Dahlan’s return to Gaza politics carries risks, dividends
Cairo- Many see the fingerprints of former senior Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan in the signs of rapprochement between Cairo and Hamas.
Dahlan brought the Egyptians and the new Hamas leadership together in June when they agreed on several issues, including border security. The border between the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has long been a problem point. The resolution of the long-standing issue would bolster Egypt’s fight against terrorism.
Dahlan’s role in the meeting returned the Palestinian strongman to the political arena in Gaza. A long-standing rival to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan threatens to change things through his arrangement with Cairo.
Analysts said that while there were short-term positives to the Cairo-Hamas rapprochement, the overall situation could strain Egyptian ties with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, widen the political gap between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and create new divisions within Gaza itself.
“True, Dahlan is exploiting his close ties with the Egyptian leadership and the new Hamas leadership in bringing Cairo and Gaza together but there are many problems here,” said analyst Abdelmonem Halawa. “Those ruling in Ramallah, including Abbas, are closely watching what is happening and gritting their teeth in anger because, to them, Dahlan is an unwanted figure.”
Dahlan, 55, is the former security chief in Gaza. He was sacked from Fatah in 2011 after being accused of embezzlement and cooperating with Israel against some Palestinian leaders, including allegations that he assassinated former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He denied the claims, saying that he was the victim of a purge by Abbas due to his growing popularity among young Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Dahlan has been trying to unite opposition to Abbas using his close links with decision-makers in other countries, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, where he lives in exile.
In August 2016, Dahlan tried to bring his backers within Fatah together in Cairo and discuss opposition to Abbas. The conference was foiled by Abbas, who reportedly threatened to punish Fatah members if they attended it.
Dahlan has said that he did not want to take over the Palestinian Authority but his growing presence in the Gaza Strip and his improved ties with Cairo appear to be ringing alarms in Ramallah.
Abbas met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi July 9 in Cairo to discuss several issues, including Dahlan. Sisi reportedly assured Abbas that Dahlan’s influence in Gaza would not affect Cairo’s links with the Palestinian Authority. There was no mention of Dahlan in the Palestinian or Egyptian official statements.
Rather than representing a change in Cairo’s dealings with Fatah, the upheavals represent a change in Cairo’s dealings with Hamas, analysts said.
Despite recent signs of reconciliation, Cairo has little trust in Hamas — an offshoot of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood — which is why Dahlan is acting as guarantor.
Fatah has sought to play down concerns over Dahlan’s emergence as a driving force behind the developing rapprochement between Cairo and Hamas.
Fatah Revolutionary Council member Hazem Abu Shanab said all Palestinians have the right to dream of leading Fatah or the Palestinian Authority. “It is important to know whether those dreaming of leading the movement are qualified to do this,” Abu Shanab said. “We will reveal this at the right time.”
Dahlan’s polarising effect may create divisions within Hamas, analysts warned. Cairo has accused Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad- Din al-Qassam Brigades, of aiding the Islamic State (ISIS) in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Three al-Qassam Brigades’ members reportedly participated in a July 7 attack in Rafah, near the border with Gaza, that left 23 Egyptian troops dead.
Hamas’s military wing evidently opposes rapprochement with Cairo and Dahlan’s role in this. The former Fatah senior member has been accused of being complicit in the killing of al-Qassam fighters and, while al-Qassam has not officially commented on Dahlan’s return to politics in Gaza, it would not be surprising if it sought to settle old scores.
“It is not clear how the al-Qassam Brigades will act to sabotage growing amity between the new Hamas leadership and Dahlan,” said Samir Ghattas, the head of Egypt’s Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies and National Security. “The sure thing is that the brigades will not accept Dahlan to play a major role in Gaza.”