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War of the puppets

The Hamas-Fatah "reconciliation" process is one of the most long-running and interminable dramas in the Palestinian sphere, second only to the Israeli-American "peace process" – which is still being inflicted on the Palestinian people more than 20 years after it started.

But move over, factional rivalry: there is a new civil war in town to rival the Hamas-Fatah war: it is the Fatah-Fatah war. Or more precisely, the war over who is best at capitulating to Israel and serving as an American puppet in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian Authority "President" Mahmoud Abbas (whose elected term expired years ago) is currently at war with rival Muhammad Dahlan. It is a war of words for the most part, although money, influence and trading insults in the media is also a big part. Dahlan has been exiled from the West Bank since 2010, along with some of his closest goons.

Each side in this Fatah-Fatah war is flinging accusations at the other, including that of being corrupt (both sides are correct in this regard). In the latest salvo, Abbas strongly hinted last week that Dahlan might have been involved in the Israeli-ordered assassination by poisoning of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Dahlan hit back in an interview on Egyptian TV, calling Abbas a "catastrophe".

Recall who Dahlan is. This is the man who, during the Oslo years, led the "Preventative Security" branch of the PA's goon squads in the Gaza Strip. This was a most blood-thirsty outfit, known for torture and disappearances of Palestinian activists and fighters who Israel considered security threats. As PA negotiator Saeb Erekat put it in the leaked Palestine Papers, "We have invested time and effort and killed our own people to maintain order and the rule of law".

Working for Israeli and American interests in this brutal fashion naturally put him at odds with Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. Over years, a bitter enmity developed. When Hamas won free and fair legislative elections and came to power in the PA in 2006, the dictatorial leaders of Fatah, encouraged by America and Europe, refused to accept the results.

The response of Dahlan and Abbas was to launch a civil war in Gaza, plotting a coup to overthrow the elected PA government in 2007. Hamas learned of the plot and acted swiftly, overthrowing and exiling Dahlan's forces. The man himself was already out of Gaza. This led to the to Hamas-Fatah stalemate that endures till today

Dahlan was later blamed within the Fatah movement for "losing" Gaza, as Hamas asserted the control over the strip it had rightfully won in elections. This is the background to much later, in 2010, when Dahlan was exiled from the West Bank by Abbas.

Today, Dahlan lives between Abu Dhabi and Egypt, with piles of Gulf cash stuffed into his metaphorical pockets. Part of his interview on Egyptian TV this weekend was to grovel to Egypt's military dictator: "[Abdel Fattah al-]Sisi has saved Egypt and the Arab World. I am honoured to know him. I pursue some duties that I won't announce because I feel this responsibility toward Egypt".

Dahlan always did have strong ties to Egypt's American-dominated spook regime, going back to the Mubarak era. So since the forceful return of the generals in July 2013's coup, it is no surprise that Dahlan would cosy up to the regime there.

Since Dahlan's blood-stained Preventative Security days in Gaza, there has been much talk of the Americans eyeing Dahlan as their "Man in Palestine". His recent manoeuvres seem to be an attempt to prove himself to the Americans, after "losing Gaza".

So this is a war of the puppets: who can be most compliant to American and Israeli interests? Abbas is no better, and was fully on board with the Gaza plot as part of Palestine's Contra forces, and is also trying to cosy up to Egypt's coup regime in his own way.

The Palestinian people deserves far better than either of them.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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