by Khaled Amayreh
A Fatah security panel has been questioning former Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan in connection with allegations that he had been plotting to overthrow Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. Dahlan denied any wrongdoing, blaming the "rumours" on "political enemies and envious detractors".
Fatah didn't issue a formal statement on the outcome of the two-hour questioning session, but unofficial sources in Ramallah spoke of a "growing estrangement" between Dahlan and "the presidency institution and those who call the shots [within Fatah]."
According to some Fatah sources, Dahlan, a member in Fatah's Executive Committee, has already been stripped of many of his privileges and denied access to classified information. It has also been rumoured that he has been asked to leave the West Bank and make no contacts with PA security agencies.
Moreover, some of Dahlan's close aides and confidants in the West Bank have been arrested lately, with money and caches of mostly light weapons rumoured seized.
The interrogation session with Dahlan left many questions unanswered. It may have even increased the sense of "bad chemistry" between the "Dahlan camp" and the Fatah leadership. Dahlan himself has voiced deep grievances, telling reporters in Ramallah a few hours after the questioning session that, "I feel hounded and persecuted." "I will be patient with Fatah as I have been patient with Hamas. The problem is that many people would prefer to believe rumours, not the truth."
Fatah-PA interrogators reportedly confronted Dahlan with a secretly recorded conversation in the northern West Bank in which he told supporters, "I made Abbas. I enabled him to reach the status and stature he has now. I enabled him to travel all over the world to promote and expedite his sons' business."
Dahlan argued his remarks were merely a slip of the tongue and that he didn't harbour any vindictiveness or ill will towards Abbas and his family. He also claimed that "certain detractors" were poisoning his relations with Abbas by resorting to rumours, innuendoes and lies.
About two months ago, it was reported that Dahlan was part of a group that intended to have Abbas replaced by Nasser Al-Qidwa, a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. For the time being, Dahlan is being questioned with regards to alleged attempts to destabilise the authority of Abbas, whose term in office has long expired.
Dahlan may be feeling that he is a scapegoat for Fatah blunders, especially during the period in which he was most prominent, and that was defined by rampant corruption, haphazard governance, and autocratic decision-making. In 1994-2000, Dahlan was Gaza's strongman as head of the Preventive Security Forces. With a large number of cronies and hangers-on, Dahlan presided over a regime of routine political abuse, security repression and financial corruption.
In May 1997, during the height of Dahlan's lordship in Gaza, David Hirst wrote an article in The Guardian, entitled "Shameless in Gaza". He quoted one of Gaza's merchant princes, a former Fatah fighter himself, as saying: "We live in amazing, shameful times, but you should know that every revolution has its fighters, thinkers and profiteers. Our fighters have been killed, our thinkers assassinated, and all we have left are the profiteers. These don't think even primarily of the cause, they don't think about it at all. They know that they are just transients here, as they were in Tunis, and, as with any regime whose end is near, they think only of profiting from it while they can."
Dahlan was not solely responsible for the wanton flaws of the Arafat era, but there is no denying his power and influence at this time. Dahlan denies any wrongdoing. He complains, "They are claiming I have embezzled tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars. Where are they?" But in the words of a neighbour, Dahlan, who was hardly able to buy a pack of cigarettes prior to the Oslo Accords, has become rich. The question imposes itself: How?
Some of Dahlan's loyalists and supporters -- and they are many, especially in the Gaza Strip, his natural power base -- insist that the onus of proof lies with his accusers who should provide irrefutable evidence to back allegations of corruption. However, this is unlikely to be possible, given the murky atmosphere in which the PA, a non-state entity with little oversight, operates. For the time being, Dahlan is asking why he is being singled out.
Aside from allegations of plotting to overthrow Abbas, Dahlan probably should be investigated for his role in events that led to the rift with Hamas and the brief but bloody strife in Gaza in the summer of 2007. Dahlan is widely believed to have connived and colluded with the Americans and Israelis to destabilise Hamas, planning a coup attempt against its elected government in Gaza. Hamas responded by pre-empting the attempt and taking over Gaza by force.
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