in Ramallah and
one in Jericho. The supplies of rifles and ammunition, which started as
a mere trickle, has now become a torrent (/Haaretz/ reports the U.S. has
designated an astounding $86.4 million for Abu Mazen’s security detail),
and while the program has gone largely without notice in the American
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 administration’s
designated allies in the program.

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 road map to dismantle the infrastructure of
terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza,”
according to a U.S. government document) would strengthen the security
forces under the command of Palestinian President Mahmoud 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 Abu Mazen under the
Abrams program (Egypt recently sent 1,900 rifles into Gaza and the West
Bank, nearly matching the 3000 rifles sent by the Jordanians), neither
Jordan’s King Abdullah nor Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak believe the program
will work — and both are now maneuvering to find a way out of it. “Who
can blame them?” an administration official told us recently. “While
Mubarak has no love for Hamas, they do not want to be seen as bringing
them 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 their future in the
hands of the White House. Who the hell outside ofWashington 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 underway, Abdullah is
finished. Hell, fifty percent of his country is Palestinian.”

Senior U.S. 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 Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld learned about it he was enraged, and scheduled a meeting with
President Bush in an attempt to convince him the program would backfire.
Rumsfeld was concerned that the anti-Hamas program would radicalise
Muslim groups among American allies and eventually endanger U.S. troops
fighting Sunni extremists in Iraq. According to our 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 in February of 2006 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, we
are told, were led by Abrams, but included national security advisors
working in the Office of the Vice President, including prominent
neo-conservatives David Wurmser and John Hannah. The policy was approved
by Condoleezza Rice. The President then, we are told, signed off on the
program in a CIA “finding” and designated that its implementation be put
under the control of Langley. But the program ran into problems almost
from the beginning. “The CIA didn’t like it and didn’t think it would
work,” we were told in October. “The Pentagon hated it, the US embassy
in Israel hated it, and even the Israelis hated it.” A prominent
American military official serving in Israel called the program “stupid”
and “counter-productive.” The program went forward despite these
criticisms, however, though responsibility for its implementation was
slowly put in the hands of anti-terrorism officials working closely with
the State Department. The CIA “wriggled out of” retaining responsibility
for implementing the Abrams plan, we have been told. Since at least
August, Rice, Abrams and U.S. envoy David Welch have been its primary
advocates and the program has been subsumed as a “part of the State
Department’s Middle East initiative.” U.S. government officials refused
to comment on a report that the program is now a part of the State
Department’s “Middle East Partnership Initiative,” established to
promote democracy in the region. If it is, diverting appropriated funds
from the program for the purchase of weapons may be a violation of
Congressional intent — and U.S. law.

The recipients of U.S. largesse have been Palestinian President Abu
Mazen and Mohammad Dahlan, a controversial and charismatic Palestinian
political leader from Gaza. The U.S. has also relied on advice from
Mohammad Rashid, a well-known Kurdish/Palestinian financier with offices
in Cairo. Even in Israel, the alliance of the U.S. with these two
figures is greeted with almost open derision. While Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert has hesitantly supported the program, many of his key advisors
have made it clear that they want to have nothing to do with starting a
Palestinian civil war. They also doubt whether Hamas can be weakened.
These officials point out that, since the beginning of the program,
Hamas has actually gained in strength, in part because its leaders are
considered competent, transparent, uncorrupt and unwilling to compromise
their ideals — just the kinds of democratically elected leaders that the
Bush Administration would want to support anywhere else in the Middle East.

Of course, in public, Secretary Rice appears contrite and concerned with
“the growing lawlessness” among Palestinians, while failing to mention
that such lawlessness is exactly what the Abrams plan was designed to
create. “You can’t build security forces overnight to deal with the kind
of lawlessness that is there in Gaza which largely derives from an
inability to govern,” she said during a recent trip to Israel. “Their
[the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority] inability to govern, of course,
comes from their unwillingness to meet international standards.” Even
Middle East experts and State Department officials close to Rice
consider her comments about Palestinian violence dangerous, and have
warned her that if the details of the U.S. program become public her
reputation could be stained. In fact, Pentagon officials concede,
Hamas’s inability to provide security to its own people and the clashes
that have recently erupted have been seeded by the Abrams plan. Israeli
officials know this, and have begun to rebel. In Israel, at least,
Rice’s view that Hamas can be unseated is now regularly, and sometimes
publicly, dismissed.

According to a December 25 article in the Israeli daily /Haaretz/,
senior Israeli intelligence officials have told Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert that not only can Hamas not be replaced, but that its rival,
Fatah, is disintegrating. Any hope for the success of an American
program aimed at replacing Hamas, these officials argued, will fail.
These Israeli intelligence officials also dismissed Palestinian
President Abu Mazen’s call for elections to replace Hamas — saying that
such elections would all but destroy Fatah. As /Haaretz/ reported: “Shin
Bet chief Yuval Diskin told the cabinet Sunday [December 24] that should
elections be held in the Palestinian Authority, Fatah’s chances of
winning would be close to zero. Diskin said during Sunday’s weekly
cabinet meeting that the Fatah faction is in bad shape, and therefore
Israel should expect Hamas to register a sweeping victory.”

Apparently Jordan’s King Abdullah agrees. On the day this article
appeared, December 25, Abdullah kept Palestinian President Abu Mazen
waiting for six hours to see him in Amman. Eventually, Abdullah told Abu
Mazen that he should go home — and only come to see him again when
accompanied by Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail
Haniyeh. Most recently, Saudi officials have welcomed Haniyeh to Saudi
Arabia for talks, having apparently made public their own views on the
American program to replace Hamas. And so it is: one year after the
election of Hamas, and one year after Elliot Abrams determined that
sowing the seeds of civil war among a people already under occupation
would somehow advance America’s program for democracy in the Middle
East, respect for America’s democratic ideals has all but collapsed —
and not just in Iraq.
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