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Fatah’s upcoming conference and the Dahlan phenomenon

December 21, 2015 at 5:05 pm

The information available from within Fatah suggests that the committees concerned with the conference are preparing to hold the movement’s seventh general conference soon, after it was postponed in September. The conference was postponed for several reasons, including some Arab parties’ advice to the PA and Fatah to wait for political developments in the negotiations process which has been stalled for a long time.

This included the advice of the Egyptian leadership which still believes that there is potential to resolve many of Fatah and the PA’s internal disputes, including the polarisation that occurred inside the movement after former member of the Fatah Central Committee, Mohamed Dahlan, was dismissed but maintained a great influence within Fatah in the Gaza Strip. The problem of Mohamed Dahlan seemed irresolvable, even after he was dismissed from Fatah, due to the spread of his influence and his embrace by some parties and capitals.

The Egyptian advice to postpone the seventh Fatah conference and seeking to resolve the Mohamed Dahlan problem was followed by a second piece of advice that the time, i.e. postponing the Palestinian National Council meeting, which was scheduled to resume its work in early October. Its agenda included a number of issues regarding the political negotiations process as well as President Mahmoud Abbas’s desire to change many of the Executive Committees’ members, including Yasser Rabbo, who was dismissed as secretary-general of the Executive Committee.

But why is there so much focus on the Dahlan issue and why have many regional parties become involved in his issue with the Fatah leadership, especially with the President Mahmoud Abbas?

State of polarisation

Indeed, Dahlan was unable to come to terms with the decision to dismiss him from Fatah’s ranks, and he justified the matter as being a means of settling the scores regarding his dispute with Mahmoud Abbas’ sons. He immediately caused trouble for Fatah and established a state of polarisation, as well as creating a parallel framework within the movement. This even included building a parallel leadership consisting of those close to him who were leaders in the organisation’s branch in the Gaza Strip and amongst the Fatah organisation in the Palestinian community in Europe and Lebanon, in Fatah’s ranks and in the military forces that have become part of and affiliated with Fatah, and which receive financial support from the movement, as reported by official sources in the PLO in Lebanon.

This even occurred in Syria where his name was mentioned during more than one phase of the crisis, and especially in the Yarmouk refugee camp over the past four years. His name also came up recently in the position on Turkey and on the Syrian crisis, as his position changed from supporting the Syrian activity during 2012 and 2013, as his supporters in Yarmouk (who were accused by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, led by Ahmed Jibril, of attacking its main headquarters in Yarmouk on 6 June 2011) stated to a position of opposing the Syrian actions and loudly voicing his condemnation of Turkey and its role in the region, labelling it as “political Islam and the terrorism associated with it”.

We now must note that there are great efforts being made by various parties, including the Egyptian leadership and Emirati parties, to achieve reconciliation between Dahlan, the Fatah leadership, and President Abbas. This occurred during Abbas’s latest visit to Cairo, during which Dahlan also visited in order to meet with Abbas under the auspices of Egypt. However, the meeting did not occur due to President Abbas’s (likely) final positon on the Dahlan issue.

Dahlan has grown accustomed – over the past few years – to activating and building media outlets and tools owned by him personally in more than one capital. He has also launched noticeable political media movements and initiatives in two Arab capitals and in some Western capitals.

Over the past four years, he’s resorted to expanding his circle of foreign regional and international contacts and relations with the help of official Arab parties, specifically after he was dismissed from the Fatah Central Committee in July 2011. He aligned himself with many regional parties that are not too far from what is occurring inside the Palestinian home, especially in the Gaza Strip due to the division that occurred in the summer of 2007.

What is new in the matter is the fact that he has recently changed from trying to solidify his presence in high levels and positions to entering through new and wide doors into the course of events in the crises occurring in various Arab countries, starting with Libya and ending with Syria and Yemen, according to a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council.

In this regard, the latest appearance was in the Russian capital Moscow during the opening ceremony of the UNESCO International Cultural Forum. This was part of the UNESCO’s celebration of its seventieth anniversary in mid-December. He was personally invited, a fact I verified from official sources in Fatah, despite the fact that he does not possess any official capacity in the PA or in Fatah as he has left its ranks at least from an organisational standpoint. He also does not possess any academic or cultural capacity that justifies his invitation to an international cultural forum.

