Mohammed Dahlan (Muhammad Yusuf Shakir Dahlan): Member of Fatah Central Committee; former peace negotiator with Israel; former head of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip, and still the effective Fatah strongman there. PA Minister of State for Security Affairs in the Abu Mazen government of 2003. A leading representative of the Fatah “Young Guard” in the Palestinian Territories, and vocal critic of the older generation of leaders that returned from exile with Arafat in 1994 and remains entrenched at the head of Fatah institutions. Retains generally good relations with Israel and the U.S. (has long-established cooperative links with the CIA). Ongoing intra-Palestinian violence between Fatah factions in the Gaza Strip probably reflects Dahlan’s positioning himself for leading role in Gaza in any post-disengagement administration.
Dahlan was born 29 September 1961 in Khan Younis Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, and is married with three children. He is the youngest of six children born to a refugee family from Hammama, Palestine (now Nitzanim, Israel). Father was migrant worker in Saudi Arabia. The Dahlans were neighbors of the Rantisi family of Abdul Aziz Rantisi (former Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip). Rantisi’s mother cared for Dahlan as an infant. Dr Rantisi himself was 15 years older than Dahlan, who may have been a paediatric patient of his when Rantisi returned to Khan Younis RC from medical training in Egypt in 1972. The two families remained friends even after the PA’s crackdown on Hamas in 1996, in which Dahlan was instrumental.
Dahlan’s political activity began as a teenager in Khan Younis, where he recruited friends into organized groups for civic projects, such as road sweeping. As a student leader at the Islamic University of Gaza (B.A. Business Administration), he expanded the group to become a network of charitable organizations, manned by children and teens. Members went into the streets to clean, and to deliver food and medicine door-to-door, but also to preach Palestinian nationalism and national unity in the communities they served. The group formally became the Fatah Youth Movement (Shabiba) in 1981, and would be a driving force behind the first intifada (1987 – 94). By the time he was 25, Dahlan had been arrested 11 times for his political organizing, and had became fluent in Hebrew while in jail.
(Quote from Ibrahim Abu Sheikh, fellow student and cellmate from Dahlan’s Fatah Youth days:
"We were not afraid of arrest or detention. No law in the world could put us in prison because of an idea in our brains. We became bigger than the occupation… I advise Israelis to understand how Mohammed Dahlan grew up, the way his early life shaped his future. He will always put the Palestinian national cause first, even if it costs him his life.")
After the first intifada broke out, Dahlan became one of the uprising's young leaders in Gaza, but he was swiftly arrested and deported by the Israelis to Jordan (1988). He made his way to Tunis, where the PLO leadership was then based. From exile, he helped to organize the ongoing protests in the West Bank and Gaza, and became a protégé of Yasser Arafat. Returned to Gaza with Arafat in July 1994. Arafat rewarded him by putting him in control of the Preventive Security Service for the Gaza Strip (one of the PA’s major security forces), and of the Fatah movement in Gaza. The control of these two major organizations made Dahlan one of the strongest officials in the Palestinian Authority.
As head of the newly-formed PSS in the Gaza Strip, Dahlan was responsible for building a police force from scratch. He received training help from the CIA, a relationship he is believed to maintain. With a police force of more than 20,000 men under his control, Dahlan created a small empire in Gaza, which became known informally as “Dahlanistan”. He maintained order, sometimes ruthlessly: his PSS was accused by Palestinian and international human rights organizations of serious abuses, including torture. He also accumulated personal wealth from some of the PA’s monopolies, e.g. on oil and cement, and from the awarding of building contracts; in 1997 he was accused of diverting 40% of the taxes (one million shekels per month) levied at the Karni Crossing to his personal account, and some eyebrows were raised when he purchased the largest house in Gaza for his family home, and reportedly bought the five-star Oasis Hotel on Gaza beach.
