Internal Rift Rattles Abbas' Fatah (Yet Again)

Forget Obama and the framework peace agreement, forget about reconciliation with Hamas; the big story is antagonism within the PLO, which is supposed to be leading Palestinians to peace.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Mohammed Dahlan. The rift between them continues to threaten Palestinian consolidation.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Mohammed Dahlan. The rift between them continues to threaten Palestinian consolidation.Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Last Wednesday, while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was calling for an occupation of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian television saw fit to broadcast a long-winded speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which he verbally attacked Mahmoud Dahlan and his supporters in the Fatah movement in terms unprecedented even in the long history of mutual attacks between the two. Dahlan himself (who was ousted from the Fatah Central Committee in 2011 and is living in Dubai) answered the attack with a Facebook post rejecting the accusations against him. His associates say he will be answering the accusations at greater length after Abbas returns from his meeting with United States President Barack Obama.

Forget about reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, forget about a framework agreement the U.S. is cooking up between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization – the hottest story now is (once again) the internal antagonism within the movement that is supposed to be leading the Palestinian people to independence.

Abbas delivered his speech at a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council on Monday, March 10. Present at the meeting were not only about 120 council members but also Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and a number of cabinet ministers. All those present rose to their feet simultaneously in a standing ovation − a sign of their unreserved acceptance of what was said.

Beyond the direct attacks on Dahlan and his supporters in the Fatah movement, and the message these attacks sent to the rulers of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Abbas said: “If I were to detail all the pressure applied to me during the past three or four years, you would be concerned for my health. But I am acting for the benefit of my people and I want nothing [for myself]. I am 79 years old and am not prepared to end my life as a traitor, and I am not prepared to let anyone vilify the Fatah movement, of which I am one of the founders … It has become a grandchild of ours, the son of our son who is dearer than the son.”

As is his wont during internal meetings Abbas – who is the chairman of Fatah, the Palestinian Authority (i.e. the president of Palestine) and the PLO – spoke like an older friend might speak to his younger colleagues in an everyday conversation in a café. Simple language, a lot of reminiscences about the history of Fatah, intimate usages and mention of events without their dates, on the assumption that everyone is thoroughly familiar with every person and incident mentioned.

A close associate of Dahlan’s told Haaretz that the speech and the attacks show that the man is already confused, that it’s his age, that there is no logic to what he says. But both the fact that the speech was broadcast on official Palestinian television and that a week ago it was learned that about 100 of Dahlan’s associates from the Preventative Security forces had not received their salaries are indicative of forethought, a plan and action taken.

According to Abbas:

* Dahlan was behind the murder of six senior members of the Fatah movement (two of them prior to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority).

* He, Yasser Arafat’s moneyman Mohammed Rashid and Hassan Asfour, formerly a close associate of Abu Mazen (Abbas) who participated in the Oslo negotiations, put together a “collaborators’ trinity” close to Israel and the U.S. At Camp David they tried to lure Arafat into accepting unacceptable American and Israeli proposals for a solution.

* Money that came into Dahlan’s hands disappeared in mysterious ways.

* He knew in advance about Israel’s plan to assassinate Salah Shehadeh, head of the Hamas military arm (on whose home Israel eventually dropped a bomb, killing him together with 15 civilians in July 2002).

* Close associates of Dahlan spied against Hezbollah in Lebanon and against Hamas in Sinai, passing information to the Israelis.

* Several months before Arafat’s death, Dahlan and his associates led a campaign calling for the leader’s ouster, in order to open the way for the younger generation.

Here Abbas, hinting heavily, asked his audience “Who killed Arafat, who brought in the drug that caused his death?”

These accusations had been implied in the past, but this was the first time they were stated explicitly in public. There are differences of opinion as to whether this is because of personal reasons (Abbas feeling insulted) or political reasons (rejection of Dahlan’s attempts to bring about a split in the Fatah movement with the claim that Abbas is too conciliatory in the negotiations).

Be that as it may, everyone agrees that Dahlan, who is doing very well economically and politically in the UAE, has also become the darling of Egypt’s candidate for president, Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, because he helped the opposition forces that brought about the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood. In a strange twist, it looks as though Dahlan, because of his status there, could serve as a mediator between Egypt and Hamas and ease the heavy blockade Cairo has imposed on the latter. The linkage of his name to a hitherto-unknown attempt on the life of a Hamas leader is intended to ruin the possibility of rapprochement.

Abbas himself offered a different explanation: The Fatah movement has always operated independently of the Arab countries and has never agreed to shape its policies in line with their demands. This position is not going to change now.

In response to the speech, a member of Dahlan’s “faction,” Sufian Abu Zaida, announced his resignation from the Fatah Revolutionary Council and the suspension of his activity in the movement. On the electronic news site Amad, edited by Hassan Asfour, it was reported that Abbas has had his bureau establish a special committee to deal with the unexpected diplomatic and possibly legal crisis his accusations are creating. Stay tuned.

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