Is Abbas Rival Mohammed Dahlan the Secret Broker of the Israel-UAE Deal?

Rumors say Dahlan, adviser to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, acted as middleman. He is also a favorite of the Israelis and the Americans, who are planning to crown him the next Palestinian leader

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, flashes the V-sign as then Fatah leader, Mohammed Dahlan, looks on in the West Bank town of Ramallah, December 18, 2006
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, flashes the V-sign as then Fatah leader, Mohammed Dahlan, looks on in the West Bank town of Ramallah, December 18, 2006Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The excited, festive voice of the announcer on the Voice of Palestine created the impression that this was a very important event: the fourth national rally to confront the annexation, being held in the village of Turmus’ayya northeast of Ramallah. A Hamas representative will also speak at the event, she promised, and his speech – like that of the other speakers – will be transmitted live. And all this on a radio station that doesn’t interview Hamas members or anyone else who disagrees with leader Mahmoud Abbas.

When the Palestinian people are betrayed there has to be a public manifestation of national unity – that was the message of the rally that took place last Wednesday and focused on opposition to “normalization for free,” as the recent agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is being dubbed.

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Fatah sent its officials to the gathering: Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh spoke, and his colleagues, including Sabri Seidam, Rawhi Fattouh and Jibril Rajoub, sat on plastic chairs around the stage, alongside the perpetual representatives of other Palestinian organizations (some of them minuscule and negligent). They all listened patiently to the speeches.

And who was absent from the demonstration of unity? Members of Fatah’s Democratic Reform Bloc, in other words, supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, who together with Fatah’s former security chief were expelled from the movement – but reject Abbas’ right to expel them. Dahlan’s name was not mentioned, but it was hovering in the air. The rumors and assumptions that are rife in Palestinian discourse are that Dahlan, adviser to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, is the broker of the agreement with Israel and a favorite of the Israelis and the Americans, who are planning to crown him the next Palestinian leader.

“How exactly will they do that? Parachute him from a plane?” jeered Samir Masharawi, who was born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, and is a former prisoner and a member of the Democratic Reform Bloc. In an interview on El Ghad Egyptian TV, broadcast early last week, he pleaded with his viewers: “Don’t make light of people’s intelligence. It’s Israel that always talks about Dahlan’s return and about the fact that there’s no place for Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]. Everyone who understand politics understands what Israel wants. It wants to scare the Palestinian Authority. To demand more concessions from it.”

Mohammed Dahlan in a photo taken in 2015. He was expelled from Fatah together with the movement's former security chief.Credit: AFP

The opening of the rally was delayed somewhat. The radio presenter explained in an agitated voice that the occupation had set up checkpoints that prevented the masses from coming. At the entrance to Turmus’ayya large numbers of armed soldiers and Border Policeman were indeed posted, along with armored vehicles. If they had prevented entry earlier, they no longer did so at about 4 P.M. The road leading to the site of the rally – in the middle of a main street – was jammed with cars and buses. The many gray plastic chairs along the length and width of the road, in the shade of tall eucalyptus trees and shuttered stores, indicated the organizers’ expectations. And the disappointment.

Half of the chairs remained empty. It’s doubtful whether more than 500 people showed up, including children and teenagers. Including the officials. This was no demonstration of strength; it was a sad demonstration of fatigue, weakness – and a failed attempt to conceal them.

Masharawi spoke at length about the weakness. “Weren’t we weak before the agreement?” he asked in the hour-long television interview, and replied: We have an autocracy here. There are no institutions, no democracy, no transparency. When were there elections? There are Palestinian leaderships in Fatah that don’t stand before the people and say our situation is very bad.”

In the interview, Masharawi argued with the PA response to the UAE-Israel agreement, and especially with Rajoub.

Like every Palestinian, he said, Dahlan’s faction in Fatah is opposed to the normalization of ties between any Arab country and Israel before the establishment of the Palestinian state. The problem is the way this opinion is worded. “You can argue, ‘That’s what Yasser Arafat taught us,’ Masharawi said. “But the slander, burning the flag of an Arab country, condemnation of the leadership of an Arab country, accusing it of treason – that’s not civilized, it’s not becoming to the Palestinians. It’s a flight from failure.

“Is the solution to lose another Arab country?” he asked. “That’s exactly what the Israelis want,” he continued. “The Arab world boycotted Egypt after the Camp David summit, and the first to leave Lebanon and visit Cairo was Yasser Arafat. He understood that the Palestinians cannot lose Egypt. Now, if Arafat were alive, he would take a plane and fly to the UAE to say that he doesn’t agree. I hope Abu Mazen will do that.

“We have a community of 300,000 Palestinians in the Emirates, and we have to think about their interests. Is there sweet normalization and salty normalization?” he asked, referring to the tolerance the PA displays toward the normalized relations that countries like Qatar and Turkey have with Israel.

Palestinians burn pictures of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (L) and Mohammed Dahlan at a demonstration against the Israel-UAE peace deal in Ramallah, August 15, 2020.Credit: ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

“We have to stop accusing one another of betrayal. The solution has to start with us, with self-criticism,” Masharawi said, citing some examples. Fatah didn’t acknowledge Hamas’ victory in the election [in 2006] and didn’t allow it to rule. Rajoub says that the security services have no connection to politics, and it’s known that the services and Fatah are one and the same. Hamas vacillates between armed resistance and government – and government has its own demands.

Without offering any self-criticism of his own faction, Masharawi added, “When security coordination [with Israel] is sacred to us, and when we’re split among ourselves – how can we expect a unified Arab stand?”

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