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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Jibril Rajoub vs. Muhammad Dahlan to Replace Mahmoud Abbas

Filed under: Fatah, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinians, U.S. Policy

Jibril Rajoub vs. Muhammad Dahlan to Replace Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas, left, in 2003, with Yasser Arafat, center, and Muhammad Dahlan, right. (AFP Photo/Jamal Aruri)
  • The battle for the succession of Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian Authority is heating up. This was apparent from Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub’s recent attack on Egypt, which supports the candidacy of Palestinian politician Muhammad Dahlan for the position of next PA chairman.
  • The Israeli security forces are concerned about a possible bloodbath in the West Bank as soon as Mahmoud Abbas leaves office.
Jibril Rajoub and Muhammad Dahlan
Jibril Rajoub and Muhammad Dahlan in Ramallah in 2005 (AFP Photo/Jamal Aruri)

The “bombshell” that Jibril Rajoub, secretary-general of Fatah in the West Bank, dropped during an interview on the BBC’s Arabic service on February 17, 2018, is still reverberating throughout the Arab world and the territories.

During the interview, Jibril Rajoub attacked Egypt for supporting his bitter political rival Muhammad Dahlan. He said: “It is not acceptable for Egypt to support Muhammad Dahlan. He was expelled from the Fatah movement, and Egypt knows why. They were part of this process. It’s not honorable for Egypt as a nation to support someone who is against the Palestinian problem and his own nation. We are talking about a wrongful precedent and step for Egypt.”

Jibril Rajoub has a terrible relationship with Egypt. Last year, he was deported from Egypt shortly after he arrived in Cairo to take part in a political conference as a representative of Fatah. Soon after his plane touched down, Egyptian security officers put him on another plane and ordered him to leave the country because he had criticized the Egyptian president in the media.

According to Fatah sources, Jibril Rajoub suspects that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will soon retire from political life. As Rajoub believes he is the most suitable candidate to succeed Abbas as chairman, he launched an attack on his rival Muhammad Dahlan. Dahlan has the backing of the Arab Quartet (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates) for the position of the next chairman of the Palestinian Authority.

Unsurprisingly, the Hamas leadership is supporting Muhammad Dahlan. Khalil al-Hayya, a member of the Hamas political bureau, stated on February 20, 2018, that, “Muhammad Dahlan is a major Palestinian figure. His stance is clear regarding reconciliation, and we thank him for his steadfastness for the Gaza Strip.”

Muhammad Dahlan’s supporters reacted derisively to Jibril Rajoub’s remarks and said that he is “a crazy man like President Trump.”

According to them, Rajoub is very concerned by the possibility of Dahlan becoming the next chairman of the Palestinian Authority. In the event of his ascension, Rajoub will have to either leave the area or take the risk of being put on trial and facing a long sentence in a Palestinian jail.

Dahlan’s supporters claim that Rajoub is trying to market himself as the successor of Mahmoud Abbas and that he has allied himself with Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Israel against Egypt.

The U.S. Government Opposes Dahlan

Jibril Rajoub is not the only one working against Muhammad Dahlan. In recent years, the United States has been working against him as his power continues to increase within the Arab world.

Dahlan sees himself as Yasser Arafat’s true successor. Although he was expelled from the Fatah movement, he is patiently planning his comeback, straight into the position of chairman of the Palestinian Authority. For the past 11 years, the United States has refused to allow Muhammad Dahlan to enter its territory and considers him to be a destructive force against its policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mahmoud Abbas with Yasser Arafat and Muhammad Dahlan
Mahmoud Abbas, left, in 2003, with Yasser Arafat, center, and Muhammad Dahlan, right. (AFP Photo/Jamal Aruri)

In this regard, the Trump administration has adopted the standpoint of the previous administration regarding Muhammad Dahlan.

During a Quartet debate in Vienna in 2010, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Muhammad Dahlan is no less dangerous than Hamas and that Washington refused to allow him entry into the United States.1

In discussions held by the Trump administration on “the day after Mahmoud Abbas,” attended by envoy Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador David Friedman, Arab sources stated that Muhammad Dahlan had saved the Hamas movement and he had persuaded the Egyptian government to open a dialogue with it.2

Senior officials in the Trump administration have accused Dahlan of propagating statements calling for the annulment of the Oslo accords and declaring the territories “a state under occupation,” which contravenes U.S. policy.

The American campaign against Muhammad Dahlan actually serves his purposes very well. For this reason, it is mentioned at length on any internet site that supports him.

