Palestinian cabinet minister Dahlan returns to Gaza from treatment abroad.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
The Palestinian battle for succession has heated up in the past year. Many candidates vying to serve as the next Palestinian leader have tried to court President Mahmoud Abbas. Meanwhile others have expressed criticisms of the aging president’s leadership. Muhammed Dahlan, one of the many Fatah leaders who hopes to become the next Palestinian leader, has likely expressed the harshest criticisms of President Abbas and his leadership.
Dahlan, born in 1961 in the Khan Younis refugee camp, first rose to the top of the Palestinian leadership when the late Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat appointed him as chief of the Palestinian Preventive Security in Gaza in 1995. Dahlan quickly gained a reputation as a heavy handed and effective security leader, but resigned from the post in 2002 over differences with Arafat. In the subsequent years, he served in a number of top posts including national security advisor, minister of state and security affairs, and minister of civil affairs.
In 2007, with Hamas threatening to topple the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, President Abbas appointed Dahlan as national security advisor for a second time. He attempted to restore order to Gaza, but Hamas’s armed factions overwhelmed the PA’s security forces and took control of the small coastal enclave. In the following weeks, many Palestinian leaders in Ramallah pointed their fingers at Dahlan for losing control of Gaza.
Soon thereafter, Dahlan began expressing sharp public criticisms of President Abbas, but still won a seat on the Fatah Central Committee (FCC) in 2009. He gradually intensified his criticisms and in 2011, the FCC revoked his membership. Later in 2011, PA security forces raided his home in the al-Tira neighborhood of Ramallah and Dahlan fled to Jordan.
Dahlan has since permanently relocated to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and faced a number of lawsuits. In one case in 2014, a Palestinian court sentenced him to two years in prison for defamation and in another case in 2015, a court dismissed corruption charges against him.
Despite the legal troubles, Dahlan has continued to attack President Abbas’s leadership in the Arabic and international media. In an interview with Sky News TV in 2014 he called for the formation of an opposition bloc to President Abbas: “We must establish a national front to resist these individual actions that will bring disgrace and catastrophe on the Palestinian people. We cannot allow Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] to continue to make these types of decisions.”
Dahlan has also established a close relationship with the UAE’s and Egypt’s political leaderships and even brokered a number of agreements on behalf of both countries. More recently, he reestablished contact with Hamas and even received permission from it to distribute aid to Gazan refugees.
Furthermore, Dahlan has fostered close relationships with some leaders in Israel including members of the current government. He reportedly met with current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in Paris in 2014 and has a close relationship with other leaders such as former Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.
Yossi Beilin, a former minister and negotiator, believes that imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti has the best chance at succeeding President Abbas, but thinks that Dahlan could play a secondary role in the succession process. “There will be either an arrangement or competition among potential deputies to represent Marwan. I think Dahlan could be one of the deputies,” he said.
Beilin explained that his regional ties make him a qualified candidate for a secondary role. “He has the backing of some Arab countries, mainly the Emirates and he also has good relations in Egypt. So he is a candidate for being part of the leadership,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, holds that Dahlan does not have enough support in Ramallah to play a significant role in the succession process. “I don’t see him as having the influence or support necessary in Ramallah to see him emerge as a plausible president.” He continued, “I think what maybe some of his supporters and friends hope is that he could emerge as a power behind the throne or as a key secondary figure, but I think that also is going to be difficult.”
Ibish explained that a number of factors explain his unpopularity in Ramallah. “He has been accused a number of improprieties…The other thing is that he took the brunt of the blame outside of Gaza for the victory of Hamas,” he said.
Nonetheless, Ibish admitted that Dahlan has maintained support in Gaza, but emphasized that will not suffice to play a major role in the succession process. “He has shown the ability to command ongoing support from Fatah people in Gaza. But the key to power in Palestine is not Gaza, its Ramallah,” he concluded.
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