Former Gaza security chief Mohammad Dahlan — widely seen as a key rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — will not be allowed to run in the upcoming Palestinian presidential elections, a senior Palestinian official told The Times of Israel.
“Dahlan cannot run for the presidency, as he does not have a clean record. No one with a conviction registered in the Justice Ministry, who can’t obtain a clean record, can nominate themselves,” Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad said in a phone call late last week.
Dahlan is widely seen as a possible contender to replace the 84-year-old Abbas. A former Fatah chief and an ex-PA security minister, Dahlan was expelled from the West Bank following a bitter and bloody political dispute with the current Palestinian Authority leadership.
He was convicted in absentia by a Palestinian court on charges of corruption and sentenced to several years in prison. His supporters allege that the charges were politically motivated.
Abbas issued a decree ordering the first national Palestinian elections in more than 14 years earlier this month. The last Palestinian elections were held in 2006 and led to a parliamentary majority for the Hamas terror group. Hamas’ victory led to a year-and-a-half-long struggle for power, which ended in 2007 with the establishment of two rival Palestinian governments: Hamas in Gaza and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Observers remain skeptical that the elections will actually take place, however, as several election promises have fallen through before.
Representatives from Fatah and Hamas are scheduled to meet in Cairo to discuss election-related issues in early February.
Central Elections Committee chief Hana Naser had indicated earlier this month that anyone with a pending conviction would not be able to run for the presidency, although he did not mention Dahlan by name.
PA officials have publicly charged that Dahlan was involved in recent decisions by the UAE and Bahrain to establish open ties with Israel. Dahlan has lived in Abu Dhabi since fleeing the West Bank in 2011.
At the time, other PA officials accused Dahlan of corruption; Dahlan’s supporters claimed that he had been pushed out for threatening Abbas’s power.
Dahlan’s supporters in the so-called Fatah Democratic Reform Current had initially expressed hope that they would be allowed to run in the elections on a joint list with the rest of the Fatah movement.
Central Committee member al-Ahmad dismissed the possibility.
“Our internal system in Fatah is clear. Mohammad Dahlan and his faction have split from Fatah. They cannot run with Fatah unless they accept the guidelines of the movement,” said al-Ahmad.
“A unified list? That’s empty talk, empty!” al-Ahmad concluded.
“If they won’t allow us to run with them in the elections, then we’ll take our message to the street,” fumed Dimitri Diliani, a spokesperson for Dahlan’s movement.
Opinion polls show little popular enthusiasm for the former security chief. In a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, just 7% of Palestinians said they supported Dahlan.
Around 22 percent, by contrast, supported Marwan Barghouti. Barghouti is currently serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison after he was convicted of masterminding a string of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
But Dahlan has both a loyal following in the Gaza Strip, where he was born, and a rising regional patron: The UAE. Since settling there in 2011, Dahlan has become an important adviser to the Emirates’ de-facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Diliani dismissed the opinion polls as unreliable, given what he described as the unfree environment in the West Bank and Gaza.
“How can anyone answer honestly with the security services looking over their shoulders?” Diliani told The Times of Israel.