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

The Power Struggle for Leadership of the Palestinian Authority

Filed under: Palestinians

On April 19, the Palestinian Corruption Crimes Court in Ramallah issued a surprising ruling, rejecting a suit filed against Mohammad Dahlan who was dismissed from the Fatah movement on corruption charges as a result of his personal conflict with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

In explaining its ruling, the court noted that the suit had been filed against Dahlan without his parliamentary immunity being lifted. Dahlan is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC, the Palestinian parliament).

Abbas had issued an order to remove Dahlan’s immunity, but in light of the difficulty in convening the PLC because of the discord between Fatah and Hamas, the court ignored this point and rejected the suit.

From a previous era: 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 conflict between Abbas and Dahlan, who for years had been a favorite of Abbas, erupted in 2011 and escalated to the point that Dahlan was expelled from Fatah and tried in absentia.

Since then there have been various attempts at mediation. Even Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi tried, but Abbas rebuffed his appeal to mend fences with Dahlan.

The Ramallah court’s ruling prompted a wave of rumors about new, behind-the-scenes mediation efforts.

Such efforts appear to depend on whether the PA will appeal the court’s ruling. Fatah officials who are close to Dahlan confirm that reconciliation efforts have resumed, taking account of Dahlan’s growing power in Gaza and in the refugee camps in Lebanon.

Recent months have also seen a spike in Dahlan’s power in the refugee camps and general area of Jenin and Nablus, leading to armed clashes between his supporters in the Balata camp (adjacent to Nablus) and Abbas’ followers in the Nablus area.

On April 21 the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar revealed that a senior Lebanese official was mediating between Abbas and Dahlan. This was linked to the Lebanese government’s efforts to maintain stability in the country’s Palestinian refugee camps in light of Islamic State’s takeover of the Yarmouk camp near Damascus.

The report says that General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, recently held a meeting with Dahlan in the United Arab Emirates and reached understandings with him on the issue.

Subsequently, Ibrahim met with Ashraf Dabur, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, who in turn conveyed messages from both the Lebanese government and Dahlan to Abbas. The PA chairman’s attitude was positive and the contacts are continuing.

Ibrahim proposed a “media ceasefire” between Abbas and Dahlan, which so far is being honored.

Samir Masharawi, a senior Fatah official in Gaza who is close to Dahlan, confirmed the contacts but denied any link between the new mediation initiative and the Ramallah court’s ruling.

According to Masharawi, the only thing preventing a Dahlan-Abbas reconciliation is opposition by Abbas’ associates to Dahlan’s return to the Palestinian political arena. They fear that his regional and international connections put him in a strong position to become PA chairman.

Abbas has passed the age of 80 and some Fatah figures regard themselves as his potential successor.  In the forefront is Dahlan’s political rival Jibril Rajoub.

It appears that these elements will do their utmost to thwart a Dahlan-Abbas reconciliation and that the battle for succession has not yet begun.