Supporters of ousted Fatah official Muhammad Dahlan stage a protest against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas outside the Palestinian Legislative Council building, in Gaza City, Gaza, on Dec. 18, 2014. Photo by Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Palestinian power struggle over future of Gaza


Ousted Palestinian strongman Mohammed Dahlan has a plan to work with the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip and with Egypt to take over the failing Gaza Strip and the almost two million Palestinians who live there. At the same time, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is a bitter rival of Dahlan’s, is launching his own reconciliation effort with Hamas, after weeks of squeezing the Islamist movement in Gaza.

Dahlan, a wealthy Palestinian businessman who lives in Abu Dhabi, is a former head of the Palestinian Security Services in Gaza and had a force of 20,000 men at his disposal. Dahlan had close ties with US intelligence services and the CIA. Some Palestinians have accused him of being an Israeli agent.

[This story originally appeared on themedialine.org]

Now Dahlan is coordinating with Egypt to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza. As a first step, Egypt has begun providing Gaza with fuel for some electricity, after Israel, at Abbas’ request, cut the amount of fuel it supplies to Gaza. Gazans now have four hours per day of electricity followed by 12 hours of blackout.

“This Egyptian gesture is positive and some say it’s because of Dahlan,” Mkheimer Abusada, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza told The Media Line. “They say he convinced the Egyptians to supply fuel to substitute for the Israeli cutback. There are also hopes that in a month Rafah will reopen.”

Dahlan used to be a fierce critic of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), charging the PA with widespread corruption. Abbas, the head of the Fatah party, and Dahlan are bitter rivals, and Abbas has repeatedly accused Dahlan of murdering Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a charge Dahlan vehemently denies. In 2014 Dahlan was sentenced to 15 years in jail in a Ramallah court, meaning he could be jailed if he returns to the West Bank.

In the past few weeks, Dahlan has outlined how a power-sharing deal with Hamas might work. Hamas has a new leader, Yihye Sinwar, who is known as a hard-liner. Sinwar and Dahlan also grew up together in the Khan Yunis refugee camp.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Dahlan said that the UAE has agreed to spend $100 million to build a power plant for Gaza on the Egyptian side of the border.

Most Palestinian analysts say that the people of Gaza are willing to support anyone who can relieve their suffering.

“The people of Gaza support any honest national movement that serves their interest,” Islam Atallah, a Palestinian political analyst in Gaza told The Media Line. “The real catastrophe is the Palestinian division and corruption. There is a struggle between Fatah and Hamas for power, and they are putting narrow interests above the people.”

Polls show that Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza want “national reconciliation” or an end to the divisions between the two areas. Although not territorially contiguous, Palestinians say that both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, along with east Jerusalem, must be part of a future Palestinian state. There is some fear that if the Dahlan plan goes through, Gaza would in effect be a separate Palestinian mini-state.

Abbas this week held a rare meeting with Hamas politicians in his Ramallah office.

“There are concrete reconciliation plans, which include the dissolving of Hamas’ “administrative committee” controlling Gaza, implementing a national government with full sovereignty over the Strip and a plan for general elections across Palestine, Abbas told the Anadolu Agency last month.

But most analysts say they do not believe that Abbas’ overtures to Hamas will bear fruit.

“Several Hamas spokesmen said they are ready to dissolve their government in Gaza if the PA will take full responsibility including paying 43,000 Hamas employees in Gaza,” Palestinian professor Abusada said. “That is impossible and President Abbas won’t do it.”

Abbas says that he should take over Gaza leading eventually to new elections, and is demanding that Hamas scrap any deal with Dahlan. Fatah and Hamas have been bitter rivals since Hamas took over Gaza in a 2007 coup that included incidents of Hamas gunmen throwing Fatah fighters off rooftops in Gaza.

Abbas has squeezed Hamas hard in the past few months. He has forced thousands of civil servants in Gaza into early retirement, cut PA funding for electricity in Gaza, and even made it harder for Palestinians in Gaza to enter the West Bank for medical treatment.

Israel so far has not commented on any of the new plans for the future of Gaza. Israel, like the US, says Hamas is a terrorist organization, and refuses to have any direct contact with it. Ties with Abbas are also strained over last month’s crisis surrounding metal detectors at a Jerusalem holy site. Israel says Abbas was not a constructive force in solving that issue and encouraged violent protests. Israel’s position on Dahlan being in charge in Gaza is unclear.