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Political Bombshell in the Palestinian Authority: Dahlan Won’t Run, Endorses Jailed Barghouti

In what amounts to somewhat of a bombshell in Palestinian politics, Mohammad Dahlan, a Western favorite always mentioned atop the list of successors to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has announced he will not seek the post and has thrown his support to Marwan Barghouti, the popular Palestinian leader serving five consecutive life sentences for murder in an Israeli prison. Finding a successor to Abbas, 81, has become a priority among Palestinians. Numerous failures to reconcile the rival Fatah and Hamas factions has prevented national elections from taking place since 2006 and the bifurcation between the West Bank, controlled by Fatah; and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip is seen as perhaps the most serious obstacle to the formation of a working government and ultimately, statehood. Dahlan, the one-time head of Palestinian Security Services in the Gaza Strip who lives in a self-imposed exile in the Gulf States, historically has been the leader of choice among Western governments. But despite the “inconvenience” of not being available until he has served five lifetimes in jail, there has always been a widely held belief that the Israelis and Palestinians could – and probably would – forge a deal whereby Barghouti would be allowed to run. Unlike Barghouti, Dahlan is a bitter rival of Abbas. Only recently, supporters of Dahlan and Abbas opened fire with against each other. The Palestinian president has also resisted the encouragement of Arab leaders to reconcile with Dahlan which is causing tension with Abbas and regional powers. In a region where the adage, “An enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Abbas’s refusal to follow their advice is driving Arab leadership to embrace Dahlan and further weaken Abbas.