Fatah officials deny rumors that ousted Dahlan is vying to replace Palestinian President, but Palestinian voters may welcome him.
By Abdullah H. Erakat, the Media Line
RAMALLAH – Mohammad Dahlan, the former leader of Fatah in Gaza who was expelled from the party three years ago, has quietly begun his campaign for president of the Palestinian Authority, a political analyst says.
A spokesperson for Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has called the news “rumors.”
“He’s a fact that nobody can ignore in the daily political life,” Khalil Shaheen, a Palestinian political analyst, told The Media Line. “In the next Fatah election, Fatah knows that it will not be united, and they know that Dahlan will be there against (Mahmoud Abbas ) or any other Fatah leader.”
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Fatah expelled Dahlan in June 2011 after its leader, the current Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, accused him of poisoning Yasser Arafat, the founder of the Palestinian political movement.
Though Dahlan and Abbas share a political agenda, which Shaheen says is based on political negotiations and security coordination with the Israelis, past attempts to reconcile the politicians failed.
On numerous occasions, Fatah has accused Dahlan of orchestrating a coup, and Ahmad Assaf, the party’s chief spokesperson, says he used his position in power for personal gains, namely enriching himself.
Therichest.com, a website that catalogues the financial assets of public figures, lists Dahlan’s net worth as $120 million.
One Fatah official who refused to be named told The Media Line that Dahlan’s corruption traces back to Camp David in 2000, accusing him of siding with Israel and America against late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The official called him a “spy” and said that Dahlan was involved in weapons smuggling while working in Gaza.
Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Fatah official and Palestinian lawmaker, said Dahlan is accused of acting outside of the structure of Fatah.
“We do not tolerate alliances with outside forces,” he told The Media Line.
Dahlan, who recently lashed out at Abbas, saying he was negotiating without regard for his people and that he should quit, has denied all claims against him.
“He’s trying to have an image as a political leader who has differences with the political practices that the people are not satisfied with,” Shaheen said.
Earlier this month, it was announced that the Fatah leadership was toying with the idea of appointing a vice president to allow for a smooth transition should something happen to Abbas, who is 78 years old and has been president since January 2005.
Shaheen, who thinks Dahlan would give Abbas or any other candidate a run for his money if elections were held today, connects the announcement about the vice presidency with Dahlan’s political aspirations.
The political analyst recently spoke with people at the Ein Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon. Palestinians there, who generally feel left out, said they don’t care who supports them, as long as they received money and food.
A Palestinian source told The Media Line that Dahlan is giving millions of dollars to the 10 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. He also said there is a large gap between what the Palestinian president is paying the refugees and what Dahlan is contributing.
Dahlan’s financial support is increasing his influence among refugees as well as bothering Abbas and his party.
“Dahlan is taking the mission and this is a new move that is provoking Fatah,” Shaheen told The Media Line. “They are worried because they are facing another problem in Lebanon and Dahlan is having an informal relationship with the Lebanese.”
But Ahmad Assaf, Fatah’s chief spokesperson, said Dahlan is out of Palestinian politics for good.
“It’s all rumors,” he told The Media Line. “He will not come back to Fatah. He is trying to ruin the party.”
Abdullah downplayed the importance of Dahlan’s visits to Egypt early last month.
“He met with (Egyptian Army Chief Abdel Fattah Al Sisi) as a party member of the UAE military delegation. He did not meet with him as a Palestinian,” Abdullah told The Media Line.
A Fatah official, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed to The Media Line that Hamas and anti-Fatah activists are trying to use the “Dahlan card” to put pressure on Abbas and his party.
Fatah was driven out of Gaza in 2007 after Hamas took over the tiny coastal strip.
“The political parties are sending a message to Abbas that ‘we will deal with Dahlan the same as we deal with you,” the Fatah official said from an undisclosed location in the West Bank City, insisting that Dahlan’s influence only comes as a member of Fatah.
“If he is out,” the official said, “he will be out of power.”
Abdullah said he would not be surprised if Dahlan was cooperating with Hamas to face Fatah, but that this would work against him. “I don’t think he is that naïve to do this,” he said.
A top Fatah official told The Media Line that he would leave the Palestinian political faction should Dahlan be readmitted to the group.
“Of course, if he comes back a leader in Fatah, I won’t be in Fatah anymore,” said the official, who has been in the movement for more than 30 years and spoke anonymously because he is not allowed to address this subject. Speaking from a coffee shop in Ramallah, he said that Fatah “tested” Dahlan in many positions as a leader but that, when it came to Palestinian national security, “he proved his failure” and that “he couldn’t stand one hour against Hamas.”
If Dahlan ever comes back to the West Bank, the official said, “It will be for court.”
While Abdullah says he doesn’t know when Dahlan will be put on trial, he says the investigatory panel formed by the Fatah Central Committee was certain of its’ conclusion: that Dahlan deviated from the principles of Fatah and was therefore dismissed.
Shaheen says he is unaware of any case pending against Dahlan. “They say he is corrupted and he may be tried, but these are allegations,” he said.
When asked what would happen if a court found him innocent, and whether he would return to Fatah, Abdullah answered with a definitive “absolutely.”
“If the court acquitted him of all charges against him, yes, he will be back to Fatah,” he told the Media Line from his office in Ramallah, a comment which outraged Fatah’s chief spokesperson.
“He is a criminal and his relationship with Fatah has ended,” Assaf said.
Meanwhile, on Rukub Street, Ramallah’s most popular thoroughfare, some passersby refused to comment on Dahlan. One man shook his head when asked whether he was with or against the former Fatah leader returning to the West Bank as an official.
24-year-old “Tareq” said it’s unfair what happened to Dahlan.
“President Abbas doesn’t want anyone stronger than him in the political arena,” he said, adding that he thought Dahlan was popular among American and European officials.
“Ahmad,” 27, thinks Dahlan’s return is imminent, and he says he will vote for the former Fatah leader. “I think Mr. Dahlan is the one for the job,” he said.
View Ynet publication of Media Line Article by Abdullah H. Erakat: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4494269,00.html