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Is Dahlan really being lined up by the US to replace Abbas?

Former Palestinian security minister Mohammed Dahlan [THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images]
Former Palestinian security minister Mohammed Dahlan, 19 September 2020 [THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images]

The Palestinian Authority was not pleased to hear US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tell Israel Hayom that Washington is considering Mohammed Dahlan as a replacement for President Mahmoud Abbas. This makes sense according to the logic that Israel’s “peace” deal with the UAE will give it a prominent political role in the region, including the Palestinian issue, benefitting also from its alliance with Egypt and the green light from Saudi Arabia. The UAE has been backing Dahlan for years, so he is likely to play a part in all of this.

The dangerous shift in the Arab position, and not just the normalisation agreements, are an introduction to a more daring political shift in the course of the conflict with Israel. With this, the logic of the Arab depth and all the vocabulary of Arabism will disappear. As Syrian poet Muhammad Al-Maghut said, all nations sleep and sleep, and wake at the crucial moment, while the Arab nation sleeps at the crucial moment.

Friedman said that the current Palestinian leadership needs to “join the 21st century, they are on the wrong side of history right now,” and this is the realistic result of the PA and Fatah leadership’s insistence on clinging to a political approach that, in Friedman’s opinion, has not given it a place in the 21st century.

This means that Friedman does not believe that the PA and Fatah leadership spending over 30 years in a political agreement with Israel warrants the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. That is what should have happened 22 years ago according to the Oslo Accords, agreed and signed by Friedman’s favourite state, Israel.

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His statements reflect the impression that the Trump White House has of Abbas as the man of agreements, talks and Oslo. At the time, he was seen by America as the best man to succeed President Yasser Arafat. Does this mean that a senior US official is saying publically that it is time for another Palestinian president to be removed and replaced, this time by Dahlan?

Public opinion in occupied Palestine is ahead of Friedman in this respect. An opinion poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between 10 and 12 September, showed that the vast majority of respondents, 78 per cent, believe that Egypt’s warm welcome for the UAE-Israel deal means that Cairo has officially abandoned Abbas. That is not good news for the PA, Fatah and PLO leader.

Palestine president Abbas ends ‘all agreements’ with Israel, US - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Palestinian president Abbas ends ‘all agreements’ with Israel, US – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The presidential compound in Ramallah shook with anger at the ambassador’s statements, perhaps more than after all of the US decisions against the PA combined. This includes moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, closing the PLO office in Washington and cutting aid.

This “political sale” of the PA by the White House offers in return unprecedented financial deals, and approaches to the faction that has stuck to the resistance track, gaining respect and political progress in the process. The head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, revealed a couple of months ago that his movement had rejected an offer from groups backed by major powers for $15 billion to be paid in exchange for disarming the resistance. It was then announced a few weeks later that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, sent a message through third parties that he is willing to sit with the leaders of Hamas anywhere they choose, be it an Arab or a European capital.

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Moreover, Washington announced recently that it shares Qatar’s concern about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, and the need to take steps to improve living conditions there. I understand that this has to be seen in the context of American attempts to pass the deal of the century without any opposition, but it reveals the effect of power on the kind of regional and international engagement that will be allowed. This is what governs international relations, in addition to the interests that agreements alone cannot serve.

These are convictions that the Palestinian resistance factions are aware of and adhere to, and which have transported them to the right side of history in the 21st century, by Friedman’s standards. The resistance appreciates that the US is trying to do what it began with Fatah, but at a greater price this time. However, it is not under discussion because it is known that it serves Israeli interests.

This is what President Abbas should realise, but I don’t believe that he will change his convictions, as he believes firmly in the proverb, “Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow”. He told Egypt’s CBC in 2014 that he does not believe in resistance movements and that there is no such thing as a resistance movement. In saying this, he has diminished the existential function of the Palestinian people. Those who do not appreciate the people, should not expect the appreciation of others.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 22 September 2020

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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