The Annapolis process was meant to be a round of peace talks aimed at reaching an agreement to solve the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But instead of focusing on resolving the core issues at hand, why did Palestinian negotiators spend so much time during the meetings denigrating their political rivals, Hamas?
The Palestine Papers reveal that Fatah was obsessed with maintaining political supremacy over Hamas, with Israel’s cooperation, especially following the 2006 electoral victory of the Islamist movement. Documents obtained by Al Jazeera also show the extent to which the Palestinian Authority cracked down on Hamas institutions to weaken the group and strengthen its own relationship with Israel.
At the height of negotiations, on April 7, 2008, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni was unequivocal in summing up Israel’s policy: “Our strategic view is to strengthen you and weaken Hamas.”
Working with Israel to weaken Hamas also appeared to be in the Palestinian Authority’s interest. During a May 6, 2008 security meeting between Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Israeli army civil administration in the West Bank, and Hazem Atallah, the head of the Palestinian Civil Police, Hamas was a prominent subject of discussion.
Yoav Mordechai: How is your fight against “civilian” Hamas: the officers, people in municipalities, etc. This is a serious threat.
Hazem Atallah: I don’t work at the political level, but I agree we need to deal with this.
Yoav Mordechai: Hamas needs to be declared illegal by your President. So far it is only the militants that are illegal.
Atallah: There is also the request for tear gas canisters. You previously gave us these back in 96.”
Yoav Mordechai: We gave some to you for Balata 2 weeks ago. What do you need them for?
Atallah: Riot control. We want to avoid a situation where the security agencies may be forced to fire on unarmed civilians.
Never mind that tear gas canisters have proven that they can be just as deadly as live bullet rounds, the exchange also foreshadows a crackdown on Hamas’ social institutions in the West Bank.
PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat made his contempt for his rivals known in 2007, when he told the Belgian foreign minister Karel de Gucht, “I can’t stand Hamas or their social programs.”
"The way to defeat Hamas"
By September 17, 2009, Erekat was bragging to U.S. officials that the PA had complete control over “zakat” committees, or Muslim charities, in the West Bank, as well as the weekly Friday sermons.
“We have invested time and effort and even killed our own people to maintain order and the rule of law,” Erekat said. “The Prime Minister is doing everything possible to build the institutions. We are not a country yet but we are the only ones in the Arab world who control the Zakat and the sermons in the mosques. We are getting our act together.”
In 2007, Reuters reported that Fatah was “increasing pressure on ‘zakat’ charity committees that support the network of Islamic schools and health clinics which helped fuel Hamas's rise to power.” On one occasion, the news service reported, 20 gunmen stormed a dairy funded by such a zakat committee but were ultimately persuaded to leave.
At the time, Akram al-Rajoub, who headed the Preventive Security service in Nablus said, “There is absolutely no cooperation with Israel in our activities" but that claim is belied by the conversations documented in The Palestine Papers.
On February 11, 2008, Atallah presented the Israelis with a laundry list of actions the PA took against Hamas, and complained that Israeli actions in the West Bank city of Nablus the previous month were harmful. He was likely referring to the three-day incursion by the Israeli military, in which 40 Palestinians were injured and 20 detained. 70,000 residents of the city were placed under curfew.
“We made arrests, confiscated arms, and sacked security individuals affiliated with Hamas,” Atallah said, “but you keep on deterring our efforts, and this is what’s happening in Nablus.”
While security cooperation against Hamas and its institutions dominated some meetings, often Palestinian negotiators merely wanted to vent to their Israeli counterparts about their deep-seated desire to defeat their political opponents.
“Hamas must not feel that it is achieving daily victories, sometimes with Israel and sometimes with Egypt, and Al Jazeera Channel praises these victories,” Ahmed Qurei, a senior Palestinian negotiator, told Livni on February 4, 2008.
“I hope Hamas will be defeated, not military I mean because we didn’t try this; we didn’t engage in a civil war. President Abu Mazen was wise enough not to give orders to Fateh members to use arms, otherwise, we’d have had many casualties.”
According to the Palestine Papers, for Fatah, the Annapolis process seems to have been as much about crushing Hamas as it was about ending Israel’s occupation and establishing an independent, Palestinian state.
“We continue with a genuine process,” Saeb Erekat confided to European Union Special Representative Marc Otte on June 18, 2008 , “reaching an agreement is a matter of survival for us. It’s the way to defeat Hamas.”