How to engineer a Palestinian coup

Hey, Israel and America are coming up with a way to make Palestinians luv Hamas 4ever!
JERUSALEM, Feb. 13 — The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.



The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. The hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement.



The officials also argue that a close look at the election results shows that Hamas won a smaller mandate than previously understood.



The officials and diplomats, who said this approach was being discussed at the highest levels of the State Department and the Israeli government, spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.



They say Hamas will be given a choice: recognize Israel's right to exist, forswear violence and accept previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements — as called for by the United Nations and the West — or face isolation and collapse.



Opinion polls show that Hamas's promise to better the lives of the Palestinian people was the main reason it won. But the United States and Israel say Palestinian life will only get harder if Hamas does not meet those three demands. They say Hamas plans to build up its militias and increase violence and must be starved out of power.



The officials drafting the plan know that Hamas leaders have repeatedly rejected demands to change and do not expect Hamas to meet them. "The point is to put this choice on Hamas's shoulders," a senior Western diplomat said. "If they make the wrong choice, all the options lead in a bad direction."
And of course, this would not be an internationally-sanctioned coup at all:

If a Hamas government is unable to pay workers, import goods, transfer money and receive significant amounts of outside aid, Mr. Abbas, the president, would have the authority to dissolve parliament and call new elections, the officials say, even though that power is not explicit in the Palestinian basic law.
Not explicit, hmm? It must be implied.

The other interesting thing is that suddenly a landslide election is being described as close, even with hints of unfair:

The United States and Fatah believe that the Hamas victory was far less sweeping than the seat total makes it appear, said Khalil Shikaki, a pollster and the director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.



In an interview in Ramallah, Mr. Shikaki said that if Fatah had forced members to withdraw their independent candidacies in constituencies where they split the votes with official Fatah candidates, it might have won the election. Half of the 132 seats were decided by a vote for a party list, and the other half by a separate vote for a local candidate.



Hamas won 44 percent of the popular vote but 56 percent of the seats, while Fatah won 42 percent of the popular vote but only 34 percent of the seats. The reason? "Fatah ran a lousy campaign," Mr. Shikaki said, and Mr. Abbas "did not force enough Fatah independents to pull out."



If only 76 "independent" Fatah candidates had not run, Mr. Shikaki said, Fatah would have won 33 seats and Hamas 33. In the districts, Hamas won an average of only 39 percent of the vote while winning 68 percent of the seats, Mr. Shikaki said.



"Fatah now is obsessed with undoing this election as soon as possible," he said. "Israel and Washington want to do it over too. The Palestinian Authority could collapse in six months."
So basically, like the NDP in Egypt, Fatah can't exercise discipline. It's obviously really unfair to them that there were other candidates.

And then they say Arabs are prone to irrational conspiracy theories...
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.