Blogging will probably be light this week, as I intend to concentrate on preparing a biography of Mohammed Dahlan for inclusion in my on-line Palestinian biographies.
Dahlan is the former head of the PA’s Preventative Security Service in the Gaza Strip (and is still in effect the PLO strongman there). He came to prominence as a potential successor to Arafat during the IDF’s reoccupation of the Palestinian cities in March/April 2002. With Arafat imprisoned in his Ramallah compound, Dahlan and four colleagues (Saeb Erekat, Nabil Sha’ath, Mohammed Rashid and Hassan Asfour, collectively known as the “[Gazan] Gang of Five”) shunted aside Jibril Rajoub’s West Bank PSS and effectively ran the PA in the enforced absence of Arafat.
The Gang of Five represented a distinct stream in the PA leadership, opposed to armed intifada and in favour of a negotiated settlement with Israel (not surprising, as all five are veterans of the Oslo-era negotiations with Israel). They also favoured a restructuring of the numerous PA security services under the control of President Arafat into a single organization headed by Dahlan, trained by the CIA and operating in close liaison with the intelligence agencies of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
Right - Goodbye peace talks, hello intifada: Dahlan and Erekat part company for the last time with Clinton Mid East envoys Aaron Miller and Dennis Ross, during the final days of the Clinton Presidency; Jan 2001.
As the two highest-ranking “insiders” in a PA leadership dominated by older generation “outsiders” (i.e. returnees from exile in Tunis), Dahlan and Erekat also represent the increasingly vocal next generation of Fatah leaders, frustrated at the perceived cronyism and corruption of the Tunis generation, and at the logjam at the top of the foodchain that prevents upward mobility to the top ranks of Fatah.
It briefly seemed that Dahlan’s moment had come in May 2003, when he was appointed Minister of State for Security Affairs in the government of Abu Mazen. But President Arafat resisted the consolidation of security services under Dahlan’s control, and appointed his old rival Jibril Rajoub as PA National Security Advisor to counter-balance Dahlan’s influence. In the absence of any reciprocal gesture from Israel that would have empowered Abu Mazen's government to tackle Palestinian militants, Abu Mazen resigned in September 2003. Dahlan was excluded from the Ahmed Qureia government that replaced Abu Mazen, and returned to Gaza where he was reduced to being an intermittent irritant to President Arafat and the Fatah Old Guard. (Dahlan is widely believed to be the source of the steady stream of embarassing disclosures about corruption among Arafat aides that have been publicized in recent months, including the claims that Abu Ala’s family cement business is making a killing from the construction of the Separation Wall, and that PA funds are being siphoned to Paris for the use of Suha Tawil [Arafat’s wife]).
Now, however, Sharon’s announced intention to withdraw from the Gaza Strip has returned Dahlan to prominence. Neither Israel, the PA, the Americans nor the Egyptians favour the rise of an Islamist regime in Gaza, and Dahlan is probably the only secular Palestinian leader with the strength to challenge Hamas for control there. As a reflection of his new-found indispensibility to the PA, he has been publicly reconciled with President Arafat and – despite accusations from Rajoub that he is freelancing for his own benefit – Dahlan’s reported ongoing contacts with both Israel and Hamas on the subject of a post-Occupation regime for Gaza are probably at Arafat’s behest and suggest he is clearly in the ascendancy in his long-standing rivalry with Rajoub. Indeed, Rajoub has just had his office in Ramallah shot up by presumed Arafat loyalists which, among Presidential subordinates, is the closest thing there is to getting a Pink Slip.