Yohanan Tzoreff, a former IDF colonel who served as the Arab affairs adviser in the Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, said Dahlan came to Gaza "thinking he was going to build something new, but he behaved like all the other leaders in those days. He enjoyed the power." Unlike more senior members of the Fatah “Old Guard”, however, Dahlan generally was spared the resentment of the Palestinian insiders (those who were born and grew up and suffered in the territories, who did the groundwork in the years of the Intifada and who make up the hard core of the Tanzim) against the outsiders, (Fatah members who lived the good life in Tunis and Europe and returned to take on the status of nouveau riche at the expense of the Palestinian public). The fact that he had served years in Israeli jails insulated Dahlan from public criticism, and he became highly popular among younger Fatah members, who identified with him more easily than with the more senior Palestinian leadership that came to the Occupied Territories with Arafat.
(Dahlan’s West Bank counterpart, former PSS chief Jibril Rajoub, enjoyed a similar immunity. Rajoub also benefited personally from PA monopolies but, having spent 18 years in Israeli prisons, he too was considered to have paid a personal price, and was generally spared criticism whenever public anger was expressed at PA corruption).
Tzoreff also noted that even in this early period, Dahlan was ambitious and unafraid to challenge Arafat: “He was always one of the biggest criticizers of Arafat in the meetings," said Tzoreff, who often met with him to negotiate security agreements. "He often asked Arafat for permission to do something against the terrorists, but Arafat didn't talk in a very clear way. The friendship between them was very tense. Dahlan wanted to build something, while Arafat continued in the atmosphere of revolution." Israeli army commanders say that Dahlan is Arafat's biggest critic and has hopes of taking his place one day.
As head of the Gazan PSS, Dahlan was responsible for restraining those Palestinian militants, specifically Hamas, who rejected the Oslo process and hoped to sabotage a negotiated settlement through strategically-timed attacks on Israeli targets. Dahlan is believed to have drawn up a plan for containing Hamas, in a meeting in Rome in January 1994 with senior IDF and Shin Bet officials, and until 2001 he met regularly with Israeli (and U.S.) defense officials to coordinate security issues.
In 1995, following a spate of Hamas suicide attacks on Israeli buses, intended to push the Israeli electorate to the Right and away from the Oslo-friendly Labour government of Shimon Peres, Dahlan cracked down hard on Hamas’ infrastructure. On orders from Arafat, Dahlan disarmed and jailed about 2,000 known Hamas members, shaved them of their beards (and allegedly tortured some).
His police also raided and closed Islamic charities, schools and mosques. Israel Hasson, deputy head of Shin Bet and former Israeli negotiator, assessed that the PA’s 1996 actions against Hamas were extremely effective, and Uri Savir, former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and current head of the Peres Centre for Peace recalled that, “After the series of bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in 1996, Dahlan was very effective in fighting Hamas and its infrastructure.”
Dahlan (and Arafat) were able to crack down on Hamas at that time, because in 1996 the PA and the peace process with which it was identified still generally enjoyed the support of the Palestinian public. (The Oslo Accords were supported by about 75% of Palestinians when they were first made public, and support for Hamas and its military campaign for a single state dropped as low as 8% in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Accords). Within a year, however, facing an Israeli Likud (Netanyahu) government that had not supported Oslo and effectively halted its implementation, public confidence in the Oslo process began to slip among Palestinians. The prospect of the PA cracking down on militants for the benefit of an Israeli government that was no longer perceived as seeking to end the occupation became extremely controversial among Palestinians, who increasingly saw this as collusion with Israel and the U.S. And by 1997, Dahlan himself seemed to be distancing himself from his earlier crackdown on Hamas.
Dahlan was a regular member (specializing on security issues) of the Palestinian negotiating team that negotiated Israeli redeployments, the return of Palestinians expelled since 1967, and prisoner releases, during the Oslo process. He also participated in the Wye River negotiations (1999), and was a member of the Palestinian negotiation team at Camp David (2000) and Taba (2001). Generally regarded by the Israelis as a pragmatist, with whom they could do business.