Many Palestinians in the territories believe that if the Trump administration is working against Dahlan, it is a sign that Dahlan is serving the true interests of the Palestinian people very well. They are tired of Palestinian leaders who identify with the West and U.S. Middle East policies.

In other words, the U.S. administration is helping to construct Dahlan’s new image as an authentic Palestinian leader. Even though he was expelled from the Fatah movement by Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan is slowly building up his image as the true successor of Yasser Arafat, who is perceived to be the symbol of the Palestinian conflict against Israel.

Dahlan is very careful to be photographed with a picture of Yasser Arafat in the background and to quote Arafat at any opportunity. He glorifies his tradition, which Mahmoud Abbas tried to erase in order to differentiate between the true path of the Fatah movement during the Arafat era and the movement’s path during Abbas’s time.

Muhammad Dahlan presents the Arafat era as a “golden age” in the Palestinian struggle in contrast to Mahmoud Abbas’s weakness. In actual fact, Dahlan is not that much different from Yasser Arafat. Over the years, when he was very close to him, he learned the secrets of Palestinian politics and how to navigate both the internal and Arabic political arenas.

This is how Muhammad Dahlan became an advisor to the ruler of Abu Dhabi, an associate of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and the Arab Quartet’s candidate for the successor to Mahmoud Abbas.

Dahlan is a crafty, seasoned Palestinian politician. In the territories, they call him the Palestinian “Phoenix” who knows how to rise from the ashes every time. His new pact with Hamas has put him at the forefront of the Palestinian political stage. Now that the reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas is collapsing, it’s possible that Muhammad Dahlan, who foresaw this collapse and is waiting patiently in the wings, will return in the future to handle the affairs of the Gaza Strip.

Muhammad Dahlan established the Fatah movement’s Reformist stream, and even though he was expelled from it, he has a strong influence in the Gaza Strip. He also managed to set up armed strongholds for himself in the Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Lebanon.

His ally in Fatah is Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving several life sentences in an Israeli jail and has many opponents in the Fatah hierarchy. These include Jibril Rajoub, Mahmoud al-Aloul, Nabil Shaath, Dr. Muhammad Shtayyeh, Majid Freij, and others.

Any of those who see themselves as potential successors to Mahmoud Abbas as chairman of the Palestinian Authority seek to keep Dahlan at a distance and to prevent any possible reconciliation between him and Mahmoud Abbas.

In Israel, Dahlan is also regarded as a dangerous Palestinian figure who is opposed to Israeli policy and demands a halt to security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli security sources say that Dahlan was the leader of the security apparatus of the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip, working against the Israeli Defense Forces and the CIA. He understands the importance and ramifications of ending the PA-Israel security arrangements in the territories and in Israel.

Muhammad Dahlan expresses opposition to Mahmoud Abbas’s policies in order to goad him and present him as a collaborator with the United States and Israel.

According to Israeli security sources, Dahlan is ambitious and calculating. He seeks to become the chairman of the Palestinian Authority at any price. Even though this does not seem possible right now, due to current circumstances, the possibility of it happening in the future cannot be negated.

What Will Happen in the Future?

Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub’s attack on Egypt and the Gazan-born Muhammad Dahlan is a clear sign that the battle for the succession in the Palestinian Authority has heated up again. Rajoub, born in Hebron, represents the stream of the Fatah leadership in the West Bank which is not prepared to allow the movement’s representative in the Gaza Strip to become its leader. There is tremendous hostility between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Mahmoud Abbas, Ismail Haniyeh, and Muhammed Dahlan
Mahmoud Abbas flanked by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh and Muhammad Dahlan in 2007. (Al Riyadh)

If it all depended on Mahmoud Abbas, it is apparent that his preferred successor would be Gen. Majid Freij, head of intelligence in the West Bank, who is considered to be very loyal to him. However, in the meantime, he has not taken any steps to signal to the Fatah leadership what his future intentions are.

Israeli concerns are that after Mahmoud Abbas leaves, a bloodbath will take place in the West Bank. There will be a wave of violence among all those who “seek the crown” in the Fatah leadership, which will be accompanied by armed confrontations and security chaos throughout the West Bank.

This most recent verbal altercation between Jibril Rajoub and the supporters of Dahlan in the media should be a “red light” among everyone connected to what is going on in the territories, including the United States, the European Union, and Israel, in order to accelerate the search for an agreed-upon alternative to Mahmoud Abbas. This should occur before the explosion in the West Bank that is predicted when the chairman of the Palestinian Authority finally leaves.

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1 Zahwa Press, “United States: Dahlan is dangerous as Hamas,”الولايات-المتحدة-دحلان-خطير-كما-حماس-و/ , January 9, 2018.

2 Ibid.