The questions that are raised now are regarding his absence of a leadership position but his continued movement within the international official and semi-official circles. He has gone from Brussels, where he was hosted by NATO in its forums discussing strategic issues, to Moscow and the UNESCO forum, to the UAE and Cairo. These questions require an answer.

A questionable presence

To answer these questions, we must remember that the presence of Mohamad Dahlan, the former member of the Fatah Central Committee, in the internal Palestinian equation still leaves many questions about the general Palestinian situation in the minds of those observing the Palestinian situation. This is not only because of the uniqueness of his personality and the roles that he is aspiring to on various levels, even outside the Palestinian framework, as his supporters claim, or because he possesses qualitative capacities, as some say. It is also because of the predictions that are based on a number of strong indicators that suggest that Dahlan’s presence in the Palestinian framework was studied and arranged.

This was all in the contexts dictated by the projects whose owners have wanted, and still want, since the 1991 Madrid/Oslo settlements, to re-mould and subjugate the Palestinian situation, especially the Fatah situation, and who want to come up with new leadership and cadre formations and structures that are sure to align with the Western strategic vision for the solution of the Palestinian cause. They want to create the “new Palestinian” willing to accept the American-Israeli settlement for the Palestinian cause and eliminate the Palestinian refugees permanently from the scene.

This explains the skyrocketing of Dahlan up the ladder of positions and ranks within the PA and Fatah since the establishment of the PA in 1994. He was also very lucky in gaining the satisfaction and pleasure of the Americans, including former US President Bill Clinton and George W Bush, who sang the praises of the “young, dark and handsome” Dahlan.

All of this helped Dahlan form a strong following within Fatah, reaching the point of his election as a member of the Fatah Central Committee at the Bethlehem Conference in August 2009. He has even kept his following after being dismissed from the Central Committee in July 2011 and from being a member of Fatah. The Fatah Central Committee said in his dismissal statement that “Dahlan was permanently dismissed by the Central Committee and Revolutionary Council due to financial violations that went against the rules and regulations and harmed the movement’s constants and our peoples’ higher interests, and his execution of assassinations of innocent citizens. These violations were referred to the judiciary and courts.”

The process of dismissing Dahlan at the time also occurred in a purely Fatah context after his great expansion and influence and his overstepping of Fatah regarding the foreign contacts he was leading with various parties without the knowledge of the Central Committee, according to a trusted committee official.

Regional bets

Cairo, along with other regional and international parties, believes that Dahlan “has a future role in Fatah and the Palestinian political life.” This raises more questions regarding Dahlan being the “link” in the Palestinian equation.

Therefore, Cairo believes that Dahlan is the best and more guaranteed individual to lead the situation, at least in the Gaza Strip, and control the situation there. Cairo also believes he can stand in the face of Hamas, which is on the Egyptian authorities’ grey list.

Based on this, Dahlan’s repeated presence in many international forums and his theorising in the region’s major heated issues implicitly suggests policies and desires that go beyond specific figures or individuals. These desires and policies see Dahlan having a promising future in the Palestinian and even regional political arena.

Another legitimate question in this context is: In what capacity did Dahlan enter the “chaos” in Brussels, Moscow, Libya, Syria, Yemen and everything in between?

Finally, it is important to point out that the Israeli voice on its political, security and military level, and consequently the American voice, has believed for quite some time that Dahlan is the best Palestinian alternative for president in the near future, despite the fact that some influential individuals in the Israeli security force would prefer another figure from the West Bank who is far from the context of the Palestinian refugee community (it is worth noting here that Dahlan is a refugee from the Palestinian village of Hamama, occupied in 1948, and which is on the outskirts of Gaza, and that he was originally a resident of Khan Younis refugee camp).

This figure is former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is closely tied to the US and the West. However, his absence from the arena allowed Dahlan to top the list of alternatives, seen suitable by some regional parties, to the current President Mahmoud Abbas.

Translated from Al Jazeera, 18 December 2015.

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