Quote: He is not an especially gifted speaker, but he has the ability to overwhelm an audience with facts and figures and his command of every side's position. He was recently seen on Israeli television playing with the tie of Israel's defense minister, joking with him and patting him on the back. Dahlan learned Hebrew during six years in Israeli prisons, but he does more than merely speak the language: He mimics Israeli mannerisms and knows what words to use to address Israeli fears. "Dahlan is very charismatic - the kind of guy who understands both sides and the tactics of any given situation," said Aaron Miller, the State Department's former senior adviser for Arab-Israeli negotiations. (Baltimore Sun, 30 Aug 2003)
Dahlan maintains that at Camp David (where he worked primarily on the Security Committee) he was "one of those who fought hardest to reach an agreement" with the Israelis. His assessment of the summit:
Politically, there was extensive conversation at Camp David on all the core issues. These discussions were serious, but they did not reach agreement because the Israeli side refused -- after 12 days of negotiations -- to preesent anything written or tangible on any of the issues. …President Bill Clinton was serious and conscientious and had high hopes of ending the conflict between the two peoples. However, the State Department and White House team in charge of the file always viewed the issue in terms of Israeli demands. They thought that every time the Israelis conceded something, this should be enough for the Palestinian side. It had nothing to do with the logic of justice or a fair solution. The logic was that anything Israel was ready to relinquish, you Palestinians should just take.
Though he also noted, in looking back at the summit, that a lack of flexibility in Palestinians’ expectations left their negotiators little room for manoeuvre in reaching an agreement, commenting:
Ben-Gurion agreed to the establishment of a [Jewish] state without Jerusalem in order to form a political entity and strengthen it. He accepted UN resolution 181 and declared the establishment of the state of Israel... But if Arafat had declared the establishment of a Palestinian state without Jerusalem, he would have been accused of treason, even by Fatah.
Predictably, Dahlan’s relations with the Israelis quickly cooled following the outbreak of the second intifada. As head of one of the main Palestinian security organisations, he negotiated with Israeli officials to try to arrange a ceasefire several times after the uprising erupted in September 2000. Dahlan maintained, however, that he was unable to clamp down on militancy this time as he had done in 1996, as it was impossible for the PSS to restrain widespread resentment at the peace process and universal anger at Israel's response to the uprising. His own disillusionment with the peace process was clear in comments he made shortly after the Israelis bombed his Gaza headquarters in November 2000:
Back in late September, as Israeli security forces killed some 20 Palestinians during the first two full days of the current uprising, Dahlan says he quickly became "totally convinced that the relationship with the Israelis was useless."
As the Palestinian official mainly responsible for fulfilling the Israeli condition for continued participation in negotiations - that the Palestinians restrain militants from attacks on Israel - Dahlan was a major player in the peace process. It was his job to arrest members of violently anti-Israeli groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
For six years, he says, he told countless Israeli counterparts "to deal respectfully with the Palestinians" and to consider Palestinian interests. "Everyone said, 'Excellent; you are right,' " Dahlan says. "But implementation? Doing what they say? It's nonsense. They don't. (CSM, 22 Nov 2000)
Dahlan insisted that he nevertheless remained committed to the peace process "because I am working with Yasser Arafat and ... I totally believe that Yasser Arafat wants peace. It's the only solution for both peoples”. Israeli officials, on the other hand, did not see Dahlan as a beleaguered believer in the peace process, but accused him off the record of being behind some of the violence in the Gaza Strip. They noted that in November 2000, when a member his preventive security force crawled into the Kfar Darom settlement and shot two soldiers dead before he was himself killed, Dahlan refused to condemn his officer and gave him a posthumous promotion. They also asserted privately that Dahlan and his second-in-command Rashid Abu-Shabak were suspects in the November 2000 on an Israeli school bus in Kfar Darom that left six children seriously wounded. In response to this attack, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak dispatched Israeli planes to strafe Dahlan's Gaza headquarters, and then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon declared that Dahlan “deserved to die” and should be “liquidated”.
