January 21, 2006 will be a "fateful day," Maj. Gen. (res. ) Amos Gilad warned the Americans, some four months before the Palestinian parliamentary elections that ended with a sweeping victory for Hamas. Gilad made this remark at a meeting with senior U.S. State Department official Elizabeth Dibble on September 21, 2005. The minutes of the meeting, originally reported in a cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Washington, were revealed this past weekend in the latest WikiLeaks cache of documents.
These comments by Gilad distinguished him from other Israeli officials, most of whom failed to predict the effect the 2006 elections would have on the Palestinian Authority. Israeli experts told reporters after the elections that they were surprised by the results. Furthermore, the media reported that researchers in the intelligence community also failed to anticipate the outcome. The intelligence estimate at the time was that Hamas would garner a significant number of seats, but would not win; in the end the movement won a landslide victory, with over 50 percent of the vote.
Many in Israel's political and military establishments did not appreciate the historic significance of the elections. This apathy could also be explained by Israel's desire to not appear as if it opposed the Palestinians' decision to act according to democratic principles. Indeed, any local official criticizing the move could have been seen as criticizing the Bush administration and its preaching for "democratization" everywhere, especially in the Mideast.
Gilad, then head of the political-military bureau in the Defense Ministry, is quoted as saying he was sure the elections would be free, but that they would not result in democracy, as PA President Mahmoud Abbas had already announced he would never dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.
Gilad told Dibble that Hamas hoped to replace Abbas: "First they will win 40 percent of the votes. This will give them a good showing, but will not saddle them with responsibility," he said. "They will offer anything to win votes, and then they will take over the municipalities. They have a plan to take over Nablus and all the jobs it will offer. This will give them incredible power. Then they'll prepare the Palestinian street so that their frustration will erupt."
The cable said that Gilad admitted he was not sure if the Israeli government had given adequate attention to the elections and their implications, and he went as far as to say that, "We are doomed if Hamas becomes a real power and part of political life, especially as the PA continues to be helpless."