The Dahlan factor – by Dr. Joseph Massad

Editors Note: Al Jazeera English has once again removed an article by Columbia University professor Joseph Massad hours after publishing it. The article, “The Dahlan Factor,” appeared for several hours on the Qatar-based broadcaster’s website this morning at this link, but was later removed without explanation (the full article is republished below).

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Dr. Joseph Massad

The recent resurrection of Mohammad Dahlan by several Arab governments, Israel and the US is a most important development for the future of the Palestinian cause, Palestinian Authority (PA)-Israel negotiations, and Hamas-ruled Gaza. Dahlan is viewed, by many Palestinians, as the most corrupt official in the history of the Palestinian national movement (and there are many contenders for that title).

Dahlan, it would be recalled, was the PA man in charge of Gaza after the Oslo Accords were signed, where he commanded 20,000 Palestinian security personnel who were answerable to the CIA and to Israeli intelligence. His forces would torture Hamas members in PA dungeons throughout the 1990s.

His corruption, at the time, was such that he allegedly diverted over 40 percent of taxes levied against the Palestinians to his personal account in what became known as the Karni Crossing Scandal in 1997.

Dahlan, who has been accused repeatedly by both Hamas and Fatah of being an agent of US, Israeli, Egyptian, and Jordanian intelligence, would attempt to stage a US-organised coup against the democratically elected Hamas government in 2007 in Gaza, an attempt that backfired on him and ended with his eviction from the Strip (I had forewarned about the coup several months before it occurred).

A simultaneous coup led by Abbas and his Israeli- and US-backed security forces in the West Bank was successful in dislodging the elected Hamas from power. Dahlan retreated to that mainstay of US and Israeli power, namely the PA-controlled West Bank, where he began to hatch new plots with his multiple patrons to undermine not only Hamas but also Abbas, whose position he begrudged and coveted.

Indeed the Americans and the European Union (the latter on US orders) began to pressure Abbas to appoint Dahlan as his deputy, making it clear that they would like to see Dahlan succeed Abbas. Abbas resisted the pressure and refused.

In the meantime, Dahlan, has been accused by Hamas and the PA of allegedly plotting several assassination attempts that targeted several Palestinian officials, including Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyah and Fatah ministers in the PA. Accusations that he persistently denied.  His involvement in the 2010 Mossad assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai included having two of his Palestinian death squad hit men (later arrested by Dubai authorities) assist in the operation, a charge he also denied. His personal wealth was conservatively estimated in 2005 by an Israeli think tank at $120m.

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Once Dahlan’s schemes became too obvious to ignore, Abbas stripped him of power and chased him out of the Ramallah Green Zone in 2010. He moved to Mubarak’s Egypt and later, following the ouster of Mubarak, to Dubai (and on occasion Europe) where he remained until his more recent resurrection by the heirs of Mubarak who now sit on Egypt’s throne.

A man for all patrons

Dahlan’s power lies in his ability to serve the agenda of multiple patrons. For the Israelis, he is a ruthless, corrupt power-grubbing man who would do their bidding obediently were he to come to power in Gaza or the West Bank. Both the Americans and the Israelis see him as especially willing to sign on an American-sponsored Netanyahu deal without equivocation.

For the Egyptians and the Gulf monarchies (and he is said to be a business partner with a Gulf ruler), he would look after their interests and obey their orders by eliminating any resistance to a US-imposed Palestinian final surrender to Israel and by eliminating Hamas once and for all.

For the Egyptian coup leaders, whose coup replicated Dahlan’s 2007 Gaza coup, except successfully, he could rid them of Hamas, which they see as an extension of the power of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and render their relations with Israel even closer than they already are. Dahlan’s most important role, however, is the one that the Americans need him for, namely, to replace Abbas should the latter fail to sign on to the final surrender that Barack Obama and John Kerry have been cooking at the behest of Netanyahu in the past few months.

