Before the United States government subcontracted the Chilean military to overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973, it carried out a number of important missions in the country in preparation for the coup of 11 September. These included major strikes, especially by truck owners, which crippled the economy, massive demonstrations that included middle-class housewives and children carrying pots and pans demanding food, purging the Chilean military of officers who would oppose the suspension of democracy and the introduction of US-supported fascist rule, and a major media campaign against the regime with the CIA planting stories in newspapers like El Mercurio and others. This was in a context where also the Communist Party and the Leftist Revolutionary Movement (MIR) criticised and sometimes attacked the Allende regime from varying leftist positions.
The Chilean example is important to keep in mind when one looks at the Palestinian situation today, as it functions as a sort of training video for US-planned anti-democratic coups elsewhere in the world. Not only are the US and Israel financially backing the open preparation for a coup to be staged by the top leadership of Fateh (and in the case of Israel allowing weapons’ transfers to Palestinian Authority [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas’s Praetorian Guard), but so are the intelligence services of a number of Israel-and US-friendly Arab countries whose intelligence services have set up shop openly in Ramallah more recently, making their longstanding and major, though understated, involvement in running the Palestinian territories more open and shameless. Indeed the intelligence “delegation” of one such Arab country has rented out a multi-story building in Ramallah to conduct their operations there.
Israel has helped this effort all along by kidnapping and arresting Fateh members who resist the collaborationist policies of the top leadership. As for the leadership itself, it has periodically purged members of Fateh who oppose its policies, and marginalised those in the Diaspora who continue to resist them. The Fateh/PA coup leaders consist of Abbas and the ruling triumvirate of Mohamed Dahlan, Yasser Abd Rabbo, and Nabil Amr. The profiles of these three make them well suited for the tasks ahead. Dahlan is universally known as America’s and Israel’s main corrupt military man on the ground. Abd Rabbo (aka Yasser Abd Yasser, literally “Yasser worshipper of Yasser” on account of his subservience to Arafat) is the architect of the Geneva accords, which recognise Israel’s right to be a racist Jewish state as legitimate and reject the right of Palestinian refugees to return as illegitimate. He recently upheld the Israeli position when fighting with the Qatari foreign minister and his staff during the latter’s visit to the occupied territories. Amr is the former PA information minister, and a former visiting fellow at the Israel lobby think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is also the speechwriter for Abbas and Dahlan.
Abbas and these three have undertaken not only to launch massive strikes by the Fateh security thugs that they have armed to police the territories on behalf of Israel, and strikes by the bureaucracy that staffs the PA ministries, but also have coerced large numbers of Palestinians, including teachers and professors, under the force of guns, to uphold a strike against Hamas, when most of them had voted for Hamas in the first place and refuse to strike. Palestinians who have fought for decades to keep their schools and universities open against Israeli draconian closures and suspension of Palestinian education, are now forced by Fateh and its armed thugs to stop the Palestinian educational process with strikes against Hamas, and threaten to shoot people if they refuse to follow Fateh’s coup directives.
In addition, Abbas and the Fateh/PA triumvirate have organised demonstrations in Ramallah by middle-class Palestinians, including housewives, who brought out their pots and pans, in a scene borrowed from 1973 Santiago, in demonstrations against Hamas. The Fateh-controlled press, especially Al-Ayyam is fomenting major anti-Hamas propaganda campaign in preparation for the coup and is thus playing the same role as El Mercurio did in Chile. Al-Ayyam is aided in its efforts by the anti-Hamas secular Palestinian intelligentsia, most of whose members are on the payroll of the bankrollers of the Oslo process and its NGOs. These old leftist Palestinians, like their counterparts in Lebanon, are better known today as the right-wing left, as they take up right-wing positions while insisting that they are still leftists based on positions they had held in the 1980s or earlier.
The plan is that the Fateh/PA rulers would do their utmost to provoke Hamas to start the war at which point Fateh, with the aid of the intelligence services of friendly Arab countries, as well as assistance from Israel and the US, would crush Hamas and take over. Indeed, the first unsuccessful round took place when the Israeli government kidnapped a third of the Hamas government, both cabinet ministers and parliament members, and placed them in Israeli jails. This was not sufficient to bring Hamas down, and not for lack of help that Fateh rendered the Israeli occupiers. Aside from the initial burning of the Legislative Council building, Fateh thugs have also burned the prime minister’s office, shot at his car, burned offices in different ministries several times, harassed and threatened Hamas ministers and parliamentarians whom Israel failed to kidnap and arrest, refused to allow the government ministries to operate, and so forth. Hamas however, is wisely adamant that it will respond by force only when Fateh launches an all-out war to bring about its planned coup, but not before.