Six months later, Dahlan’s motorcade came under fire from the IDF as he returned to Gaza from a negotiating session with Israeli officials, and four of Dahlan’s bodyguards were wounded. Sharon (now Prime Minister) denied that Dahlan had been deliberately targeted and expressed regret for the incident; but the claim that the affair was an unfortunate mistake was questioned, especially when Dahlan’s West Bank counterpart, Jibril Rajoub, was the subject of another “mistaken” Israeli attack the following month:
By chance, or perhaps not, both Dahlan and Rajoub are convinced that they have come under intentional fire, aimed at them personally. If this is the case, then both incidents were mistakes, and we must ask why such mistakes are being made and who can guarantee that tomorrow or the next day there won't be far graver mistakes...." (CSM, 22 May 2001).
Dahlan reportedly tendered his resignation from the PSS on 5 November 2001, in opposition to the PA's policy of arresting PFLP and Islamic Jihad members; but it was refused by Arafat.
In anticipation that U.S. pressure would force Arafat to unify the myriad PA security forces into a single, manageable entity, Dahlan began to expand his power base beyond Gaza and into the West Bank. In the spring of 2002, he moved to bring under his control low-level commanders in the West Bank Preventative Security Service, in order to undermine the influence of Jibril Rajoub, leader of the West Bank PSS. Dahlan and Rajoub had much in common: both were considered pragmatic leaders who supported a negotiated solution to the I/P conflict, who generally kept their security forces out of the intifada, and who favoured the unification of PA security forces under a single leader, trained by the CIA, and working in close coordination with the security services of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Both, however, saw themselves as head of the unified service, and an intense and sometimes violent rivalry developed between the two. Dahlan was branded a collaborator and traitor in a vitriolic pamphlet war that erupted in the West Bank in early 2002 (similar leaflets in the past had preceded the assassination of Fatah figures accused of corrupt or betrayal of the Palestinian cause), and his Gaza colleague Hassan Asfour, the PA minister for nongovernmental organizations and a former peace negotiator, was badly beaten by masked men outside his home in Ramallah. A Fatah faction claimed responsibility, saying in a pamphlet that the attack was a warning to Dahlan to stay out of West Bank affairs.
Rajoub remained favourite to become security chief over Dahlan (and was spoken of as the leading contender to succeed Arafat) until the Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank in March-April 2002, which left Arafat imprisoned in his Presidential compound in Ramallah and brought about Rajoub’s fall from grace. (He surrendered his headquarters – and the Hamas militants detained there – to the IDF without a fight, and was severely criticized for it in the Palestinian leadership and by public opinion). In the effective absence of Arafat and Rajoub, Dahlan led a group of five former negotiators – the “Gang of Five” – that moved in to effectively lead the PA from March to May 2002.
UPI noted: “Gaza's Gang of Five is emerging as the post-Arafat Palestinian leadership. They are the PA's head of Preventive Security Muhammad Dahlan; NGO Minister Hassan Asfur; negotiator Saeb Urayqat; Muhammad Rashid; and Nabil Sha'th. They are all from Gaza and they've long represented a particular stream of leadership within the PA. They want a return to the Oslo format of direct negotiations with Israel, an end to the intifada, especially armed attacks, and the restructuring of the PA's security into a single organization headed by Dahlan, supported by the CIA but also by the intelligence agencies of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. These guys acted as conduits for visits with Powell and Arafat, and Rashid was a key player in the Church of the Nativity stand-off. They have put the West Bank faction of Jibril Rajoub in the shade, and Dahlan's men have even roughed up squads of Rajoub's bully boys”.
