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A new faction is forming in Gaza, and the division is deepening

March 17, 2021 at 11:25 am

Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration to support the reconciliation in Gaza City on 3 December 2017 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

The sudden return to the Gaza Strip of a large number of defectors from the Fatah movement cannot be a coincidence in these circumstances and at this time. It is impossible to be the result of “societal reconciliation” as is rumoured, because such reconciliation took place years ago. This suggests that this return has a political aspect which will affect the Palestinian scene for many years to come.

There is a silent, undeclared alliance between Hamas and the supporters of Mohammad Dahlan, who was previously the head of Preventive Security in Gaza and was dismissed from Fatah a decade ago. He has been trying to split the movement ever since. Under this alliance, individual members and leaders of the “Dahlan movement” have returned to Gaza one after the other, and are received in the VIP lounge at the Rafah Border Crossing, although some of them have outstanding court rulings against them, which are conveniently ignored.

Nobody can oppose or criticise the return of Palestinians to their country, because this is an inalienable right that is not up for debate. Similarly, no one opposes the reconciliation that took place years ago in Gaza and ended with the settlement of disputes and family issues that caused dark days of internal fighting during the first half of 2007. These are all givens that cannot be argued.

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However, what is happening in Gaza now has absolutely nothing to do with that and is a purely political move linked to the elections scheduled to take place in the Palestinian territories later this year. What we are witnessing is the creation of a new faction under Dahlan’s leadership.

Palestinians lift portraits of exiled Fatah movement's former security chief Mohammed Dahlan (R) and politician Samir al-Mashharawi in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 11, 2021. [SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images]

Palestinians lift portraits of exiled Fatah movement’s former security chief Mohammed Dahlan (R) and politician Samir al-Mashharawi in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 11, 2021. [SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images]

This faction intends to participate in the upcoming elections, and while these defectors from Fatah do not have a popular base in the West Bank due to Dahlan’s bitter feud with President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas has opened Gaza’s door to them. It is likely that the Islamic Resistance Movement is doing this under pressure from some Arab countries, especially since the first group of “Dahlanists” returned to the Gaza Strip when the Hamas leadership was in Cairo some weeks ago.

There is no problem with Dahlan and his men doing political work and there is no problem with them returning to Gaza or anywhere else in Palestine, as it is their country. The problem is that what is happening is going to lead to a deepening of the Palestinian division and the further fragmentation of the fabric of Palestinian society. Moreover, the new faction has a foreign agenda and “political money” with which it can tamper with the political system and elections, especially in the Gaza Strip, which suffers from the Israeli-led blockade and extreme poverty.

The participation of the Dahlan movement in the elections mean that it has become part of the Palestinian scene, and a potentially strong competitor to Abbas. Furthermore, the huge funding and support that the new faction enjoys from at least three Arab countries will definitely pose a threat to Hamas. The potential is there for the vote to split between three major factions rather than just two at present. Reconciliation between Gaza and Ramallah will become even more unlikely, with Abbas being more cautious and anxious towards his opponents in the coastal territory.

At the same time, Hamas will face the reality that the three Arab countries which back the new faction are hostile to political Islam and view the movement as a terrorist organisation. At that point, it will find itself as far as it can be from reconciling with Ramallah, while facing a very serious threat within Gaza.

The important conclusion is that what is happening in Gaza contradicts the endeavours being made towards reconciliation and an end to the division. Above all, it is not in the interest of Hamas or Fatah, because it is a common threat to them both.

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Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 15 March 2021 and edited for MEMO.

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