Fateh’s planned coup is not only based on the popularity of Hamas and its electoral victory but also on Hamas’s increased ability to defend itself against Fateh forces. If the US and Israel armed Fateh thugs under Arafat’s leadership to crush the first Palestinian Intifada and any remaining resistance to the occupation since 1994, today, Hamas is almost as well- armed as Fateh forces and can defend the rights of the Palestinians to resist the Israeli occupation and the well-armed Palestinian collaborators that help to enforce it. This is where the situation today differs measurably from that of the mid-1990s. To offset this new balance of forces, the United States government, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has been training Abbas’s Praetorian Guard in Jericho for over a month with American, British, Egyptian, and Jordanian military instructors, and is providing arms to them in preparation for the confrontation with Hamas. The Israeli cabinet in turn has recently approved the transfer of thousands of rifles from Egypt and Jordan to Abbas’s forces. The Israelis also approved a US request that Israel allow the Badr Brigade — part of the Palestine Liberation Army currently stationed in Jordan — to deploy in Gaza. These steps have been conceived by General Keith Dayton, the American security coordinator in the occupied territories, who wants the Badr Brigade to function as Abbas’s “rapid reaction force in Gaza”. As a possible step to increase its security and military roles in the occupied territories, the Jordanian government recently established a legal committee to review the provisions of Jordan’s decision to “disengage” from the West Bank announced on 31 July 1988, effectively suggesting the possibility of a reversal of part or all of these provisions. More recently, the Israelis intensified their bombings and killings in Gaza, most recently in Beit Hanoun murdering over 50 Palestinians in a few days.
Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling triumvirate are reticent at the moment to start an open war for fear of a public backlash. They prefer to remove Hamas through imposing a “national unity” government that would undercut Hamas gradually and peacefully. However, Abbas and his triumvirate are quickly losing patience. Indeed, in a hastily-arranged meeting of the Diaspora-based Fateh Central Committee set to convene in Amman three weeks ago to ratify the coup plans, members of the committee opposed Abbas’s US and Israel-supported coup, which forced Abbas to cancel the meeting altogether claiming falsely lack of quorum as the reason. This speaks to Abbas’s desperation in engineering the coup without adequate preparation. Indeed, rumour has it across the occupied territories that the desperate attacks committed recently against Palestinian Christian churches were the work of undercover thugs. Those who sent them want Palestinian Christians and the world at large to think that these were Hamas acts in response to the pope’s racist pronouncements against Islam. Hamas duly condemned the attacks. Few in the occupied territories believe that Hamas was behind them and most know that they were the work of undercover agents.
The Fateh plan is simple: where Israel and its Lebanese allies failed to crush Hizbullah in the Sixth war, Fateh and its Israeli allies will succeed in crushing Hamas, even if the ongoing Israeli war against Hamas and the Palestinian people becomes an all-out Seventh war. The flurry of visits by Condoleezza Rice to the area in the last few weeks hoped to put the final touches on this plan. If Hamas, like Hizbullah, could be provoked into a military response, the coup planners believe, then Fateh’s and Israel’s wrath (backed by the US, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) would be unleashed to finish Hamas off. The Fateh leadership and its thugs are sharpening their knives for the showdown. Hamas has remained calm despite the pressure.
In the meantime, Ramallah proper (excluding the surrounding villages), continues to be what many now refer to as the Palestinian Green Zone, sheltering, in addition to the intelligence staff of Israel and Israel-friendly Arab countries, those Palestinians who are paid and protected by the Oslo process, whether the Oslo bureaucracy, its technicians, and hired intellectuals, or the business and middle classes recently habituated to the new name-brand consumerism that the Green Zone can offer. This opulent life contrasts with the life of the rest of the Palestinians outside Ramallah who live in misery, hunger, and under the bombardment of the Israelis and the attacks of savage Jewish colonial settlers, not to mention the harassment by Fateh thugs. In Ramallah itself, the trigger-happy thugs shoot at random during their demonstrations, injuring and sometimes killing passers by “in error”. Even the few secular intellectuals who deign to oppose Fateh inside Ramallah are harassed in different ways. Some of them experience mysterious robberies that are repeated every time they make anti-Fateh statements. The preservation of Ramallah as the Green Zone is paramount to Abbas and the Fateh/PA triumvirate, whose fear of any reform introduced by Hamas would strip the elite of the benefits of corruption and the dolce vita that Fateh-rule has ensured for them.
Meanwhile, Abbas and his triumvirate will continue to treat Hamas the way Israel has treated the PLO and other Arab countries all along. In the interminable negotiations that Hamas held with Fateh to avert a showdown, whenever Hamas would agree to a Fateh demand, Fateh would up the ante and insist on another concession or claim that its initial demands always included the now expanded terms, even though they did not. Moreover, Fateh would also publicly interpret Hamas’s concessions as having included things that Hamas had not agreed to at all. If this is reminiscent of the post-Oslo negotiating strategy that the Israelis used successfully with Arafat, this is because it is the same strategy. Abbas has gone so far as to walk away from negotiations, and refuse to speak to Hamas leaders, just as the Israelis have done often with the PA. Moreover, if the Israelis would often carry undercover attacks against Western interests to implicate Arab governments, the clearest example being the infamous Lavon Affair of the mid-1950s targeting Egypt, similar operations are being committed to implicate Hamas by undercover agents, like the recent example of the attacks on the churches illustrates. There may be many more such operations being planned.
Whatever fig leaf still covered the Fateh leadership’s complete collaboration and subservience to Israeli interests has now fallen off. As a result, there is very little left that can restrain Fateh’s actions. The next few weeks will be decided by how much Fateh leaders are itching for a fight to save their skins and fortunes, and how much patience Hamas can muster in the face of so much thuggery. In the meantime, what has been unfolding in the Palestinian territories is nothing short of the Chilean script.
Pinochet is in Palestine. His success however remains far from certain.
JOSEPH MASSAD is associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. His recent book The Persistence of the Palestinian Question was published by Routledge.
This essay originally appeared in Al-Ahram.