(Brief Aside - Dahlan’s opposition to armed intifada is based on the following:
1. It alienates international supporters of the Palestinian cause, at a time when that cause is enjoying its greatest degree of support worldwide.
2. It scares Israelis, and pushes them to the Right and away from a negotiated settlement.
3. A military intifada excludes all those in Palestinian society who are unwilling or unable to bear arms; mass protest on the other hand, as practiced in the first intifada, unites and involves the whole Palestinian community.
4. By attacking civilians, the Palestinians allow Israel to present the I/P conflict as simply another front on the War On Terror which, in a post 9/11 world, alienates the U.S. administration and U.S. public opinion from the Palestinian cause.)
When Arafat emerged from the Muqata siege in late May 2002, reports surfaced in the Israeli press that the U.S. had approved Dahlan as head of a unified Palestinian security structure and preferred him as a potential successor to Arafat. As someone whose close liaison with the US and Israeli security services in the past had earned him considerable suspicion and accusations of collaboration, it was not particularly helpful for Dahlan to receive the implicit endorsement of the Bush Administration at the height of the Israeli re-occupation of the West Bank.
Nevertheless, Dahlan was apparently confident enough that he was about to become the PA’s security chief and Minister of the Interior in President Arafat’s imminent cabinet reshuffle that on 5 June 2002 he resigned as head of the Gaza Strip PSS in anticipation of his new appointment. His gamble backfired, however, when Arafat declined to unify his security services, and retained the vital position of Interior Minister for himself in the new government.
Dahlan publicly expressed his support for political as well as security reform of the PA (by political reform, he means elections within Fatah that will replace the elderly Central Committee members with the younger generation of Fatah members from where he draws his support. Analysts assessed in November 2001 that Dahlan could garner more than 70 percent support among young adults in the Gaza Strip). Dahlan’s attempts to gather support for an electoral challenge to Arafat came to an abrupt halt on 24 June 2002, however, when President Bush publicly called for Arafat to be replaced by leaders “not tainted by terror”, by which he probably meant Dahlan and Erekat. Bush’s Rose Garden speech ensured that any challenger to Arafat’s leadership at that time would be regarded as an American stooge, and Dahlan quickly reasserted his loyalty to Arafat and rejected calls to replace him:
Bush is now effectively demanding a coup d'état against Arafat, because the American administration says that even if he is re-elected in new elections, it will not deal with him. The result of Bush's speech is that the latest polls show nine out of 10 Palestinians say they would vote for Arafat. And as long as the Israelis are against Arafat, I'm with him - whatever reservations I have about some of the decisions that have been made. While the chairman is under siege, it would be wrong to criticise him - that would only serve Israel and America. There is no question of changing the leadership in these circumstances…
From our point of view, we need to push ahead with far-reaching reform, not to please the Americans - who want to do away with the PA and Arafat - but from the point of view of Palestinian interests, to mobilise support for the PA and strengthen it. We need to change the faces of those in power, hold people to account, cut the number of ministers, reduce wasteful spending and cut back the number of security agencies. I was pressing for these reforms long before the US and Israel started to seize on them as an excuse not to make peace.
- Mohammed Dahlan, We’ll Choose Our Leaders; The Guardian, 2 Jul 2002
On 11 July 2002, Arafat appointed Dahlan as his National Security Advisor, a promotion that in reality had no responsibilities and no effective control over the PA security services. Dahlan held the post for three months, before resigning with a stinging attack on the PA for lack of leadership during the intifada.
