The recent decision by Argentina and Brazil to recognize a Palestinian state on
the 1967 borders may have been big news for Israeli and Western journalists, but
for many Palestinians the real story in the past few days was the confrontation
between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former security
commander Muhammad Dahlan.
Some of Abbas’s top aides have accused the
overambitious Dahlan of trying to stage a coup against the PA leadership – an
allegation that has been strongly dismissed by him as a “joke.” A source close
to Dahlan said this week that Abbas and his top lieutenants were suffering from
a case of “severe paranoia.”
“They think that everyone is against them,”
the source said. “They don’t trust anyone. They are panicking because they are
afraid of losing their jobs.”
All the denials in the world can’t convince
the Palestinians that nothing wrong is going on in Abbas’s backyard. Ramallah is
awash with rumors about a “conspiracy” by Dahlan and his associates to topple
Even as the PA leadership was celebrating the declarations from
Argentina and Brazil, many Palestinians seemed to be more interested in
following the news about the Abbas-Dahlan dispute.
According to some, the
rivalry between the two poses the biggest challenge to Abbas since he entered
office in January 2005. It’s much easier for Abbas to handle the threat coming
from Hamas than to deal with “dissidents” within his Fatah
Dahlan is not the first and only top Fatah leader to fall out
with Abbas. Another serious challenge to Abbas has come from veteran Fatah and
PLO leader Ahmed Qurei, a former PA prime minister who has also been accused by
the PA president’s inner circle of seeking to “undermine” the leadership in
Dahlan, who is in charge of Fatah’s “information portfolio,” is
not a lone voice in the desert. He is believed to enjoy the backing of many
members of the Fatah central committee and some senior officers in the PA
Ever since he and his men were expelled from the Gaza
Strip more than three years ago, Dahlan has succeeded – with a lot of charisma
and money – in establishing new bases of power in the West Bank.
Ramallah, he has often been seen moving around in a big convoy of vehicles with
many armed bodyguards. This has angered Abbas and many of his senior aides in
the Mukata “presidential” compound.
About two months ago, Abbas decided
to reduce the number of policemen who guard Dahlan’s house in the city from four
to two. For Dahlan, the presence of four policemen outside his house was a sign
of his senior status and significant importance.
No one knows exactly why
Abbas took the decision to “humiliate” Dahlan by reducing the number of
policemen guarding his house.
Some say that he did not like the fact that
Dahlan was acting as if he were more important than Abbas by surrounding himself
with a large number of bodyguards and using armored vehicles.
they add, managed to create the impression among many that he was more important
Others say that the real reason for the fallout between the
two is a dispute that erupted between Dahlan and Abbas’s wealthy sons, Tareq and
Dahlan is reported to have bad-mouthed the sons, who are
prominent businessmen, accusing them of exploiting their father’s position to
make a huge fortune. Dahlan is also believed to own several businesses in the
West Bank, Egypt and some Gulf countries.
Abbas believes that Dahlan has
also been “inciting” other Fatah officials against him.
have accused one of these officials, Nasser al-Qudwa, a nephew of former PLO
leader Yasser Arafat, of “conspiring” with Dahlan to undermine the PA
The allegation came after a report in The Wall Street Journal
claimed that many Fatah members regarded Qudwa as the next Palestinian
Tensions between Abbas and Dahlan reached their peak earlier this
week when the PA security forces shut down a private TV station belonging to a
commercial company owned by the latter. The station, Falasteen al-Ghad
(Palestine tomorrow), had 35 employees, who were all sent home by the security
The closure coincided with reports about the arrest of more than
45 security officers who were known as Dahlan loyalists. They worked for various
branches of the security services in the West Bank.
decision to remove most of the local commanders of the Preventative Security
Force from their jobs only added fuel to the fire, sparking a new wave of rumors
about a plot to stage a coup against the PA leadership.
editors and journalists have been warned against making any public reference to
the power struggle between Abbas and Dahlan. One journalist who dared to report
about the dispute was thrown into a prison in Bethlehem for five days.
appears now that Abbas is determined to take the fight with Dahlan to the
Earlier this week, the PA announced that it would seek the help of
Interpol in the arrest of former officials suspected of embezzlement of public
funds. Some Palestinians are convinced that the announcement is directed against
Dahlan and his men.
One source said that the PA has already issued an
arrest warrant for Dahlan’s longtime friend and number two, Col. Rashid Abu
Shabak, who is currently living in Egypt. According to the source, Abbas has
also appealed to the Egyptian and Jordanian authorities to stop treating Dahlan
as a VIP whenever he visits.
The embattled Dahlan this week sought the
help of the Egyptian government in resolving the crisis with Abbas. He met in
Cairo with Egyptian General Intelligence Director Omar Suleiman and complained
that Abbas was targeting him and his supporters for no reason.
SULEIMAN’S advice, Dahlan granted a series of interviews to major Arab media
outlets in which he vehemently denied that he had been planning to overthrow
Abbas’s regime. Dahlan accused the “fifth column” of being behind the rumors
and, in yet another bid to calm down Abbas, reaffirmed that he had no wish or
plan to become the next PA president.
There’s no doubt that Abbas’s
problems at home will affect his attitude toward other issues, first and
foremost the peace process with Israel. Some Palestinians believe that Abbas’s
recurring threats to dissolve the PA and resign are directly linked to growing
opposition to his policies within Fatah.
By issuing such threats every
now and then, Abbas is sending a message to the Americans and Europeans that
they have no choice but to continue supporting him and his government against
attempts to undermine or overthrow his authority. The biggest threat to Abbas’s
government in the West Bank is no longer Hamas as much as it’s disgruntled and
disillusioned Fatah leaders yearning for change.