A U.S. plot against democracy

THE "GREATEST democracy on Earth" undertook a secret operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of the Palestinians in 2006, according to a new Vanity Fair report by David Rose.

Even as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was traveling to the Middle East to call for calm following Israel's latest onslaught on Gaza, she was exposed as one of the chief architects of a plan to crush the Islamist Hamas party after it won elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

U.S. press accounts imply that Hamas' rise to power was the result of a "coup" against rival Fatah, but Rose makes it clear that the reality was different.

First, the Bush administration itself pressed for the January 2006 elections as a means of trying to undermine Hamas. When it didn't get the results it wanted, the U.S. turned to Plan B--an attempt to overthrow Hamas by funneling arms and money to Fatah fighters, operating under the authority of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

As David Wurmser, a former Middle East adviser to Dick Cheney, who resigned as a result, put it, "It looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas, but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen."

After Hamas' election win, Rice first apparently encouraged Abbas to dissolve Hamas' authority in Gaza. When Abbas didn't move quickly enough to satisfy the administration, Jake Walles, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, was sent to Ramallah to meet with Abbas and ratchet up the pressure.

According to a "talking points" memo for Walles' meeting quoted in Rose's article, the U.S. was ready to "[work] with the Israeli government toward a resumption of revenue transfers." The cutoff of these $50 million-a-month transfers have strangled Gaza in particular since Israel began withholding them after Hamas' victory.

When Abbas remained reluctant to move against Hamas, U.S. officials cooked up another plan. This time, the administration reportedly started dealing directly with Muhammad Dahlan, a Fatah strongman based in Gaza whose followers in the PA security apparatus have been known for torturing Hamas members.

According to a colleague, David Welch, the person in charge of Middle East policy at the State Department, was ready to support "whatever son of a bitch you had to support. Dahlan was the son of a bitch we happened to know best. He was a can-do kind of person."

This was the covert strategy at work while Israel escalated the violence against the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. In recent weeks--with 80 percent of Gaza's population already dependent on food aid and a near-total collapse of the electrical and sewage systems--the onslaught has grown to even more nightmarish proportions.

Israel used the excuse of Hamas rocket attacks on a few towns near the border with Gaza, but the violence has been one-sided--and Israeli government officials show no sign of loosening their grip. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, ''Whoever thinks that we have finished the story with Gaza already and there is calm, I want to correct them--we haven't finished anything there yet. This fighting is continuous, and it will continue."