The Coup against Hamas

The international campaign to overthrow a democratically elected government

Photo : Elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appoints Salah Fayyad of his own Fatah party as Palestinian Prime Minister, giving the appearance of democratic process - but Fatah lost the last legislative elections to Hamas - and parliament, not the President, has the power to appoint the Prime Minister under the Palestinian Authority's constitution

In January 2006 the Palestinian Authority held legislative elections which international observers agreed to be free and fair with a turn-out of over 75% – higher than the turn-out in the last elections in the US or the UK. International observers’ only criticisms were on Israeli military travel restrictions and their refusal to allow voting in East Jerusalem. Hamas won 45 % of the vote and a majority of the seats in the legislative assembly compared to Fatah’s 42%. The victory for Hamas was partly due to corruption among Fatah officials who are accused of diverting government funds and aid into their own pockets. (1), (2), (3), (4),(5).

Edward McMillan-Scott MEP, head of the EU’s election observer team said “The conduct of these elections has provided a model for the wider Arab region and has clearly demonstrated the commitment of the Palestinian people to democracy.” (6), (7).

(Whether any party should have a majority of seats in any parliament without a majority of votes is another issue – but it’s worth noting that this is a situation common in Presidential and parliamentary elections around the world and neither George W Bush, Margaret Thatcher nor Tony Blair were told the constitution was being changed after the election because other countries’ governments didn’t like the result. All, like Hamas, governed with the votes of either only the largest minority of voters or actually got less votes than their opponents.)

The response of the Israeli government, the US and the EU was to demand that Hamas formally recognise Israel’s right to exist and “renounce violence” before they would recognise the new Palestinian government (8), (9). They made no similar demands on the Israeli government to end systematic and deliberate killings of Palestinian civilians or stop refusing to end the occupation.

Hamas responded that they would not formally recognise Israel or promise to renounce violence unless Israel withdrew to its 1967 borders, but that they were ready to negotiate with the Israeli government and the Quartet. This offer was based on a peace proposal devised by Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and supported in polls by the vast majority of Palestinians. It condemns any attacks on Israelis within their pre-1967 borders - implicitly recognising Israel's right to exist within those borders (There are divisions within Hamas though - some senior Hamas members subsequently said they would never recognise Israel under any circumstances just as many senior Israeli figures plan to leave Palestinians no land in the West Bank). (10), (11), (12).

The Israeli government refused this offer on the excuse that it didn’t include a commitment to “end violence” (in fact it did include an offer to end attacks inside Israel but not against Israeli soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories – as they haven’t ended their violence against Palestinians or the theft of their land) (13)

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah also maintained a ceasefire in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel formally joined in Gaza but refused to join in the West Bank claiming the Gaza ceasefire hadn’t been kept to fully by the Palestinians yet (14).

Economic warfare to reverse the election result

Photo : Palestinians queue for food. LawrenceofCyberia points out that British parliamentary Commissions, UN reports and War on Want found that 22% of Palestinian children under 5 suffer malnutrition and most Palestinians get only one meal each day. Sanctions and aid cuts will lead to many dying of malnutrition and hunger.

The Israeli government then with-held all the Palestinian government’s customs taxes on imports. (These are collected by Israeli officials as the Israeli military controls all the borders) (15).

Foreign aid from the US and the EU to the Palestinian authority was cut massively and economic sanctions imposed by them and by the Israeli government. The aim was to bring down Hamas and force new elections in which Palestinians would vote Hamas out in order to get the sanctions ended (16), (17).

The IMF, the UN and Oxfam all report the main causes of the 30% increase in the number of Palestinians in poverty since Hamas were elected are sanctions and impounding of Palestinian customs revenues by the Israeli, US and EU governments (18), (19), (20).

By December 2006 the UN reported half of Palestinians were short of food (21). Sanctions have been lifted on the West Bank but not on Gaza where deaths from hunger and lack of medical supplies continue (22), (23).Economic sanctions kill at least as many people as violent conflict.

Some taxes and some aid money have since been given to President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah (Fatah lost the 2006 legislative elections partly due to its notorious financial corruption , though Abbas was still President, serving since his election in the Presidential election in 2005). No money has been released to the elected Palestinian government under Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas though. The money given to Abbas has either been insufficient to deal with the poverty Palestinians face under sanctions – or else has been pocketed by Fatah officials or spent on Abbas armed Presidential Guard (possibly some combination of the three) (24), (25), (26).

