Exiled Fatah strongman calls Abbas a ‘catastrophe’

Responding to criticism, Mohammad Dahlan hints that the PA president’s leadership is illegitimate, he wants a third intifada

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Mohammad Dahlan, left, leave a news conference in Egypt, in February 2007. (AP/Amr Nabil)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Mohammad Dahlan, left, leave a news conference in Egypt, in February 2007. (AP/Amr Nabil)

Former Fatah security chief Mohammed Dahlan called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a “catastrophe” for the Palestinians in an interview with Egyptian TV.

Speaking to Dream2 TV on March 16, Dahlan said that “the Palestinian people can no longer bear a catastrophe like Mahmoud Abbas. Since the day he came to power, tragedies have struck the Palestinian people. I may be one of the people who bear the blame for bringing this catastrophe upon the Palestinian people.”

“I apologize to the Palestinian people, but we had no other option,” added Dahlan, according to a MEMRI translation.

The former Gaza strongman’s attack on Abbas came in response to the PA president’s hints last week that Dahlan and several of his cohorts had assisted Israel against the Palestinians over a decade ago.

“I don’t want to dwell on this ridiculous speech, in which Mahmoud Abbas disgraced himself,” said Dahlan. “He doesn’t mind if other people insult him or if he disgraces himself. He is used to people treating him with contempt. The tragedy is that he harmed Fatah and its history.”

Abbas “stole the presidency,” Dahlan continued, saying he represents the destruction of the PA and all that is evil in the lives of the Palestinians.

Abbas was elected in 2005, but has overstayed his five-year term, blaming a split between Fatah and the Islamist group Hamas, which seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, for preventing new elections.

Dahlan also questioned the PA president’s patriotism. “When [Fatah was] in Tunisia, they used to call him the president of the Jewish Agency,” he said.

He lambasted the current US-led negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, hinting that Abbas was willing to use violence to achieve far less than they could have gained through negotiations during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

“Mahmoud Abbas was against the Clinton document,” he said. “I supported it. Today, Mahmoud Abbas wants a third war, in order to achieve the same Clinton document. What he is negotiating about today does not amount to 50 percent of the Clinton document.”

Dahlan continued to praise the “Clinton parameters” for a peace deal, seeming to blame the press for preventing then-PA president Yasser Arafat from agreeing to those terms. “You were all against the Clinton document,” he charged.

“Yasser Arafat wanted it, but you instilled fear in him. We would have gotten 100% of the land, East Jerusalem as the capital, and a reasonable solution for the problem of the refugees, 200,000 of whom would have returned, in keeping with understandings.”

Dahlan seemed to include accusations that would harm Abbas’s standing in the eyes of the US, Israel, and neighboring Arab countries. Claims to the effect that Abbas wants another intifada may well have been intended for Israeli and American ears, and Dahlan’s subsequent claim that the PA president served as an informant for deposed Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi seemed directed toward the current Egyptian regime, which imprisoned Morsi.

Dahlan, who has lived in the United Arab Emirates since being ousted from Fatah over corruption allegations, wrote on his Facebook page last Thursday that Abbas’s accusatory speech was “full of lies and deception.”

Fatah is known for epic internal feuds, but Abbas’s statements last week marked the first time he entered the fray so publicly.

Abbas said Dahlan would never be allowed to return to Fatah and suggested there is no room in the party for those still loyal to the former Gaza strongman.

Abbas’s offensive against Dahlan could backfire by drawing new attention to long-standing allegations of top-level corruption in the Palestinian leadership.

In his speech, Abbas lashed out at Dahlan and hinted that he was also involved in the death of Yasser Arafat. Abbas also claimed that Dahlan, along with Khaled Islam, a former economic adviser to Arafat, and ex-PA minister Hassan Asfour, acted as spies for Israel.

“The three spies,” Abbas dubbed the trio in his speech. He said his knowledge of Dahlan’s involvement in the assassination of Shahedeh stemmed from an incident during a meeting of PA security officials in Ramallah in 2002.

The relationship between Dahlan and Abbas has reached an unprecedented low in recent months. Dahlan regularly instigates against Abbas from the Gulf and has accused him of corruption. In response Abbas and PA security forces have gone after those loyal to Dahlan and have driven them from the ranks of Fatah.

There was a reconciliation effort between the two sides last month, when the Palestinian information minister Majed Faraj met in Amman with Samir Masharawi, a close associate of Dahlan. According to Faraj, Abbas agreed that Dahlan’s associates and loyalists in exile could return to the West Bank, but not Dahlan himself.

Abbas banished Dahlan in 2010, after Dahlan purportedly called him weak and criticized Abbas’s two adult sons. Dahlan has since spent his time shuttling between Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Abbas has not designated a successor or said when he might retire, and there is no clear contender. A Fatah party conference where a new leadership would be elected is due in August, but it remains unclear whether it will take place.

Avi Issacharoff and AP contributed to this report. 

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