Hot Topics

7
Aug
2017

Mohammed Dahlan: The Representative of Egypt and the Emirates in the Palestinian Territories?


Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Mohammed Dahlan in 2014.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Mohammed Dahlan in 2014.

  • Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian political activist since his teens, served as the Palestinian Authority’s head of the Preventive Security Force in Gaza. A Fatah leader, he brutally clamped down on Hamas in Gaza. After the 2006 elections, Hamas launched an armed offensive to push Fatah out of Gaza. As a Gazan, he had only limited opportunities to take a leadership position in the West Bank, where strong reservations are rampant about Palestinian elites from the Gaza Strip. Today, Dahlan, 55, lives in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
  • After recent Hamas-Egyptian talks, Dahlan is expected to return to Gaza to serve as a sort of foreign minister of Gaza, fundraiser for its economic development, and contact man with Israel on daily affairs.
  • Dahlan is the unofficial representative and protégé of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He is their preferred candidate to be the next chairman of the PA. He also enjoys strong support from Fatah in Gaza.
  • It is expected that Dahlan will conclude a deal to substantially ease the blockade on the Strip, resolve its electricity shortage, and lead the Strip toward economic development with Gulf contributions.
  • From Dahlan’s standpoint, Gaza is only a springboard toward the main goal, which is to take over the PA headquarters, the Muqata in Ramallah.

Preparations are in progress in the Gaza Strip for the arrival of Samir Masharawi, the right-hand man of Muhammad Dahlan.

Masharawi is supposed to come to the Strip from Egypt in a few days after a forced absence of more than 10 years. He will be honored by thousands of Fatah activists with a gigantic reception approved by Hamas.

Masharawi’s return to the Strip symbolizes the implementation of the understandings recently reached between Hamas and Dahlan under Egyptian auspices, to the great consternation of Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority.

The next stage will apparently be Dahlan’s return to Gaza. According to the understandings, Dahlan is supposed to serve as a sort of foreign minister of Gaza, fundraiser for its economic development, and contact man with Israel on daily affairs.

Dahlan’s return might occur close to the time of the long-term opening of the Rafiah crossing to the passage of people and goods, which is planned for Eid al-Adha in the beginning of September 2017. The opening will signify the start of the easing of the blockade that has been imposed on the Strip since 2007.

Hamas took over the Strip after winning the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, violently expunging the PA’s governing apparatus.

Dahlan is the nemesis of Qatar, which is the main supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world. Nevertheless, Hamas, which is a sister movement of the Brotherhood, has taken a decidedly pragmatic approach and reconciled with Dahlan out of its own perceived interests.

Dahlan is the unofficial representative and protégé of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He is their preferred candidate to be the next chairman of the PA.

Dahlan’s Ties with Hamas and Fatah

He also enjoys strong support from Fatah in Gaza. Born in the Khan Yunis refugee camp, he has been acquainted since childhood with Yahya Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas in Gaza, and with Muhammad Deif, chief commander of Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam military wing.

Mahmoud Abbas flanked by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Mohammed Dahlan

From a previous era: Mahmoud Abbas flanked by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Mohammed Dahlan

The new three-way deal between Hamas, Dahlan, and Egypt gives Hamas its pound of flesh. The deal is supposed to substantially ease the blockade on the Strip, resolve its electricity shortage, and lead the Strip toward economic development with the help of funds that Dahlan will recruit from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Gulf States, and the international community.

Hamas has already received a perk: it has been removed from the terror list of the “Arab Quartet” (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain) that was published last month after the crisis with Qatar began.

Egypt began providing the Strip with industrial diesel fuel via the Rafiah crossing for Gaza’s power plant.

Hamas was forced to toe Egypt’s line in light of Qatar’s crisis with the Arab Quartet and President Trump’s calling Hamas a “terror organization” during the Riyadh summit.

