Palestinians 'knew' of impending Gaza war
29 November 2010, 20:03
Jerusalem - A US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks suggests that Israel told Palestinian leaders and Egypt that it was going to attack the Gaza Strip before the war began nearly two years ago - indicating a level of prewar co-operation never confirmed before.
The rival Palestinian government in the West Bank denied any prewar consultations and said it had told Israel not to attack Hamas-ruled Gaza. There was no immediate response from Egypt.
Israel launched its offensive, known as "Operation Cast Lead", on December 27 2008, in response to months of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. During the three-week offensive, around 1 400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians, drawing harsh international condemnations and war crimes accusations in a UN report.
The revelations in the leaked cables suggests that the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which remained largely silent during the Israeli attack on its rival, knew more about the operation than it has acknowledged, though there is no indication that it co-operated with the Israelis.
The June 2 2009, communiqué from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv cites Defence Minister Ehud Barak as telling a US congressional delegation that Israel "had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to Operation Cast Lead, asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas".
According to the cable, Barak said both rejected the offer.
No 'actual' consultation
Israeli officials, including Barak's office, would not comment on the leaks on Monday.
Fatah is the party that dominates Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' West Bank-based government. Hamas is the Islamic militant movement that wrested control of Gaza from Fatah forces more than three years ago. Egypt borders Gaza and controlled it before Israel captured it in 1967 and occupied it for 38 years before turning it over to the Palestinians in 2005.
"We knew about the war because the Israelis were saying there was going to be a war," said Saeb Erekat, a top Abbas aide. But "there were never any actual consultations between us and the Israelis before the war".
Several months before the fighting broke out in late December 2008, Abbas asked Israel's then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, not to go to war and told him he would "not go to Gaza on an Israeli tank", Erekat said. He said the exchange took place in a face-to-face meeting that he himself attended.
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said he wasn't surprised to learn of Fatah co-operation with Israel.
"We have said several times that Fatah was implicated in this war, and that they wanted to return to Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks. But this information is behind us now. ... We hope they will appreciate our position and step forward for real reconciliation."
Multiple efforts to reconcile the two Palestinian factions have failed, and peace talks between Abbas and Olmert's successor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stalled in September - just weeks after they began - over continued Israeli settlement construction.
Erekat also fumed over derogatory descriptions of the Palestinians that various US Embassy cables attributed to the Israelis.
"I can't tell you the impact now, practically speaking. But if we were at a very low point in trust relations, I think we are at a much lower (point) after this," said Erekat.
The previously mentioned cable quotes Barak as saying "he feels the Palestinian Authority is weak and lacks self-confidence".
In a separate July 26 2007 cable, the director of the Mossad spy agency, Meir Dagan, expressed his opinion that "nothing will be achieved" after more than a decade of trying to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.
"Only Israeli military operations against Hamas in the West Bank prevent them from expanding control beyond Gaza," lamented Dagan, without which Fatah would fall within one month and Abbas would join his "mysteriously wealthy" son in Qatar, the cable read.