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Will the Return of Mohammed Dahlan Wreck the Palestinian Unity Deal?

Even as the word was spreading about the April 23 unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah, a counter narrative was gaining attention.  In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor on April 10, Jalila Dahlan, wife of Mohammed Dahlan, the former Fatah security boss of the Gaza Strip, announced that her husband was running for president of the Palestinian Authority in the upcoming elections.  Jalila Dahlan, who lives in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was interviewed during a ten-day visit to Gaza City where she has been given permission to resume work with the Palestinian Center for Human Perseverance (FATA).  She entered the Gaza Strip from the Israeli-administered Beit Hanoun crossing.  She said her husband planned to return soon to Gaza from his exile in the UAE.

Dahlan and his followers were expelled from Gaza in 2007 after Hamas’ election to the government there.  Hamas leaders claimed that the expulsion was to preempt a military action by Dahlan to seize control over the Strip.  Then, in June 2011, Dahlan and his followers were expelled from Fatah and the West Bank under corruption charges and even claims that Dahlan had figured in the assassination of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.  That expulsion followed the January 2011 assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.  While Hamas maintains that it was the Israeli Mossad that was behind the assassination (several Mossad agents were detained, holding false British, European and Australian passports), two employees of a Dahlan-owned construction company in Dubai, Ahmad Hassanain and Anwar Shheibar, were accused of providing logistical support to the Israeli hit team.  Both men had been previously associated with Dahlan-run security squads operating in Gaza.

Despite Dahlan’s role in anti-Hamas operations when he was head of the PA Preventive Security Service in Gaza, there are credible reports that Dahlan is in a current dialogue with Hamas leaders in Gaza, who hope that Dahlan’s close ties to the Egyptian military can ease the Egyptian crackdown on border crossings and smuggling tunnels.  In December, 2013, the Hamas government in Gaza approved the resumption of activities by several of Jalila Dahlan’s charities.

But in the West Bank, a war of words between Dahlan and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been underway since March.  On March 10, Abbas delivered a bill of indictment against Dahlan before a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, and two days later, he went public with the accusations.  On March 16, Dahlan countered in an interview with Egyptian Dream 2 satellite TV, declaring that “The Palestinian people can no longer bear a catastrophe like Mahmoud Abbas.”

With the announcement of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas and the plans for elections in the next six months, the “Dahlan factor” may become even more significant.  Dahlan is not only living in exile in the UAE, he has the backing of leading Gulf Cooperation Council states, including UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.  He has been given de facto control over the distribution of Gulf aid in the Palestinian territories and this can be a powerful leverage for his political comeback. Dahlan’s re-emergence will raise serious questions about how the leading Gulf states are viewing the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal, the prospect of both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) being brought into the PLO, and the diminishing chances of resuming talks between the PA and Israel.  Already, in his pre-campaign speeches, Dahlan is attacking Abbas’ negotiations with Israel, asserting that PLO leader Arafat would have never made such concessions to the Israelis.

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