US sidelined Palestinian democracy

The Palestine Papers show that the voices of the Palestinian people themselves never came into the equation.


    US president Barack Obama personally warned Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas against "surprising" him with a reconciliation deal with Hamas that did not meet strict conditions imposed by the United States and the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN Secretary General), Palestinian records of meetings with the president show. When Abbas threatened to resign in late 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that she and Obama would intervene personally to keep Abbas in place.

    The confidential minutes and accounts of the meetings, which were leaked to Al Jazeera as part of The Palestine Papers, cast new light on the extent to which the United States -- in contradiction to its professions of support for democracy -- micromanaged the affairs of the Palestinian leadership, in particular the Fatah movement.

    In their first meeting at the White House in May 2009, Abbas assured Obama that he would "shoulder all his commitments" -- including security collaboration with Israel under the supervision of US Army Lt. General Keith Dayton, according to an account given by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

    "Obama said he supports talks between Fatah and Hamas but that we should not surprise him with a unity government that doesn't recognize the two-state solution, and accept Quartet conditions," Erekat reported to his staff. This direct interference by the American president likely contributed to the failure of Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks that have lasted almost two years with little sign of Hamas and Fatah coming to terms.

    American micromanagement

    Hamas and Fatah, the two leading Palestinian political factions, have been irreconcilably split since Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006. With support from the Bush administration and particularly its General Dayton, militias and groups loyal to Abbas's Fatah sought to undermine and overthrow the Palestinian Authority administration led by Hamas.

    The Bush administration had been incensed by the establishment of a "national unity government" in February 2007 led by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and pressured Abbas to withdraw from it. In June 2007, Hamas ousted the Dayton-supervised militias from the Gaza Strip and assumed full control of the territory.

    Since Hamas' election victory, the Quartet, made up of the US, EU, Russia and the UN Secretary General, have maintained a boycott of Hamas until it renounced armed resistance, agreed to abide by agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (of which Hamas is not a member), and accepted the two-state solution. No similar conditions have been imposed on Israel, whose use of violence includes alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza, and whose ongoing violent land confiscation and settlement construction in the West Bank in violation of international law and signed agreements has torpedoed all efforts to reach a two-state solution.

    In another sign of micromanagement of Palestinian affairs by the United States, Obama also asked Abbas when he would hold a conference of his Fatah movement, according to Erekat's account of the meeting. Abbas responded that the conference would take place by July 2009, and that he would also prepare for elections. Abbas told Obama, according to the Palestinian notes, "I will do security, reform, institution building, Fatah convention, and win the elections."

    Obama's interest in the Fatah conference stemmed from American concerns expressed by other US officials quoted in The Palestine Papers that Fatah had to boost its image so it could compete with Hamas. However, rather than restore the battered movement, the conference, which was held in August 2009, was rocked by divisions, controversy over Fatah's lack of financial transparency, and walk-outs ("Divisions rock Fatah conference," Aljazeera, 6 August 2009). The elections Abbas spoke about were never held.

    Obama's policy of backing Fatah was inherited intact from the Bush administration. On 10 May 2006, for example, just months after Fatah lost the election to Hamas, General Dayton told Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, "It is critical for Fatah to undergo reform. Resurrecting the movement is a prerequisite and a requirement for making any attempts to go back to a political dialogue or negotiations with Israel credible," according to a record of the meeting found among The Palestine Papers.

    But the intervening years saw neither real reform of Fatah, nor revival of any credible negotiations with Israel.

    In October 2009, Erekat informed US Middle East envoy George Mitchell that Abbas intended to resign because he saw no way forward in the peace process. Mitchell immediately went to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who reacted by blaming the Arabs and Palestinians.

    "The Arabs, his brothers, will rejoice - they don t want him, they don t want a Palestinian state, or democracy," the Palestinian minutes recorded Clinton saying. She "asked why Palestinians are always in a chapter of a Greek tragedy?" and warned that Palestinians would "harm" themselves if Abbas departed.

    Clinton promised that she and Obama would personally call Abbas to persuade him to change his mind, adding, according to the minutes, that Abbas "not running in the election is not an option - there is no alternative to him."

    Despite years of failure, the Obama administration seemed determined to press on with the same policies. And, for all the talk of American support for democracy in Palestine and elsewhere, it is clear from The Palestine Papers that the voices and choices of the Palestinian people themselves never came into the equation.

    Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a contributor to the newly-released book The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict. He is a co-founder of the widely read online publication The Electronic Intifada, an award-winning online publication about Palestine and the Palestine conflict. He has written hundreds of articles on the question of Palestine for publications all over the world, including Al Jazeera.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


    'Money can't buy us': Mapping Canada's oil pipeline battle

    'Money can't buy us': Mapping Canada's oil pipeline battle

    We travel more than 2,000km and visit communities along the route of the oil pipeline that cuts across Indigenous land.

    Women under ISIL: The wives

    Women under ISIL: The wives

    Women married to ISIL fighters share accounts of being made to watch executions and strap explosives to other women.

    Diplomats for sale: How an ambassadorship was bought and lost

    Diplomats for sale: How an ambassadorship was bought and lost

    The story of Ali Reza Monfared, the Iranian who tried to buy diplomatic immunity after embezzling millions of dollars.