Abbas cuts salaries to dozens backing rival Dahlan
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Analysis

Abbas cuts salaries to dozens backing rival Dahlan

As rift widens, PA president’s nemesis threatens demonstrations against this month’s Fatah General Conference

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

In this January 3, 2011 photo, Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
In this January 3, 2011 photo, Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

In an unprecedented step, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has stopped paying the salaries of 57 PA officials in Gaza because of their alleged support for his rival, the former high-ranking Fatah official, Muhammad Dahlan.

Dahlan is considered to be Abbas’s greatest opponent within the Fatah party since he was booted out of Ramallah in January 2011. Recently, Dahlan stepped up his political activities, especially in the Gaza Strip but also within the West Bank, with strong Egyptian backing.

In an apparent reaction, Abbas decided in November to stop paying salaries to supporters of Dahlan, The Times of Israel has learned. According to those close to the Palestinian president, he intends to continue to work against his rival and will ultimately block the salaries of almost 500 Dahlan allies.

In light of this step, Dahlan and his followers are threatening to hold demonstrations in Gaza and elsewhere to protest the Seventh General Conference of the Fatah movement, which is due to be held on November 29 in the West Bank, and to reject its legitimacy. Dahlan has also reached out to the leadership of the Hamas terrorist group in the Strip requesting permission to enter Gaza to join the protests and seeking guarantees for the safety of the protesters. However, the assessment of many within the Strip is that Dahlan does not actually intend to participate in such protests himself.

Mahmoud Abbas (center right) and Khaled Mashaal speak to reporters after talks in Cairo in February (photo credit: Amr Nabil/AP)
Mahmoud Abbas (center right) and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speak to reporters after talks in Cairo in February 2012 (photo credit: Amr Nabil/AP)

Abbas, meanwhile, is working with the heads of Hamas overseas to ensure security for those of his supporters from the Strip who intend to attend the General Conference in Ramallah. At a meeting late last month in Qatar with Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political bureau, and Ismail Haniyeh who is slated to replace him, Abbas requested that some 430 Fatah members be allowed to exit Gaza for the West Bank.

According to sources in Gaza, Dahlan’s men are exerting pressure on the Fatah members in the Strip to boycott the General Conference and have even threatened them with physical harm. At the same time Abbas’s men are intimidating Dahlan’s allies, warning them not to participate in any event connected to Dahlan.

Palestinian supporters of dismissed senior Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan shout slogans during a protest in Gaza City on December 18, 2014 (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinian supporters of dismissed senior Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan shout slogans during a protest in Gaza City on December 18, 2014 (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The crisis within Fatah has grown worse in the past few weeks, partly because of Egypt turning away from Abbas and making overtures to Dahlan. The Egyptians recently held an economic conference in Ain Sokhna near Suez on the shore of the Mediterranean, which was attended by many of Dahlan’s supporters. They discussed economic projects to improve the situation in Gaza, including setting up a free-trade zone between the Strip and Sinai. The Egyptians also permitted Dahlan’s wife, Jalila, to enter Gaza and hold a series of charity events there funded by the United Arab Emirates.

The tension between Abbas and Cairo deepened after the PA president rejected an Egyptian-Arab initiative to enable a reconciliation between him and Dahlan.

According to various Palestinian commentators, Dahlan will not be able to seriously disrupt the General Conference, during which elections will be held for leadership of the movement. After the assembly, Dahlan is expected to find himself facing new leadership in the Fatah Central Committee and Revolutionary Council — with none of his followers included in the organization’s decision-making bodies — which will damage his legitimacy.

On the other hand, Dahlan’s supporters claim that holding the General Conference without any representation from Dahlan will further weaken Fatah and highlight the internal fractures within the organization.

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