The Abu Mazen Government
When President Arafat was coerced into nominating his deputy, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), as the PA’s first Prime Minister in February 2004, Dahlan was Abu Mazen’s choice for Interior Minister. Arafat was opposed to the appointment, perhaps due to long-term suspicions that the U.S. intended to aimed to use the Abbas/Dahlan partnership to sideline him:
David Hirst, the veteran correspondent for The Guardian, reported in 1996 on fears in Yasser Arafat's entourage that the Israelis would turn the Palestinian security forces against the Palestinian leader. According to Hirst, a Palestinian official said that the Israelis had so "penetrated" the security forces "that some of its leaders now depend on them at least as much as they do on Arafat. The time is coming when the Israelis decide that Arafat - who argues too much - has served his purpose." The official told Hirst that, "the Israelis are grooming Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], one of the secret negotiators of the Oslo accord, to take Mr. Arafat's place, and that they will count on Muhammad Dahlan, head of Preventative Security in Gaza, to lead the putsch”. (The men who are selling Palestine, 23 Apr 2003).
After an intense struggle over the composition of the new Cabinet, and under heavy pressure from the US and UK, Arafat agreed on 23 April that Abu Mazen would keep for himself the post of Minister of the Interior, but would bring Dahlan into the government as Minister of State for Security Affairs. (Photo, left – Dahlan joins Abu Mazen’s Cabinet, 23 Apr 2003). Within two weeks Abbas had quietly authorised Dahlan to restructure the PA’s interior ministry, in preparation for cracking down on militant groups under the U.S.-sponsored “road map” to Middle East peace. This effectively gave Dahlan control of the ministry and about 20,000 of the PA’s security police, but without the official job title.
Those who aren't friends of Dahlan say the government is his government, not that of Abu Mazen, and that Dahlan is using Abu Mazen as a springboard to his next, high-level position, when the present government collapses. There is tremendous suspicion regarding him and his motives for taking on the job. Dahlan has admitted to his associates that it was very painful for him to refute the theory being heard in Gaza, that Israel's attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi was carried out after they got a green light from him.
Additionally, Dahlan was in the unenviable position of needing the cooperation of both Hamas and the Likud government if he was deliver on his road map security obligations. Israel expected Dahlan to deliver a complete cessation of attacks on Israelis. The Palestinian public and the Islamic organizations expected him to obtain an end to assassinations and incursions, a lifting of closures so that Palestinians could work their fields, and the release of the thousands of prisoners in Israeli jails; none of which he could deliver without the cooperation of PM Sharon.
Some Palestinian leaders privately say that Mr Sharon's intention, in league with the army, is to force a conflict between Mr Dahlan's forces and Hamas.
"No one will force us into a conflict with Hamas," Mr Dahlan said. "Those who do not want a truce are Sharon and the Israeli army, and some leaders in Hamas. What do they want? They want to maintain the status quo because they have an interest in maintaining the status quo.
"I told Sharon this: 'Convince me you want peace. I understand that Hamas does not need a truce, assuming they don't want peace. And you?' He was silent. He didn't like the comparison."
- The Real Obstacle to Peace; The Guardian, 20 Jun 2003)
Dahlan proposed instead to negotiate with Hamas and smaller militant groups to bring about a hudna (ceasefire), which he achieved in July 2004. As for the PA’s security forces, Dahlan proposed to detach up to 25,000 men from Fatah’s Tanzim and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and remove them from their West Bank power bases by turning them into a border police force, deployed along the borders with Israel, Jordan and the Golan Heights. In their place, the Palestinian cities would be policed by a newly-created police force, made up of new recruits with no prior attachment to existing formations. Dahlan apparently presented his intentions to the U.S. Administration at the Aqaba Summit of 4 June 2003, and won American approval:
At the advance request of Israel, Bush's aides put security problems at the top of the agenda for discussion. "The first thing that Bush was required to talk about was security," says the participant, adding, "It was a request of the Israelis. So [Bush] asked Dahlan to give a briefing."
According to the source, Dahlan gave an excellent five-minute synopsis of the situation, and concluded by saying to Bush: "There are some things we can do and some things we cannot. We will do our best. But we will need help."
Mofaz burst in at the end of Dahlan's presentation and said: "Well, they won't be getting any help from us; they have their own security service."
You could see that Bush was irritated, says the participant, and he turned on Mofaz angrily: "Their own security service? But you have destroyed their security service."