Hamas’ Facelift Didn’t Work

The latest gimmick of the Hamas leadership has failed. For several months senior officials of the movement worked hard on a new diplomatic document, a sort of facelift of the anti-Semitic Hamas Covenant of 1988. For now, though, the Trump administration and the European Union are not buying it.

Hamas had to go along with Egypt and Dahlan out of a realization that Qatar’s days in Gaza are numbered, and the UAE will assume its role of providing economic assistance.

During talks in Cairo, Dahlan promised Sinwar that he would obtain large-scale aid from the UAE for building a new power plant as well as a hospital in the Strip.

The sanctions that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas imposed on Gaza further strengthen Hamas’ motivation to make amends with Abbas’ bitter foe, Dahlan, and to enhance cooperation with Egypt, which has frosty relations with the PA chairman because of his opposition to Dahlan.

At the same time, Hamas must pay a steep security price for the easing of the blockade and for a new page in its relations with Egypt. It must cease its terror activities within Egypt and its close cooperation with the Islamic State branch in northern Sinai.

Hamas has agreed to establish a buffer zone along Gaza’s border with Egypt and even started work on the project. It has also launched intelligence and operational cooperation with Egyptian intelligence against the Islamic State in Sinai.

Dahlan Returns to the Palestinian Stage

These steps boost Dahlan’s political power. His understandings with Hamas under Egypt’s patronage entrench his status in Gaza, restore him to the Palestinian arena as an important player, and open for him a future window onto the West Bank.

Even today, Dahlan already has strongholds and armed groups that are loyal to him in most of the West Bank refugee camps.

From Dahlan’s standpoint, Gaza is only a springboard toward the main goal, which is to take over the PA headquarters, the Mukata in Ramallah, with the political support of his close friend Marwan Barghouti, who is serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison.

According to Fatah sources, Dahlan reached an understanding with Sinwar that Barghouti’s name would be included as part of a new prisoner-exchange deal with Israel, one that would also include the four missing and imprisoned Israelis held by Hamas.

The implementation of the understandings between Dahlan and Hamas will bolster Egypt’s and the UAE’s influence in Gaza while distancing Qatar from the Strip.

Hamas will have to comply by force of circumstances despite its close ties with Qatar.

In the short term, the Dahlan-Hamas understandings will stabilize the security situation in the Strip. Hamas’ developing relationship with Egypt and Dahlan will, along with the easing of the blockade, constitute a moderating and restraining factor, dissuading Hamas from a further round of fighting with Israel even though it is continuing its military preparations, which include manufacturing rockets and digging tunnels.

If Dahlan proves able to recruit funds for the Strip’s economic development from the UAE and the Gulf states, that too should contribute to calm along the Gaza-Israel border.

Conclusion

The tripartite axis of Egypt-Hamas-Dahlan constitutes a convergence of interests between the three sides. Although contingent, it could continue for a long period.

This convergence of interests may contribute to easing the blockade on the Strip and to achieving security stability and calm along its border with Israel.

As the understandings between the three sides are carried out, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is expected to improve. Egypt will increase its influence in the Strip; the UAE will gradually assume a presence there and push Qatar out.

The augmenting of Egypt’s status vis-à-vis Hamas will enable it to be the main mediator between Israel and Hamas on all the issues, including a new prisoner-exchange deal.

The main loser is Abbas, who has been trying in every possible way to subvert these understandings and to reconcile with Hamas so as to neutralize Dahlan, but meanwhile with no success.

Egypt expects to gain greater security quiet from this new state of affairs, along with cooperation from Hamas in the war against the Islamic State in northern Sinai. Egyptian intelligence is closely monitoring Hamas’ military wing. Its experience with Hamas over the years has been bitter and it does not trust the group; if Hamas violates the understandings that were reached, they will collapse like a house of cards. Egypt will not sacrifice its national security concerns.

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This entry was posted in Egypt, Fatah, Hamas, Palestinians and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.