Elliott Abrams
Council On Foreign Relations (Blog)
January 5, 2011 - 1:00am

News reports in the last two weeks have made public the turmoil inside Fatah related to Mohammed Dahlan, now alleged to have plotted to overthrow PA President Abbas.

Dahlan is a Gazan who was once in charge of Fatah’s security organizations. In that capacity he visited the White House often; in my own years at the NSC, I have must have met with him in Washington or in Ramallah a dozen times. Back when Mahmoud Abbas became Palestinian prime minister in 2003, and again when he became President in 2005, Dahlan was a key figure.

No longer; now he is accused of treason. He has been suspended from membership in Fatah’s Central Committee and is the subject of an official inquiry. The Jerusalem Post reported that “The conflict between Abbas and Dahlan arose after recordings surfaced of Dahlan speaking ill of Abbas and the need to replace him with another leader. Dahlan was then suspended from his seat in Fatah’s Central Committee and had his personal security removed. Offices for a new television channel to which Dahlan was closely involved were also closed by Abbas.”

I have no inside information about this confrontation with Dahlan, but the notion that he was plotting an actual coup strikes me as ridiculous. He lacks the forces to do it, and as a clever man he must know he would never get away with it. To me, this episode is a reminder of two things: First, that Fatah remains in disarray. All efforts at serious reform and modernization have failed. Last year, Fatah called off local elections in the PA once again, mostly because it was simply unready. Presidential and parliamentary elections are long overdue. If there is ever to be a stable and democratic Palestinian state, it will need democratic parties that can win elections. Fatah today is not able to do that.

Second, that the gap between Fatah and the Palestinian Authority remains significant—and indeed is growing. Dahlan was a Fatah security guy, who handled the various gangs Arafat had created and played off against each other. He never had a role in the increasingly professional PA security system. That system reports to Prime Minister Fayyad, has been trained mostly by the United States, has brought law and order to the streets of the West Bank, and works closely with the Israelis to stop terror. People like Dahlan and other former Arafat cronies, raised with the corruption and disarray of Arafat’s satrapy, have no role and no future in the PA. That’s why there remains considerable tension between Fayyad and Fatah, and great resentment toward him on the part of the Fatah grandees. Instead of claiming partial credit for his achievements, they try endlessly to grab PA jobs and get back to the good old days when they had a finger in the pie. If the Dahlan story helps show that the old days are over, it will be a positive event.


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