Mofaz shook his head and said: "I do not think that we can help them, Mr. President," - to which Bush said: "Oh, but I think that you can. And I think that you will."
… After that meeting, Bush turned to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and said, "We have a problem with Sharon I can see, but I like that young man [Dahlan] and I think their prime minister is incapable of lying. I hope that they will be successful. We can work with them."
- Bush likes Dahlan, and has ‘a problem with Sharon’; Ha’aretz, 10 Jun 2003).
In practice, however, Abu Mazen’s government (already suffering repeated disagreements with Arafat and his supporters in the Fatah Central Committee) was unable to elicit the necessary Israeli cooperation for Dahlan’s proposals. The hudna collapsed in its second month, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad withdrew following the IDF’s assassination of a senior leader from each of their respective movements. And, having failed to win the release of any security prisoners from Israel’s jails, or relaxation of the restrictions on Palestinian mobility, Abu Mazen’s government failed to lift its public approval rating above the miserable 4% (MOE +/-3%) that it registered on taking office in May. P.M. Abbas resigned on 6 September, and Dahlan concluded:
Israel has not only failed to help the government of Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen. It also did the maximum in order to cause its collapse. The reasons for Abu Mazen’s resignation are clear. Foremost of them is the fact that he could not secure from Israel a single achievement on the ground for our people. (Interview with AMIN, 27 Sept 2003)
Abu Mazen was replaced as Prime Minister by Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala). Dahlan was not included when Qureia announced his Cabinet on 27 September.
“Reform” & “Disengagement”
The decision to dump Dahlan led to protests in the southern Gaza Strip. Thousands of demonstrators marched in the streets, burning effigies and posters of Fatah officials who opposed giving him a place in the new cabinet. The biggest protest took place in Khan Younis -- Dahlan's birthplace -- where some 3,000 demonstrators, some brandishing automatic rifles, carried posters of Dahlan and directed abuse against Hani al-Hassan, Sakher Habash, and Abbas Zaki, three Fatah “Old Guard” Central Committee members.
Dahlan began a concerted campaign for long-overdue elections to Fatah institutions, that he hoped would bring “new blood” (i.e. his supporters) into the Central Committee and Revolutionary Council, and revitalize Fatah. He maintains that the PA will be unable to control the activities of its own militants, such as the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, as long as the members of those militant groups remain effectively excluded from Fatah’s governing institutions by long-term incumbents free of electoral accountability. Dahlan is believed to be behind the mass resignation in mid-February 2004 of 300 low and mid-level members of Fatah, who cited disenchantment at the lack of democracy and reforms as the reason for their protest. It is also widely assumed that Dahlan was behind a series of leaks about PA corruption, designed to embarrass Arafat’s close associates (Dahlan never attacks President Arafat himself, only those around him); including the allegations that $11.5 million dollars had been chanelled to the Paris bank accounts of Arafat’s wife Suha Tawhil, and the claim that Ahmed Qureia’s family cement business was making a killing from the construction of Israel’s Separation Wall.
Dahlan and his supporters also took their campaign against the Fatah Old Guard to the streets, with members of the Gaza PSS (still loyal to their former head) lashing out at the most visible symbols of Arafat’s PA in the Gaza Strip, police chief Ghazi al-Jabali (who was attacked and beaten by gunman in early February 2004), and head of Military Intelligence, Moussa Arafat, whose offices were hit by an anti-tank missile three months earlier.
Sporadic clashes between Dahlan and Arafat loyalists intensified following PM Sharon’s announcement that he intended to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, as both factions jockeyed to be the dominant force in any post-occupation Gaza government. There have been reports that Israel (with U.S. approval) is privately consulting with Dahlan to ensure that he becomes the dominant figure in any post-occupation Gaza government (in the expectation that a Dahlan government will provide Israel better security than one loyal to Arafat, or a political vacuum). Dahlan has denied holding secret talks with Israel on disengagement, but his denials are not generally believed.
