Members of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas' Fatah party asked Israel to attack rival Palestinian movement Hamas in 2007, diplomatic cables leaked by whistleblower WikiLeaks show.
The latest batch of cables quote the head of Israel's Shin Bet security agency as telling U.S. officials that "demoralized" Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip had asked for help against the growing strength of Hamas.
"They are approaching a zero-sum situation, and yet they ask us to attack Hamas," Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told U.S. officials. "They are desperate."
He went on to praise his organization’s "very good working relationship" with Abbas' security service, which he said shared with the Shin Bet "almost all the intelligence that it collects."
"They understand that Israel's security is central to their survival in the struggle with Hamas in the West Bank," he said during the June 2007 meeting.
The disclosure could embarrass Abbas and his Fatah movement, which Hamas has accused of working with the Israelis. Abbas' standing among Palestinians has already been weakened by his failure to make progress in peacemaking with Israel.
Palestinians have a complex relationship with Israel, pursuing peace talks on the one hand but considering it an enemy on the other, because of its occupation of the West Bank and its settlements there. Collaboration with Israeli security is seen by Palestinians as an onerous offense.
The Israeli Security Agency is reviled by Palestinians for its sometimes deadly raids on militant targets and its often harsh treatment of Palestinian suspects. Although Israeli and Palestinian security forces are known to cooperate, the tight coordination described by Diskin could further weaken Abbas.
Diskin is also cited opposing a U.S. proposal to supply ammunition and weapons to Fatah, fearful that Hamas might get its hands on them instead.
The message did not suggest that Diskin foresaw Hamas wresting control of Gaza from Fatah. It paraphrased him as saying that while Hamas was dominant in the Gaza Strip, it "is not yet strong enough there to completely destroy Fatah."
In fact, Fatah forces were routed from Gaza in just five days of fighting.
The Shin Bet had no comment on the newly released memo. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
Since the takeover, Abbas' Palestinian Authority has ruled only the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with two rival governments.
An official with Abbas' government played down the information, saying "information-sharing between us and Israel is limited to field information that serves our security and the interest of our people." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with reporters.
Hamas not surprised
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said he was not surprised to hear about the cooperation.
"This is proof of what Hamas has said in the past, that there has been a division of labor between some elements of the former authority in Gaza and the Israeli occupation," Barhoum said. "The same situation is taking place right now in the West Bank as well."
The just-released memo is not the first to indicate cooperation between Israel and Abbas' West Bank loyalists.
A June 2009 diplomatic message cited Israel's defense minister as asking Fatah before Israel's January 2009 war in Gaza whether it wanted to assume control of the territory once Israel defeated Hamas.
Fatah rejected the offer, according to the memo from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. An Abbas aide denied there were any prewar consultations.
Abbas' international prestige is tied to the quest for a peace deal. Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and pelted southern Israel with thousands of rockets, maintains that nothing can be gained by negotiating with Israel.