JERUSALEM: The US government began to lay the ground for President Mahmoud Abbas to dismiss the Hamas-led Palestinian government at least a year before the group's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last week.
Western, Israeli and Palestinian official sources said that far from being an ad hoc response to Hamas's offensive, Abbas's declaration of a state of emergency and his replacement of a Hamas prime minister with Western favourite Salam Fayyad marked the culmination of months of backroom deliberations, planning and US prodding.
In the end, pressure on Abbas to act against Hamas was as great - if not greater - from within his own Fatah faction as from Washington, which is seeking to play down its own role.
Only the triggering event, resulting in total Hamas control of the Gaza Strip, can be said to have come as a nasty surprise to the Americans. It left in tatters plans by US and Arab allies to build up Abbas's own forces in Gaza against Hamas.
"(Hamas leaders) knew what was going on," one senior Western diplomat said. "They knew Abbas was going to try to establish his authority. They read it in the paper like everyone else."
Exactly who was overthrowing whom is a fair question, said International Crisis Group analyst Mouin Rabbani.
Edward Abington, Abbas's long-time adviser and Washington lobbyist, said the Bush administration made its intentions known to the president soon after Hamas was elected in early last year.
Abbas was told "Hamas is an illegitimate organisation and that they are doing everything they can to force it out of power."