Dahlan has been closely involved in attempts to create a united administrative and security mechanism for ruling the Gaza Strip should Israel withdraw, in negotiations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Under pressure from Egypt to present a united Palestinian front for withdrawal, he was also publicly reconciled with his old nemesis, Jibril Rajoub, and with Arafat. PM Qureia has also suggested the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle, which may well presage Dahlan’s return to government. As part of their reconciliation, Arafat assured Dahlan that his long-sought elections for Fatah’s Revolutionary Council would take place. (N.B: The elections actually began in Gaza in May 2004, and indications are that Dahlan loyalists in the PSS are winning overwhelmingly over the Fatah Old Guard).
Dahlan is generally believed to be behind the wave of kidnappings and protests that brought chaos to the Gaza Strip in mid-July 2004. Although Israeli and western media tend to present the unrest as protest by “reformers” against a corrupt Old Guard, Palestinian commentators emphasize that this is not a struggle between innocent reformists and corrupt conservatives. It is rather a face-off between strong men in positions of power, in which the issues of reform and corruption are used to lend legitimacy to those who wish to challenge Arafat's entrenched leadership, even when those riding the wave of grassroots discontent have (like Dahlan) used the same tools of patronage, cronyism, and brute force to rise to positions of prominence. As one Fatah official in Gaza put it, at a time when the Gaza Strip is the focus of Israeli-Palestinian relations, Dahlan’s continuing shows of strength on his home turf are a forceful reminder to President Arafat: "Either I play, too, or there will be no game."
In additional to the articles linked in the above text, I used the following sources in compiling this bio:
- The Daily Star on President Bush’s Rose Garden Speech of 24 June 2002.
- Bitterlemons.org on the Camp David Summit: Nothing tangible was on the table; 15 July 2002.
- Discussing the Road Map at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, 16 July 2002.
- AMIN on the fall of the PA government of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), 27 Sept 2003.
- Dahlan: Some militant groups have gone too far; Daily Star, 27 Sept 2003.
- Find another scapegoat: Interview with Ynet News, 26 July 2005.
- Israel Has Changed: Ynet News, 22 August 2005.
- Dahlan to Haaretz: Olmert's unilateral withdrawal will increase violence; 20 June 2006.
- Quand le cheikh devient politicien, les choses se compliquent; Interview with al-Ahram Weekly, 13 December 2006.
- Our Partners In Life In This Land; Ha’aretz, 31 Jan 2002.
- We’ll Choose Our Leaders; The Guardian, 2 July 2002.
- Dr. Glen Rangwala’s index of modern Palestinian biographies.
- BBC News profile.
- CNN World profile.
- Profile by the Institut Européen de Recherche sur la Coopération Méditerranéenne, in French and in English.
- Profiles by the Baltimore Sun, Miami Herald, Toronto Globe and Mail and NY Times.
- Fatah Faultlines; al-Ahram Weekly, 22 July 2004.
- Time to retire? al-Ahram Weekly, 22 July 2004.
- All for reform; al-Ahram Weekly, 29 July 2004.
- Arafat's last stand?; al-Ahram Weekly, 29 July 2004.
- War of the Weak; Ha'aretz, 3 Aug 2004.
- Questions of legitimacy; al-Ahram Weekly, 19 August 2004.
- Factors behind the Palestinian challenge to Yasser Arafat; Media Monitors Network, 1 Oct 2004.
- Fatah secretary led Gaza attempt on Abbas; Ha'aretz, 16 Nov 2004.
- Dahlan vows to decimate Hamas; al-Ahram Weekly, 8 June 2006.
- Dahlan to Haaretz: We proved to Hamas that Gaza is not theirs; 10 Jan 2007.
This page last updated: 27 July 2004
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Mohammed Dahlan מוחמד דחלאן אבו פאדי محمد دحلان biography