(The Iranian government was one of the few to offer the Hamas government any aid – though the $50 million they offered wasn’t enough to cover the Palestinian governments’ employees’ wages (27). The Bush administration characterise this as Iranian funding and arming of a terrorist organisation – while assuming its own funding and arming of Israeli war crimes remains legitimate)

Arming the "forces of peace" to overthrow the elected government in a civil war

Photo : A Fatah rally is attended by many members armed with AK47s. The Israeli government went from condemning Fatah as “terrorists” and siezing their arms to allowing Egypt to arm them and American generals to train Mahmoud Abbas' Presidential guard as the “forces of peace” to try to get them to overthrow the elected Hamas government.

Israel’s Defence Ministry announced last December it was allowing Egypt to provide arms to Fatah’s “ forces of peace” .The Egyptian government, an ally of Israel, was allowed to provide thousands of AK47 machine guns with ammunition to Fatah’s armed wing – the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ brigade. Previously they had denounced Fatah and the Al Aqsa brigades as terrorists. Now they decribed them as “the forces of peace”(28). The Bush administration has also sent generals to train Abbas’ Presidential Guard and uniforms along with $84 million of aid to Abbas of Fatah , all for his ‘Presidential Guard’ and has promised Fatah arms to replace those it lost in its defeat in Gaza (see below) (29), (30), (31).

The predictable result was civil war between Hamas and Fatah.

The Israeli, US and EU governments refused to lift sanctions or restore aid even when Hamas and Fatah made a peace deal and agreed to form a coalition government with Fatah giving Fatah several important cabinet posts (32), (33).

So civil war resumed with one Bush administration official reported as saying “I like this violence. It shows Palestinians are willing to fight Hamas.” (34)

When Hamas, who had won the elections, won this civil war in Gaza it was reported that they had “seized power”. It would be as true to say that they had fought off an attempted military coup.

While some of the media focused on the barbarity of Hamas dragging unarmed Fatah employees into the street and shooting them the fact is that Fatah fighters were doing the same with suspected Fatah supporters. Neither was justifiable (35).

Violating the Constitution

President Mahmoud Abbas declared an emergency government in the West Bank after Fatah’s military defeat in Gaza by Hamas forces. However under the Palestinian Authority’s constitution the President can only declare an emergency government with a majority vote in favour of it in parliament (Article 79), and parliament must ratify any extension of the period of emergency rule after 30 days. Abbas has no parliamentary approval for his emergency government, having refused to convene parliament as Hamas has a majority of seats in it. Yet Abbas’ unconstitutional government is recognised by the US, EU and Israel (36), (37).

Coups are us - the Coup-team in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Palestine

Photo : Vice-President Dick Cheney and Elliot Abrams the'Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy' : Both were involved in supporting the contra death squads to try to overthrow the elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 80s, two attempted coups against President Chavez of Venezuela and the current attempt to overthrow Hamas in Palestine.

The combination of sanctions on an entire country’s population to blackmail them into stopping voting for a party the US government dislikes and arming and training those who lost democratic elections to overthrow the winners by force has a precedent.

Exactly the same was done to the Sandinista government elected in Nicaragua in the 1980s with sanctions causing mass poverty and hunger - and US arms and training used by the contra death squads to fight the “terrorist threat” of the Sandinistas (38).

Some of the same people involved in the Reagan administration’s campaign against the Sandinistas are in the Bush administration now. Vice President Dick Cheney was then a Senator trying to block congressional bills banning US funds being used to aid the contras. (Elliot Abrams was also involved.) (39), (40).

Photo : Contra fighters in Nicaragua - armed and trained by US troops in operations backed by Cheney and Abrams in the 1980s their death squads and torturers combined with US sanctions managed to blackmail Nicaraguans into voting out the previously popular Sandinista government

Cheney and Abrams came up with various means of avoiding congressional oversight in what became known as the "Iran-Contra scandal". One was to sell arms to Iran via Israel to get money to fund the Contras. Another was to allow the contras to sell drugs in the US. A third was to get the Saudis to provide most of the money to support the ‘Mujahedin’ fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan (41), (42), (43) (44).

Hamas has a different ideology from the Sandinistas. They are Islamists while the Sandinistas were mostly socialists, some Marxists. There are other differences but the similarities are greater.

