Bay of Pigs in Gaza

One day in the fall of 2006, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, Jake Walles, went to Ramallah to meet with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). As diplomats do, he took with him a document known as "talking points" - a prepared memo listing the main elements of what he was going to tell the Palestinian leader. For some reason, perhaps by accident, Walles left the document behind when he left, with the result that the American monthly Vanity Fair is able to publish a first draft of a chapter in the history of the rise of Hamas and its takeover of the Gaza Strip. (The article can be accessed at www.vanityfair.com under "The Gaza Bombshell" in the April 2008 issue.)

According to the paper left behind by the consul general, he wanted to pressure Abu Mazen to take action that would annul the outcome of the elections that had catapulted Hamas to power. The author of the article, David Rose, reminds his readers that President George W. Bush had pressed for the elections to be held, contrary to the advice of several experts, who warned that Hamas would emerge from them strengthened. But Bush wanted democracy. Now he effectively wanted Abu Mazen to cancel the elections in retrospect.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave him an ultimatum: two weeks. Abu Mazen said it was necessary to wait until after Ramadan, the holy month. When nothing happened, Walles showed up and warned the Palestinian president that the time had come to act. Instead, Abu Mazen launched negotiations with Hamas on the establishment of a unity government. At this point the Americans moved to "Plan B."

That was a plan to eliminate Hamas by force. In fact, it was to be a deliberately fomented civil war Fatah was supposed to win, with U.S. help. To that end, the Americans called on Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan. Bush believed in him. "He's our guy," he said.

For the president's guy to do his job, he would need an army. There were plenty of jobless people in the West Bank and Gaza who could be recruited, but arms are costly. One of the documents Vanity Fair publishes on its Web site, together with the article, contains a detailed calculation that adds up to more than $1.25 billion. That was a lot of money for Bush's foundering economy. Washington therefore tried to raise some of the funds in Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. In the meantime, Israel allowed Fatah's buildup, with weapons that arrived via Egypt.

Rose describes a very dirty war between Fatah and Hamas, including despicable acts of torture by both sides. Fatah failed, and Vanity Fair holds Bush accountable. The president should not have forced elections on the Palestinians, and he should not have relied on a guy like Dahlan. The thesis is that if the United States had not initiated the Palestinian civil war, maybe Hamas would not have seized control of Gaza.

The documents that were made available to the magazine are interesting not only because they recall other failed attempts to depose rulers, such as the Bay of Pigs incursion in 1961, aimed at toppling Fidel Castro. Their fascination derives mainly from the fact that U.S. involvement in the Middle East usually comes across as little more than an exchange of kisses between Condoleezza Rice and Tzipi Livni. What is really going on behind the stone walls of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem is well hidden from the public eye. Only the intensive security presence around the building indicates that more is happening inside than the issuing of visas.

Quite a few individuals and bodies might be interested in this story, apart from Vanity Fair. The magazine loathes Bush on the basis of a leftist stance, but relies, among others, on a figure who attacks the president from the right: David Wurmser. A leading hawk, of the type who in Israel could be of interest to the Jewish Division of the Shin Bet security service, he was an adviser to Vice President Richard Cheney and resigned against the backdrop of the Hamas victory. He was against allowing the Palestinians to vote themselves a government in the first place.

Very soon, Bush will merit such a long article only on the History Channel, but Condoleezza Rice still wants a career, and she has enemies. Hamas, of course, has an interest in leaking to the world the failed schemes of America, and so does Mohammed Dahlan. He can say that if the U.S. was a serious country that could be relied on, he would not have failed. Dahlan emerges well from the article; as usual, he was able to charm the reporter.

Hillel Bardin is a retired computer programmer, Haifa-born, whose first years were spent in the United States. He lives in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem, very close to several villages that were annexed to the city following the Six-Day War, including Jabal Mukkaber. For some years, the village has been battling a plan to slice it in two: the separation fence is supposed to run through it. Bardin and a series of other peace activists are trying to help the village. For several years, Bardin has been organizing meetings with Palestinians. He believes in dialogue - with Jabal Mukkaber, too. This is a village of plasterers; many of the residents work in Israeli homes in the city. One of them heard about the dialogues being organized by Bardin and arranged to meet with him. More meetings followed. Bardin was surprised at the readiness for peace he found in the village. However, he had a hard time finding Israelis to continue the dialogues on a regular basis. That's a real hassle.

Bardin is a good man, a devotee of peace. The villagers know he is a Zionist and appreciate his efforts. He documented his experiences in a diary, which is still awaiting a publisher. It is both interesting and charming. It is also instructive on the agonies inherent in the contacts between the Israeli peace movement and the Palestinians. Here and there it brings to mind the Boy Scout who helps the old lady cross the street against her will, so he can do his good deed for the day.

In January 1989, the Israelis suggested to the villagers that they place stickers on their homes, stating: "We want peace between a free Palestine and a secure Israel" in Hebrew, Arabic and English, in blue and white and in black, red and green. The villagers agreed. They all gathered at the home of the mukhtar (headman), along with a few professors from Peace Now, Meretz MKs, journalists and television crews. There were speeches and greetings.

By the time the stickers were to be distributed, the Palestinians had left, the MKs had left and the media had left, too. Bardin and his friends therefore bundled up in their coats and went out into the inclement winter weather, going from house to house with the stickers. Only one woman said she was against them. Everyone else agreed to paste them on their home.

The next day, the Israelis returned to see if more stickers were needed, and also to photograph the ones pasted on the homes for the press. They were disappointed to discover that all the stickers had disappeared. "We asked our Palestinian friends why the people had removed the stickers," Bardin wrote in his diary. "They said that the kids had gone around collecting them for souvenirs. We were not completely sure where the truth lay." They decided that next time the stickers would be pasted higher, out of the kids' reach.

That was in 1989. The kids grew taller and the second intifada came and went and the wall was built. This week, Bardin said that the attack on the Merkaz Harav yeshiva will not affect his relations with the village. He does not know the family of the perpetrator.