Ousted Fatah official Muhammad Dahlan denied Thursday that he had met recently with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s adviser Yitzhak Molcho.
Dahlan, who previously served as commander of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Force in the Gaza Strip, said that the last time he met with Molcho was at the negotiating table, more than a decade ago.
Ma’ariv reported on Thursday that Netanyahu dispatched Molcho to meet with Dahlan in Dubai. Dahlan has been living in the Gulf since his quarrel with PA President Mahmoud Abbas a few years ago.
Abbas accused Dahlan of conspiring to undermine his authority and involvement in financial corruption. At the request of Abbas, the Fatah Central Committee voted in favor of expelling Dahlan from its ranks three years ago.
Ma’ariv said that Israel was keen on preserving ties with Dahlan “in preparation for the moment Abbas retires as president of the PA.”
It said that the contacts with Dahlan were being held against the assessment in Israel that Abbas would not be able to sign a permanent agreement with Israel and may even try to thwart US efforts to strike a deal.
According to Ma’ariv, some officials in Jerusalem believe that, unlike Abbas, Dahlan could be a peace partner and even create a bridge between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In response, Dahlan said in a statement that the report was designed to “create more weakness and confusion” among Palestinian leaders.
“I haven’t met with Molcho since the late 1990s, when we were rivals at the negotiating table,” Dahlan said. “If there is a need for such meetings, I’m not the one to do so in secret and with the mentality of conspiracies.”
Denying claims that he was seeking to replace or succeed Abbas, Dahlan said that the report was an “old and exposed Israeli method to play with the nerves of those who are weak.”
He said that despite his differences with Abbas, he was prepared to provide all aid and backing to the Palestinian negotiators with Israel, in order to “preserve the national rights of the Palestinian people.”
Sufyan Abu Zaida, a senior Fatah official closely associated with Dahlan, said that Israel was trying to exert pressure on Abbas to force him to make concessions that no Palestinian could accept.
Abbas’s office refused to comment on the Ma’ariv report.
However, Amin Maqboul, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said that the report comes in the context of Israel’s search for a replacement for Abbas.
“The report is aimed at putting pressure on Abbas to make concessions at the current negotiations with Israel,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s Office unequivocally denied reports of a Dahlan-Molcho meeting.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Arabic-language spokesman, Ofir Gendelman, tweeted a firm denial on his Twitter account.
“News about a meeting between the lawyer Yitzhak Molcho and Muhammad Dahlan is untrue,” he wrote, adding that Molcho neither met nor talked to Dahlan in Dubai or anywhere else. That Gendelman put out the denial in Arabic indicates the degree to which the story gained traction in the Arab world.
Herb Keinon added to this report.