Several members of a breakaway Fatah movement associated with former Fatah security chief Mohammad Dahlan were arrested in the West Bank on Monday by Palestinian Authority security forces, part of a recent crackdown that has seen “dozens” scooped up, their faction said in a statement.
General Salim Safiyya, a senior Fatah official in Jericho; and Fatah Revolutionary Council member Haytham al-Halabi were arrested, along with “several of their comrades,” according to Dahlan’s Democratic Reformist Current.
A spokesperson for the PA security services did not respond to several phone calls.
Dimitri Diliani, a spokesperson for the Democratic Reformist Current, told The Times of Israel that “dozens” of members of the Dahlanist group had in been arrested in recent weeks.
“This is an attempt by Abu Mazen to distract from his diplomatic failures, from the normalization deals with Israel,” Daliani said referring to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by his nom de guerre. “This is an attempt to hide the fact that the Dahlanists have now become a large faction within Fatah.”
Asked whether the Current was attempting to confer with the Palestinian Authority and negotiate the release of its operatives, Daliani said that West Bank courts were likely to order the release of the detainees.
Dahlan is widely seen as a possible contender to replace the 84-year-old Abbas, and is considered a political rival of the PA leader. 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.
At the time, other PA officials accused Dahlan of corruption; Dahlan’s supporters claimed that he had been pushed out for threatening Abbas’s throne.
Opinion polls show little popular enthusiasm for the former security chief. 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.
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.
Last week, the Israel Hayom newspaper wrongly printed that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said he was “considering” placing Dahlan in charge of the Palestinian leadership. It later corrected Friedman’s statement to: “We are not looking to engineer the Palestinian leadership.”
Palestinian officials from across the political spectrum ignored the correction and issued numerous condemnations of the statement originally attributed to Friedman.
“Palestine is not an American state that you may determine its leadership. Nor is Palestine an American protectorate that Your Honor shall decide who its leaders are,” senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh wrote on Twitter.
Dahlan released a statement denying any involvement: “None has yet been born who can impose his will upon us [the Palestinians].” He called for popular elections to determine a new Palestinian leadership.
Still, Dahlan’s movement has overall been remarkably silent on the UAE’s decision to normalize with Israel. Even as loud condemnations rang out across the Palestinian political spectrum over the past month, Dahlan’s movement took a decidedly neutral approach — perhaps in a nod to Dahlan’s residency in Abu Dhabi.
A source in Dahlan’s movement told The Times of Israel last week that while they were opposed to normalization on principle, they respected the sovereign decisions of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“We do not interfere with the sovereign decisions of Arab countries…and we respect the decisions of these countries. If we oppose them, we express our opposition behind closed doors,” the source said. “As for the Emirates, we are the guests of that generous and noble country, which has hosted our faction since 2011.”