On security in Gaza, Palestinian democracy, the National Unity Government, and the kidnapping of Alan Johnston
The following is an edited and annotated transcript of a discussion between Hamas’s representative in Lebanon, Usamah Hamdan 1, the British Member of Parliament, Rt Hon Michael Ancram QC 2, the Director of London’s Global Strategy Forum, Jonathan Lehrle 3, and Co-Director of Conflicts Forum, Mark Perry 4. The meeting took place at the Albergo Hotel, Beirut, on June 19, 2007. The transcript of this meeting could not be made public – for reasons which become apparent – until the BBC journalist Alan Johnston had been released. Alan Johnston was released in the early hours of 4th July 2007. (A verbatum transcript of this meeting can be viewed here [PDF].)
Michael Ancram: Good to see you. Lots has happened since we last met.5 I guess you have been busy, Gaza has been interesting, I’m keen to hear what has been going on. How do you think things will go?
Usamah Hamdan: I will start from the Mecca Agreement. At Mecca there were three important points. The first one was on the National Unity Government; the second point covered the reform of the security services and called for a new security plan for the Palestinian territories, and the third point was on the reform of the PLO and the new political arrangements inside the Palestinian political body. That means that the relations within the PLO itself, the relations between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, the internal Palestinian relations.6 And we [in the Hamas movement] went back to Gaza and within one month there was the formation of the national unity government. We started talking about security. There was a security plan that was put forward and that was endorsed by the government and that was then endorsed by Abu Mazen himself as President.7
When we started to apply that [the security plan] on the ground we faced an important problem — which was that the main General in the security service failed to apply and rejected this plan. That was General Rashid Abu Shabak.8 He ordered all the security officers not to receive the Interior Minister without permission.9 So we were not able to make any progress. We were not able to go anywhere and the Interior Minister was not able to order the security service to implement the security plan that was agree to. The Interior Minister was not able to order any security service to apply the plan.10
So because of these difficulties we talked directly to Abu Mazen in April in Cairo and it was a frank talk about this plan which was endorsed by himself and we insisted that the plan that was agreed to be implemented. But he did not promise to do anything. He just said, ‘I will talk with Mr Mohamed Dahlan and then I will give you an answer, and this answer will be inside the territories.’ [That is: ‘I will give you the answer in the West Bank or Gaza and not during a meeting in Cairo.’] He [Abu Mazen] went to Gaza. He had a meeting with the Interior Minister and he told him, ‘I consulted with Mohammed Dahlan and he rejected to apply that [agreed to security plan.] So we reached an end point, we reached a closed point in the security plan. At the same time there was another security plan, which was generated by the Americans, you know [Lt. General Keith Dayton], and the Palestinian Mr. Dahlan and some of our neighbours.
This plan (I think a part of it was published) and all the people knew about it — the politicians knew about it — I think you have a copy of this plan.11 This plan calls for the establishment of a new security force taken from the Presidential Guard. It was supposed to train 20,000 soldiers and they were to be trained in Jordan, Egypt, the UK, the US and in Russia. This was a complete plan and the budget for this plan was about $1.27bn dollars and we followed that up. In Cairo there was training for 500 [Palestinians] at that time — in April. They were talking about training up more than 5000 at the end October and in Jordan they were talking about training about 4000 and outside in the West they were talking about training about 700 officers. They will collect the other members from the security service.12
So they were closing the road for the national security plan and they were having their own security plan. [They were using these plans as a pretext] to give themselves some time.13 They [Fatah] were undermining their own [National Unity] Government and undermining the security plan which we were working on. In order to make the situation more difficult they started disturbing the security in Gaza by some robberies and killings and by supporting some drug mobs and finally the kidnapping of some people, including the journalist Alan Johnston — who was kidnapped by some members of the [Dagmoush] family, who were directly connected to Mohammed Dahlan.14