Some say Palestinians must elect a government committed to peaceful means and not linked to terrorism. Yet both Fatah and Hamas have links to terrorist groups and the Israeli government and military are involved in war crimes on a much larger scale (as they have a US-funded military to carry them out). Yet no-one suggests Israelis should have to elect a government which will end war crimes and commit to peaceful means before they’ll recognise it or trade with it.

We have no more right to tell Palestinians that the government they elected is unacceptable due to its links to terrorism than to tell Israelis that their government is unacceptable due to its involvement in war crimes.

Israeli governments’ contempt for Palestinian rights and lives has made peace unattainable and Palestinian politics as extreme as Israeli actions towards Palestinians.

Photo : President Chavez of Venezuela - another target of Cheney and Abrams - but their attempts to organise coups to overthrow him have been unsuccessful

The coup against Hamas also has parallels with the two unsuccessful Bush administration backed coup attempts against Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected President of Venezeula, who is hated and reviled by the neo-conservatives and American investors and banks for refusing to continue impoverishing his own people for their benefit as “democrats” like his predecessor Carlos Andres Perez did. Perez had hundreds of his own people shot dead in the streets of Caracas when they rioted against his breaking of his election promise to end IMF imposed ‘structural adjustment programmes’ which were causing increasing poverty (and deaths as a result of lack of food and medicines for the poor). Chavez led failed military coup attempts against Perez after Perez’s Caracazo massacre – but later stood for President in elections and was elected twice (45), (46).

The unconditional backing given to Israeli governments by the EU, the US and the Australian and Canadian governments and the double standards they operate under which the Israeli military killing civilians deliberately and refusing to recognise any real Palestinian state results in continued trade and political support (and now over $100 billion of dollars worth of arms and military aid to buy them with from the US government each year) while similar actions by Hamas result in sanctions on all Palestinians or the whole of Gaza are a major barrier to peace (47).

By letting the Israeli government get off with anything and everything in its treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and by continuing to increase their power relative to the Palestinians the EU and the US are making peace even less likely.

As Israeli Prime Minister Barak (a former General) said in 1999 “The Palestinians…are the weakest of our adversaries. As a military threat they are ludicrous.” (48). So the Israeli government, as at Oslo, sees no need to offer them anything for peace. Strengthening the stronger side still more does nothing to make it offer concessions or bring peace closer.

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007

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Sources and Footnotes

(1) = Associated Press 26 Jan 2006 , ‘Hamas Wins Landslide 76 Seats’,

(article cites corruption as mean reason Fatah lost)

(2) = House of Commons Library Research Paper 06/17 ; 15 Mar 2006 , ‘The Palestinian Parliamentary Election and the rise of Hamas’, (see Section C, page 12 ‘Conduct of the Elections’ – also note the paper mistakenly gives the date of the elections as January 2005 – this must be a typo – the parliamentary elections were a year later)

(3) = Washington Post 27 Jan 2006, ‘Hamas Sweeps Palestinian Elections, Complicating Peace Efforts in Mideast’,

(4) =,_2006

(5) = New York Times 25 Nov 2005 , ‘EU critical of Israelis on East Jerusalem’,

(6) = Political Risk Monitor – Special Coverage - The January 2006 Palestinian Elections , ‘Palestinian elections: MEPs hail success of democratic process but urge Hamas to take the path of peace’,

(7) = Europa (EU) News Service 27 Jan 2006 ‘Palestinian elections: MEPs hail success of democratic process but urge Hamas to take the path of peace’,

(8) = Europa World 3 Feb 2006 ,‘MEPs call for new Palestinian government to renounce violence and recognise Israel’,

(9) = Times 29 Mar 2006 , ‘US severs all ties with Hamas’,

(10) = Telegraph 09 Feb 2006 Hamas offers deal if Israel pulls out,

(11) = Guardian 4 Mar 2006 , ‘Hamas says peace possible at Moscow talks’,,,1723217,00.html

(12) = Guardian 10 Feb 2007 , ‘Hamas deals swift blow to peace deal hopes’,,,2009867,00.html

(13) = Guardian 22 Jun 2006 ‘Climbdown as Hamas agrees to Israeli state’,,1803184,00.html

(14) = New York Times 24 Apr 2007, ‘Hamas Military Wing Fires Rockets at Israel’,

