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Abbas pulls out the stops to neutralize rival Mohammed Dahlan

As the planned Palestinian elections approach, P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas is looking to prevent, using every means at his disposal, the participation of Dahlan’s “Democratic Reform Bloc.”

Former Palestinian Fatah Party lawmaker Mohammed Dahlan, who is viewed as a potential successor to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, speaks to the media in December 2006. Photo by Michal Fattal/Flash90.
Former Palestinian Fatah Party lawmaker Mohammed Dahlan, who is viewed as a potential successor to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, speaks to the media in December 2006. Photo by Michal Fattal/Flash90.
Yoni Ben Menachem
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

The Palestinian political arena is riotous and raging following the decision of Nasser al-Kidwa, a senior Fatah figure and the nephew of Yasser Arafat, to establish an independent list that will run in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, separate from the official list of the Fatah movement. Al-Kidwa’s list will also support the candidacy of Marwan Barghouti, one of P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas’s bitter political opponents, in the presidential elections, purportedly to be held in July 2021.

“Palestinians are fed up with the current situation,” said al-Kidwa, according to Al Arabiya. He has complained of “internal behavior or misbehavior, things like the absence of the rule of law, the absence of equality, and the absence of fairness.”

There are still about two weeks left until the official submission of lists to the Palestinian Central Elections Committee is due, and it remains to be seen whether al-Kidwa will retract his list of candidates in response to the threats he has received from senior Fatah officials, including formal sanctioning by Fatah’s Central Committee.

However, though Mohammed Dahlan, the former leader of Fatah in Gaza, supports al-Kidwa’s list, the latter has publicly disavowed Dahlan.

At a Zoom conference called by al-Kidwa on March 4, the Arafat nephew said: “It is difficult to unite with him because of the popular mood rejecting him, as well as rejecting his host country in the [United Arab Emirates’] latest measures,” referring to the normalization of ties with Israel.

Dahlan serves as a senior adviser to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and has been linked to secret visits to Israel and involvement in the drafting of the normalization agreement.

Al-Kidwa’s public repudiation of Dahlan does not bode well for the challenger’s chances of gaining political legitimacy through the elections after Abbas exits the Palestinian political stage.

Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for murdering Israelis and a Greek Orthodox priest, also renounced, through his associates, any connection to Dahlan last week, even though Dahlan tried to secure his release from Israeli prison.

Dahlan himself cannot personally run in the elections because he was convicted of corruption in a Palestinian court and is wanted by the P.A. on suspicion of murder and other acts of corruption. Last week, Fatah spokesperson Monir al-Jaghoub made it clear that nothing had changed in this regard.

Dahlan, a former Palestinian minister for state security, recently said in an interview on Saudi Arabia’s MBC TV that he intends to establish a list that will include people from the “reformist faction” he heads or independent personalities who will run independently in parliamentary elections on May 22, “to give the younger generation the opportunity to vote and run in elections.”

However, Abbas does not intend to give Dahlan an easy time. Dahlan’s Democratic Reform Bloc faces many legal difficulties in the parliamentary elections. The issues will be discussed by the CEC, headed by Hanna Nasser, a close associate of Abbas, and the Special Court of Election Affairs established last week by Abbas’s executive order in an agreement with the Hamas movement.

Judge Iman Nasser a-Din, head of the Election Court, said last week that “the fate of a list supported by a person legally sought by the P.A. requires a decision by the Central Elections Committee. If it thinks it is a violation of Palestinian electoral law, it will make the decision accordingly.”

Fatah officials estimate that the P.A. leader is planning to use any and all legal means to prevent Dahlan from securing legitimate political power through the elections.

Election propaganda

Associates of Abbas accuse Dahlan of promoting election propaganda on the P.A.’s back. On Feb. 21, some 20,000 doses of Russian-supplied Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine were sent by the UAE to Gaza via Egypt. Dahlan claimed that he had initiated and secured this shipment—with more on the way. The act highlighted the fact that the P.A. is cut off from Gaza residents and fails to assist them.

Dahlan’s allies reject these claims outright, saying that he was providing humanitarian aid to the residents of the Gaza Strip long before the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

Dahlan’s political situation is complex: Dozens of his men recently arrived in the Gaza Strip, with the approval of Hamas, to prepare the elections. However, it will be very difficult for him to bypass the legal obstacles preventing him from gaining an official political “foothold” in the territories.

Dahlan is close to Egypt’s leadership, but they are also exercising caution and did not invite representatives of the Democratic Reformist Bloc to a meeting last month of the various Palestinian factions on the elections so as not to upset Abbas. The Egyptians had tried to mediate between Dahlan and Abbas but failed.

Dahlan is known in the territories as someone who does not give up easily and who, in the past, has shown an ability to surprise the Palestinian political system—earning the nickname “the Phoenix.”

The Palestinian political campaign is heating up even though Abbas is still deciding whether to hold the elections at all because of the split in the Fatah movement and Israel’s disinclination to permit the participation of eastern Jerusalem residents in the elections.

Yoni Ben-Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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