Last week, on the orders of President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian security forces raided the home of their former leader, Mohammed Dahlan. They said that they seized a large cache of weapons, as well as three armoured cars, and arrested ten of Dahlan's bodyguards. Dahlan himself was not arrested but fled to Jordan immediately afterwards, promising revenge against Abbas. This raid is a dramatic development in a power struggle between Abbas and Dahlan that has gone on for several months. The two Fatah leaders have traded allegations of corruption and treason.
Last January, there was speculation that Dahlan was plotting a coup against Abbas. A recording emerged of Dahlan criticising Abbas and saying that he should be replaced. Abbas's response was to suspend Dahlan, remove his personal security officers and shut down a television station which Dahlan was closely associated with. In June, Dahlan was expelled from Fatah. The Fatah Central Committee which took the decision charged Dahlan with embezzlement, murder, and extortion, committed between 1994 and 2002, when he was the head of the Preventive Security Force in the Gaza Strip. Some of these charges carry the death penalty. However, it seems that the Central Committee's decision was politically motivated. Dahlan had aroused Abbas's ire by criticising his sons, accusing them of corrupt business deals. There were also rumours that he was trying to build up a private militia loyal to him. After his expulsion, Dahlan, never known for his tact, replied to accusations that he was trying to stage a coup against Abbas and assume control of the Palestinian Authority in a manner very disrespectful to Abbas and his position as the president of that authority: "A coup against whom? Do we have an authority in Ramallah to stage a coup against? We are under occupation, one female soldier rules over the West Bank; the Civil Administration governs the West Bank."
Dahlan left for Jordan of his own accord after his expulsion from Fatah but returned to the West Bank on July 23, to appeal to a Fatah internal court against his expulsion. The court rejected Dahlan's appeal on Thursday 28 July and Abbas immediately seized the opportunity to raid Dahlan's home and force him into exile once again. From Jordan, Dahlan levelled new accusations against Abbas, saying that he intended to establish a dictatorship "at a time when all dictatorships are gone". He also accused Abbas of embezzling $1.3 billion from the Palestinian Investment Fund and causing a financial crisis which resulted in Palestinian Authority employees not receiving their salaries.
Dahlan's accusations, whether there is any truth to them or not, are tainted because of the simple fact that they come from him. From a humble background originally, Dahlan profited enormously from his position and openly flaunted the wealth he dishonestly acquired when he was head of Preventive Security in Gaza. In partnership with other Palestinian Authority members he was involved in shady business deals throughout the region. His personal wealth is now estimated at $120 million. He ruled the Gaza Strip through terror, using torture and assassination against those opposed to the Palestinian Authority's rule, especially members of Hamas. In 2007 he tried to stage a coup in Gaza against the democratically elected Hamas government with the support of Israel and the United States. When this failed, he was forced to flee to the West Bank.
Thus, the allegations of corruption, murder and extortion raised against him by the Fatah Central Committee are well founded. However, the question is why have these allegations been raised now? Dahlan was left free to enrich himself at the expense of the Palestinian people for years and engaged in campaigns of violence, intimidation, and torture with the blessings of President Mahmoud Abbas. It was only when he challenged Abbas's authority that he was held to account for crimes and transgressions that everyone has known for a long while that he committed. His own counter-accusations against Abbas, despite the fact that they come from an untrustworthy source, should be taken seriously, and will be taken seriously by the Palestinian people.
There is a culture of corruption endemic to the Palestinian Authority and when its leaders start to fight each other; their misdeeds are exposed for all to see. This infighting will weaken the Palestinian Authority and Fatah and further diminish their credibility among the Palestinian people. Some commentators have said that this conflict between Abbas and Dahlan will strengthen Hamas, however Hamas's reputation among the Palestinian people was much better than Fatah's before this conflict started and its members are seen as far more honest and untainted by corruption. If Abbas and Dahlan's conflict has strengthened their rivals they have only themselves to blame. The Palestinian people deserve far better leadership than they have provided.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.