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Mahmoud Abbas faces a creeping coup

The search for a successor to President Mahmoud Abbas is getting nastier every day. His bitter rival, Mohamed Dahlan, has emerged as the front runner and favoured candidate. Regional governments, Israel included, have been rehabilitating the elusive fugitive from Palestinian justice. Reports that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with Dahlan in Europe recently must be disturbing for Abbas. Increasing calls by Israeli officials for his resignation have led to heightened speculation that a creeping coup against Abbas is well underway.

One of the most ominous signs from the point of view of the Palestinian Authority head has been the reception that Dahlan was given in Cairo last week; it's a place notorious for its knowledge of staging coups d'état. Although the Egyptian government has neither confirmed nor denied anything, the country's media has been awash with reports that Dahlan was afforded an audience with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi; some sources actually referred to Dahlan as "the Palestinian leader".

President Abbas's decision to go to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) was apparently the final straw for his opponents. Although it is highly improbable that any of its citizens will be dragged to The Hague in the near future, at least, the move by itself will remain a permanent source of embarrassment and irritation for Israel. Its reaction to the Palestinian diplomatic initiatives was not limited to the withholding of tax revenues due to the Ramallah authority; it has also threatened not to release the money until after Abbas has resigned.

Clearly rattled by events, the PA president hastened to Cairo four days after Dahlan's visit. Whatever the details of his discussions with Egyptian and Arab League officials might be, there has been a marked toning down of his rhetoric; he is now offering not to resort to the ICC if Israel would only freeze its settlement expansion in the occupied territories. Having provoked the fury of both Israel and the US, it now appears that the Arab Zionists are themselves hanging Abbas out to dry; they don't care in the slightest whether he stays or goes.

In the absence of a full capitulation by the Ramallah authority, Liebermann wants the imposition of a solution supported by the "moderate" Arab states; there is no better place to start than in the UAE and Egypt. Both have been in the forefront of Western-backed efforts to reverse the process of regional political change that began in 2011.

Throughout their long involvement with the Palestine question successive governments in Cairo have allowed their intelligence agencies to handle the portfolio. One of the charges brought against Egypt's deposed President Mohamed Morsi was that he collaborated with Hamas, a "terrorist" organisation. The question that must now be asked is whether Al-Sisi will ever be indicted for collaborating with Dahlan, a disgraced Fatah official and fugitive from Palestinian justice.

The answer to this is obvious. The current Egyptian administration will always support Dahlan because he is seen as having the necessary popularity within Gaza to subvert the Hamas project in the coastal enclave. Hamas's origins in the Muslim Brotherhood qualify it to be a legitimate target for Al-Sisi. It is within this context that the Gaza-based political analyst Dr Mustafa Sawaf believes that there is a growing regional consensus around Dahlan.

While Gaza may be the Fatah rebel's point of entry or launch pad, there is no doubt that his vision is focussed on the bigger prize of Ramallah. For now, his ability to channel much-needed funds into Gaza will endear him to the deprived population and ease some of the pressure on Hamas. Cornered as it is by enemies in every direction, the Islamic Resistance Movement has apparently taken the tactical and risky decision to allow Dahlan to transfer UAE funds into Gaza. Not surprisingly, soon after Dahlan announced that the problem of the Rafah crossing will be solved, the Egyptian government opened the border, albeit for just three days.

Whatever the game plan, the ultimate aim is to get rid of Hamas in Gaza and Abbas in Ramallah. Having failed in three brutal wars against the people of the Gaza Strip, Israel and its regional allies are resorting to the use of soft power. Egypt's expansion of the buffer zone between its side of the border and Gaza is an example designed to isolate and deny Hamas the means to withstand another Israeli offensive.

For now, it is not a matter of whether there will be another onslaught on Gaza, but when. Hence, there is no talk in Cairo today about implementing the terms of the 2014 cease fire with Israel. Nor is there any discussion about the Egypt-brokered reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.

The new priority for all concerned is to install Abbas's successor-in-waiting without delay. Whichever way the rivalry between the PA president and Dahlan is resolved, ordinary Palestinians will remain the losers and victims. After all, the sweeter of the two rivals will still be a bitter pill to swallow.

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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