Blocking Dahlan’s rise motivates Istanbul deal between Fatah, Hamas

Palestinian movements announced Thursday that they agreed to hold legislative and presidential elections within six months.
Friday 25/09/2020
A 2006 file photo shows Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, flashes the V sign as then Fatah official, Mohammed Dahlan, looks on in the West Bank town of Ramallah. (AFP)
A 2006 file photo shows Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, flashes the V sign as then Fatah official, Mohammed Dahlan, looks on in the West Bank town of Ramallah. (AFP)

ISTANBUL – A Palestinian leader in the Fatah movement attributed the Istanbul agreement between Fatah and Hamas to the two movements’ feeling that the next stage in the Palestinian file will belong to a new leadership able to keep pace with developments on all levels, especially with regard to the peace issue.

There is also the consideration that that the two movements are seeking to block the rise of Mohammed Dahlan, the leader of the reformist movement in Fatah, as an alternative supported at the Arab and international levels.

This latest development in Istanbul came amid tense relations between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with Egypt and Saudi Arabia due to the former’s reliance on Turkey and Qatar and alliance with Hamas. Abbas is making these connections in an attempt to circumvent his presidency’s lack of legitimacy after having extended his term in office without holding elections as required by Palestinian law.

The Fatah leader told The Arab Weekly that the Palestinian Authority’s leadership and some influential people in the central committee of the Fatah movement now consider their main enemy to be Dahlan and the United Arab Emirates, in particular, hence the Istanbul agreement with the Turkish-Qatari current in Hamas, which today is concentrated in the leadership of the West Bank and those abroad. This current is, in turn, seeking to isolate Yahya Sinwar, a Hamas leader who had reached understandings with Dahlan in Cairo in 2018 to allow Fatah’s reformist movement to freely organise and be active in the Gaza Strip.

He added that Hamas members abroad and in the West Bank are preparing to overthrow Sinwar in internal elections next March after he led a “cleansing” campaign inside the movement against corruption and abuse of power.

In his campaign, Sinwar did not spare Ismail Haniyeh, head of the movement’s political bureau, whom he accused of managing businesses in Turkey registered under his childrens’ names. He also accused Khaled Meshaal of refusing to hand over the movement’s budget reports since he left the movement’s political bureau.

Some Palestinian Authority and Fatah leaders view Sinwar’s insistence on including the name of the captive Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti at the top of the list of prisoners to be exchanged with Israel as a form of interference in Fatah’s internal affairs, as Barghouti is far more popular than current leaders.

Fatah and Hamas announced Thursday that they had agreed to hold legislative and presidential elections within six months, provided that legislative elections be held first, followed by presidential elections and then the elections of the PLO’s National Council.

“There is a preliminary agreement between the two sides to hold elections within a period of six months,” said Sami Abu Zahri, a Hamas official, from Istanbul, where officials from both sides held meetings during the past two days.

Jibril Rajoub, a Fatah official, confirmed the existence of the agreement and said Abbas would issue a decree with a date for the elections.

Analysts believe that Abbas does not only aim to neutralise Dahlan and prevent him from succeeding him at the helm of power, but also wants to shield himself with the agreement with Hamas from European pressure forcing him to hold elections, as the European Union is threatening to cut off its aid to the Palestinian Authority if legislative and presidential elections are not held.

Upcoming elections are expected to be held on the basis of proportional representation and not the mixed system that allowed Hamas to win in 2006.

The Palestinians have not held general elections since 2006, and the internal division began a year later after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip by force.

Earlier this month, Abbas chaired a meeting, the first in years, of secretaries-general of Palestinian factions following the announcement of the UAE’s and Bahrain’s normalisation agreements with Israel.

However, many observers believe that reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is still blocked, as leaders are making calculations only about governance and have not yet addressed the risks to the Palestinian cause because of regional transformations.

Palestinian writer Mohamed Masharqa, director of the London-based Centre for Arab Progress, said: “The two sides of the rift are experiencing a crisis of confidence with the Palestinian street due to the difficult living conditions of the vast majority of citizens and the reductions in salaries, as wages have gone down by 50% for the sixth consecutive month.”

In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Masharqa did not rule out that Fatah and Hamas would return to the formula that was proposed in the 2015 dialogues, namely entering elections with a unified list aimed at preserving their positions in power. He also did not give much merit to the idea that the Istanbul understandings could pave the way for an end to the division.

Masharqa said the rift could not end between the two Palestinian rival organisations becuase of “the existence of two different programs, one of which is ideologically linked to the Islamic caliphate project and its centre is in Turkey, which means turning their backs to Egypt and the rest of the Arab countries, and the second is the program of the Fatah movement which leads the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and is traditionally allied with what is known as the Arab moderate countries.”

He added that the Fatah movement, and mainly Abbas, by choosing Turkey as a mediator, is reversing its alliances and giving wrong signals to Cairo and Riyadh, a position that constitutes a departure from the political principles that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has always adopted, which are moving away from Arab axes and polarisations and that Palestine is above all Arab differences.

Palestinian writer Adly Sadiq said that Palestinians view both sides’ intentions with suspicion due to their long experience with them, and that social elites have grown convinced that Fatah and Hamas make a distinction between reconciling and ending the divisions between each other, and that they do not share the same understandings of these two concepts.

A picture from the Istanbul meeting. (AFP)
A picture from the Istanbul meeting. (AFP)

Sadiq, who is a former Palestinian diplomat, added, “The two parties are already reconciled, and are in the habit of exchanging niceties on joyous and less joyous occasions, but they have remained keen to maintain the division and do not want to end it, because neither of them wants to give up in its region any of its power in favour of a national strong level-headed system, capable of facing the existing challenges.”

He considered that what emerged from the visions of the two parties about implementing the Palestinian reconciliation is not encouraging, especially when it has been rumoured that Fatah and Hamas will be running in the elections with one list. If that is true, it would be equivalent to committing a sin, except for those who intend to weasel on the issue, according to Sadiq.

“What is required from a Palestinian perspective in these days is some humility and some realism, and not a sudden transition from betrayal, demonisation and nasty fatwas, to unbridled mutual love,” Sadiq added. “It did not take long for the Fatahists in Gaza to be accused of deviance and treason, just because they came to terms with Hamas on a reconciliation for the sake of the community. Those who had made these accusations are the ones who now make up the Fatah delegation to the Turkish talks, and those who had vehemently objected are their buddies who make up the delegation of the other side, who are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood abroad.”

“When both movements run in the elections on one list, it means that one side’s methodology and approach match the methodology and approach of the other side, and this is not and could not be true. So claiming it in this manner simply and objectively eliminates the concept of democratic competition,” Sadiq stressed.