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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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The Succession Battle in the Palestinian Authority Heats Up Ahead of the Change of Government in the United States

Filed under: Palestinians

The Succession Battle in the Palestinian Authority Heats Up Ahead of the Change of Government in the United States
Screenshot from Dahlan’s documentary (Al Ghad TV, with English subtitles)
  • In a new media campaign, Mohammed Dahlan revealed what is behind his conflict with the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas whom he accuses of financial corruption and diplomatic failures.
  • The PA emphatically rejects Dahlan’s accusations, claiming that his lies are due to his slipping prestige in the West Bank and the Arab world.

Ahead of the change in the U.S. government and the rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas regarding a series of elections in the Palestinian territories, Mohammed Dahlan launched a major media campaign against PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas through outlets he owns. He revealed the reasons for their personal disagreement, why he was expelled from the Fatah movement, and the failures of the Palestinian Authority chairman.

On January 3, 2021, Dahlan broadcast on his Al Kuffiya network a two-part documentary program called “The Lost Story” (Al-Ryawaia Almakoda) detailing his fierce dispute with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The program has created many echoes in the territories because, it is claimed, that one of the main reasons PA Chairman Abbas is acting against Dahlan is his 2010 revelation that Abbas embezzled more than $2 billion from the Palestinian Authority Investment Fund.

The television documentary also reported that Mahmoud Abbas was willing to reconcile with Mohammed Dahlan and even submitted an offer of reconciliation to him through a mediator who sought $10 million. Dahlan rejected the offer. The program revealed for the first time documents and audio recordings of senior Fatah figures allegedly confirming Dahlan’s accusations against Abbas.

Mahmoud Abbas with Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Dahlan
A long, long time ago: PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas flanked by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh on the left, and Mohammed Dahlan on the right. (Quds News, Facebook, 2015)

The accusations in the broadcast against Mahmoud Abbas include:

  1. The personal responsibility for the fall of the Gaza Strip to Hamas and the failure of the Fatah movement in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.
  2. Responsibility for the decline in the significance of the Palestinian problem in the eyes of Arab states.
  3. Responsibility for the weakening of the Fatah movement in the West Bank and the danger that the PA’s rule would fall into the hands of the Hamas movement.
  4. Attempts by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to kill Dahlan. As a result, Dahlan feared for his life and fled the West Bank to Jordan and then on to the United Arab Emirates.

The television program outlined the legal campaign launched by the PA Chairman against Dahlan, claiming that Abbas had fabricated a case against Dahlan for the murder of six people and financial corruption. It also detailed how Mahmoud Abbas expanded the investigative committee that examined his case and added new allegations against him.

In addition, the broadcast described how the Central Committee of Fatah decided to remove Mohammed Dahlan from its ranks without allowing him to respond to the charges against him.

Senior Fatah official Dr. Sari Nusseibeh appeared on the program alongside Dahlan, describing the PA Chairman’s behavior against him as “conduct of the Mafia.”

Muhammad Rashid, a former advisor to Yasser Arafat, accused Abbas of trying to physically and politically eliminate and demoralize Dahlan.  Rashid made similar accusations against Abbas in 2012. The PA tried him in absentia on charges of corruption and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Senior PA officials reject all the allegations against PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas made by Dahlan on the program, claiming that they were lies and false accusations aimed at trying to shake the PA’s rule in the West Bank and demoralize the ranks of the Fatah movement.

This is an unprecedented media campaign by Dahlan, which was meticulously prepared and supported by documents and interviews. Dahlan has pulled out all the “big guns” in his possession against PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Weakening Dahlan’s Status

Senior PA officials suggest that the campaign’s timing is not coincidental. They argue that Dahlan’s power has weakened in the West Bank following  PA arrests of his supporters in the refugee camps in recent weeks. Dahlan, they claim, is deeply concerned about the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.

Mohammed Dahlan serves as senior advisor to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the heir to the Abu Dhabi throne, and was confident that his path back to the top of the PA had been paved following the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE. However, the results of the U.S. presidential election scattered the cards for him. Joe Biden is known for his good ties to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and he has no plans to bring about his replacement.

Dahlan fears that Biden will seek to strengthen PA Chairman Abbas politically and economically, the new administration will cancel the “Deal of the Century” plan, and will resume negotiations between Israel and the PA, thereby renewing Mahmoud Abbas’ legitimacy as Palestinian leader. In addition, the Biden administration is expected to renew financial aid to the PA and UNRWA, which President Trump stopped.

It is likely that Mohammed Dahlan concluded that this was the best time to disclose all the information he possessed about Abbas’ actions and failures over the years in an attempt to discredit him before the new U.S. administration. At the same time, Dahlan wants to improve his own image among residents of the territories and to portray himself as an underdog persecuted by Mahmoud Abbas.

atah and Hamas leaders meeting in Istanbul
Fatah and Hamas leaders meeting in Istanbul, September 2020. Second from the left is Salah Aruri from Hamas. Third from the left is Fatah’s Jibril Rajoub. (Arab press)

The battle of succession of the Palestinian Authority leadership continues behind the scenes: Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub attempts to advance his candidacy through the reconciliation he engineered between Fatah and Hamas. A few days ago, he brought to the  PA chairman a letter from Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh expressing Hamas’ willingness to advance to elections in the territories according to the outline set by Abbas, i.e., initially a parliamentary election and only later a presidential election. Rajoub presents himself to senior Fatah figures as having achieved the breakthrough and persuaded Ismail Haniyeh to move closer to the PA chairman’s position.

However, some senior Fatah officials say that the strongest axis in the upper echelons of the PA remains that of Majid Faraj, the head of Palestinian General Intelligence Service, and Hussein a-Sheikh, Minister of Civilian Affairs in the PA, who are closest to Mahmoud Abbas. They advise him on all issues. In any case, Mahmoud Abbas lets “the boys play their games,” while he has no intention of getting off the political stage at the moment.