Just as George Bush Jr and Bill Clinton terminated the services of Arafat after the latter proved unable to sign off on the final Palestinian surrender demanded of him at Camp David in the summer of 2000 (an inability that would arguably cost him his life at the hands of Abbas or Dahlan – depending on which of the two you talk to – acting at the behest of the Israelis, and very likely the Americans), Obama will terminate the services of Abbas should he fail to sign the US-sponsored surrender. Indeed, even if Abbas does sign such a deal, as he is approaching his 80th birthday, Dahlan will be needed and ready to take over after his death.

It is in this context that Egyptian army top brass recently visited Israel for a whole week while the Egyptian private TV station Dream (owned by a Mubarak businessman ally, Ahmad Bahgat) aired an interview with Dahlan in which he attacked Abbas, in yet another effort to delegitimise the latter.

Dahlan was offered the support of the rightwing Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris (infamous for his cutting off cellular phone lines in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising in January 2011 on the orders of Mubarak’s security apparatus), who sang Dahlan’s praises (as well as those of Mohammad Rashid, aka Khaled Salam, a former Arafat aide and another allegedly corrupt embezzling fugitive) as one of the most honest businessmen he ever worked with and then proceeded to denounce Abbas as a “liar”.

Indeed Sawiris, who has previously had business investments in Israel, went as far as claiming that had Palestine had “three men” like Dahlan, “it would have been liberated by now”.

Meanwhile, after months of closure of the borders with Gaza and harassment of Palestinians in Egypt by the heirs of Mubarak, the daughter of late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, Huda, who, like the rest of her siblings, had already paid abject public obeisance to the coup leader, published a letter to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyah, accusing him and Hamas of terrorism targeting Egyptian soldiers in Sinai.

Moreover, with the elimination of Syria as a refuge for the exiled Hamas leaders, the Saudis and the UAE are tightening the grip on Qatar, the new base for the exiled Hamas leadership and the sponsor of the MB. They are also hoping that some of the concessions Iran would pay for its new modus vivendi with the US would include abandoning support for Hamas.

The takeover plan

As an Egyptian court has recently joined Israel and the US in banning Hamas from the country and considering it a terrorist organisation and as the Israelis have threatened openly this week that an invasion of Gaza will be necessary, the plan for a Dahlan take-over is hatching slowly but surely. This is viewed as such a threat that Abbas dispatched his supporters and cronies to the streets of Ramallah to prove to the Americans and the Israelis that he still commands much support in the West Bank.

The competition between Abbas and Dahlan is essentially one where each of them wants to prove that he can be more servile to Israeli, US, Egyptian, and Gulf interests while maintaining legitimacy and full control of the Palestinian population.

The details of the plot are not clear. They could involve an invasion of Gaza from the Egyptian and the Israeli sides (and Egyptian officials have already threatened to carry out such an invasion a few weeks ago), a coup of sorts in the West Bank, and even assassinations of Haniyyah and/or Abbas.

All bets are off at the moment, as Abbas, like Arafat before him, is offering complete obedience to US and Israeli diktat and will go much farther than Arafat did, but he understands too well that he would lose all legitimacy and control were he to sign the final humiliating surrender that the US and Israel are insisting on. Dahlan of course will have no such worries.

As for Hamas, which, unlike the MB, is a resistance movement and not a political party, it cannot be rounded up or crushed so easily, and the entry of Dahlan into Gaza, let alone the West Bank, will usher in a civil war that could likely end in his defeat yet again, short of a full Israeli invasion of Gaza to return him to power (Dahlan has also been accused by the PA of collaborating with the Israelis in their 2008 invasion of Gaza and has recently been accused in aiding the ongoing counter-revolution in Egypt).

The same scenario would be repeated in the West Bank.

The future of the Palestinian people is in danger and the enemies of the Palestinians surround them inside and outside Palestine. The Obama-Israeli-Egyptian-Gulf plans for liquidating their cause and their rights continue afoot.

However, just like past corrupt Palestinian leaders were unsuccessful in liquidating the rights of the Palestinians and their cause, the Israeli and US betting on the Dahlan horse will only increase the resolve of the Palestinian people and their supporters that Palestinian resistance will only cease after the final liquidation of Israeli state racism and colonialism in all its manifestations throughout historic Palestine.

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