(15) = Times 1 Feb 2006 , ‘Israel cuts Hamas cash lifeline’,

(16) = Times 07 Apr 2006 , ‘Europe cuts off aid to Hamas’,

(17) = Guardian 15 Feb 2006 , ‘US and Israel 'trying to destabilise Hamas'’,,,1709767,00.html

(18) = BBC News 16 Nov 2006 , ‘Foreign aid reaching the Palestinians’,

(19) = UN News Centre 24 Nov 2006 , ‘Financial boycott sends Palestinian poverty numbers soaring, finds UN report’,

(20) = Oxfam Apr 2007 , ‘Poverty in Palestine: the human cost of the financial boycott’,

(21) = Guardian 8 Dec 2006, ‘UN plea for millions in Palestinian aid amid fears of economic collapse’,,,1967148,00.html

(22) = The Independent 01 August 2007 ‘Under siege: drug shortage 'is killing patients in Gaza'’,

(23) = Guardian 22 Mar 2006, ‘Gaza rations food as Israel cuts supplies’,,,1736323,00.html

(24) = BBC News 16 Nov 2006 , ‘Foreign aid reaching the Palestinians’, (see third section under the sub-heading ‘BYPASSING HAMAS’)

(25) = Guardian 18 Jun 2007 ‘Plan to bolster Abbas leaves Gaza adrift’,,,2105242,00.html

(26) = Guardian 19 Jun 2007 ‘Washington rallies behind Abbas with end to Palestinian boycott’,,,2106137,00.html

(27) = ABC News 17 Apr 2006, ‘Iran donates $50m to Hamas government’,

(28) = Haaretz (Israel) 28 Dec 2006 , ‘Israeli defense official: Fatah arms transfer bolsters forces of peace’,

(29) = Christian Science Monitor 25 May 2007, ‘Israel, US, and Egypt back Fatah's fight against Hamas’,

(30) = Guardian 26 Jun 2007, ‘A thankless task with four bosses and no office’,,,2111447,00.html

(31) = Israel Today 18 Jun 2007, ‘Bush to replace arms Fatah surrendered to Hamas’,

(32) = BBC News 9 Feb 2007 , ‘Palestinian rivals in unity deal’,

(33) = NPR 18 Mar 2007, ‘Israel Rejects Palestinians' Unity Deal’,

(34) = Guardian 13 Jun 2007, ‘UN was pummelled into submission, says outgoing Middle East special envoy’,,,2101630,00.html

(35) = Los Angeles Times 21 June 2007, 'Gunmen on rampage in West Bank' ,,1,1071901.story?track=rss&ctrack=1&cset=true

(36) = Ha’aretz 15 Jul 2007, ‘Fatah to boycott parliament session convened by Hamas’,

(37) = FMEP/Reuters 9 July 2007, ‘Abbas Exceeded Powers in Sacking Government’,

(38) = Chomsky, Noam (1997) ‘World Orders Old and New’ , Pluto Press; 2nd Revised Ed , London , 1997

(39) = Boston Globe 26 Nov 2006 , ‘Hail to the chief’,

(40) = Walsh, Lawrence E. ( 2005), ‘Firewall : The Iran-Contra conspiracy and cover-up’, Norton , London & N.Y – Walsh was the independent counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation – look up ‘Abrams, Elliot’ and ‘Cheney, Dick’ in the index

(41) = Pollack, Kenneth M. (2005) , ‘The Persian Puzzle’, Random House, N.Y, 2005

(42) = Scott, Peter Dale & Marshall, Jonathan (1998) ‘Cocaine Politics (updated ed.)’, Univ. of California Press, L.A & Berkeley , 1998

(43) = Cockburn, Alexander & St.Clair, Jeffrey (1999) ‘Whiteout : The CIA, Drugs and the Press’, Verso, London & New York, 1999 , Chapter 12

(44) = Rashid , Ahmed(2001) Taliban Tauris,London ,2001 - p132

(45) = Gott, Richard (2005) , ‘Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution’, Verso, London & New York, 2005

(46) = Observer 21 April 2002, ‘Venezuela coup linked to Bush team’,,6903,688071,00.html

(47) = Guardian Unlimited 16 Aug 2007, 'US offers Israel $30bn in military aid',,,2150248,00.html

(48) = Ehud Barak in an interview published in Haaretz newspaper 18 June 1999 Cited by Avi Shlaim (2000) ‘The Iron Wall :Israel and the Arab World’ , Penguin paperback , London, 2001 , page xii

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007