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Fatah Members: ‘The Palestinian Street Has Lost Confidence in the Leadership’
Palestinians hold pictures of Mohammed Dahlan and the late leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza City on November 9, 2017, during a festival to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Arafat's death. (Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images)

Fatah Members: ‘The Palestinian Street Has Lost Confidence in the Leadership’

Abbas orders arrest of rival Dahlan’s supporters, attempts reconciliation with Hamas

Palestinian security forces detained several supporters of exiled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan in the West Bank following Israel’s normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.

Those detained included brothers Firas and Haytham Halabi, and Salim Abu Safia, a senior member of Dahlan’s faction.

Dimitri Diliani, a Dahlan supporter in East Jerusalem and a spokesman for the Democratic Reform Current, a reformist wing of Fatah led by the former Gaza strongman, told The Media Line these arrests are aimed at “silencing the opposition” and instilling fear in those who dare criticize Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ policies.

“This is an attempt by Abu Mazen [Abbas] to distract attention from his diplomatic failures and from the normalization deals with Israel,” Diliani says.

Dahlan, a former PA security chief who will mark his 59th birthday on Tuesday, is seen as a potential successor to the 84-year-old Abbas.

The arrests began on September 6 with the detention of Firas Halabi, one of the leaders of the movement and a close associate of Dahlan, Diliani says.

He says a judge ordered Halabi’s release. “A judicial decision was issued to release him several days ago, but the security services are still holding him.”

In a statement, Dahlan’s political wing called the arrests “stark violation of the law.”

Other Fatah leaders affiliated with Dahlan have been summoned for questioning by PA security forces in the West Bank, among them Raafat Elyan, a resident of the Anata suburb of East Jerusalem.

This reflects Abu Mazen’s political bankruptcy. He does not know what he wants. He is floundering in his decisions

Elyan told The Media Line that he does not leave his home, for fear of arrest.

“This reflects Abu Mazen’s political bankruptcy. He does not know what he wants. He is floundering in his decisions,” Elyan says.

Anata is in Area C of the West Bank under the Oslo Accords, and therefore under the full control of the Israeli army, out of reach of the PA police.

Elyan says Abbas and those around him are in “panic mode.” He paints a chaotic picture inside Abbas’ inner circle.

“With talk about presidential and legislative elections, they feel pressured, they are confused. Therefore, they arrest anyone who disagrees with them, thinking that they are breaking our will or that they are intimidating us.”

Elyan says there is no unanimity within Fatah for these arrests and that several members of the movement’s central committee have contacted him.

The Media Line contacted three of the central committee members: they refused to go on record, but all said that they were concerned with the decision to arrest Fatah members.

Elyan says the arrests are the result of members of Abbas’ close circle pursuing “their own agendas. … They feed him misleading information in order to protect their own interests. They fear that if we speak up this will expose them.”

This wave of arrests comes after the United Arab Emirates signed a normalization accord with Israel in August and a peace agreement on September 15.

Dahlan, a former ally turned rival to Abbas, was driven out of the West Bank in 2011, accused of corruption.

He is now is based in the UAE and acts as an adviser to the crown prince.

The arrests follow widespread speculation that he played a role in the normalization agreement between the UAE and Israel.

Diliani denies that Dahlan was behind the UAE-Israel deal.

“Dahlan issued a statement from Abu Dhabi rejecting this agreement. The Democratic Reform Current issued a statement rejecting what happened, and I personally appeared in Emirati media outlets rejecting this agreement in the name of the current headed by Dahlan. Hence the position is clear,” he says.

Infuriating Abbas even more are comments attributed to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, where he supposedly told an Israeli daily that Washington was considering supporting Dahlan as the next PA president.

The paper, Israel Hayom, which is closely affiliated with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, subsequently said Friedman was misquoted and issued a clarification saying the ambassador actually said, “We are not thinking about it [supporting a Dahlan candidacy].”

Dahlan took to Facebook to distance himself from these comments: “He who is not elected by his people will not be able to lead and achieve national independence,” he wrote.

Elyan, speaking from his home, echoed Dahlan’s sentiments.

“We the Palestinian people do not accept anyone dictating or imposing on us, neither the American administration nor Friedman. The Palestinian people choose their leadership through the ballot box.”

Dahlan and his supporters have repeatedly called on Abbas to hold general elections. Last week, Dahlan said that Palestine “desperately needs to renew the legitimacy of its leadership.”

He is the kingmaker within Fatah, and will decide who will become president in the next phase

Diliani says that Dahlan enjoys widespread support among Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He adds that Dahlan also enjoys overwhelming support in the refugee camps.

“He is the kingmaker within Fatah, and will decide who will become president in the next phase.”

Dahlan has been pumping millions of dollars into the impoverished coastal enclave and the refugee camps, to secure loyalty and weapons.

His popularity is on the rise.

“This is what drives Abbas and the security services to worry about what will happen if there are elections,” says Diliani.

He argues that Abbas to blame for the “miserable situation we [the Palestinians] are in.”

“Abu Mazen’s style and approach to managing the Authority are unacceptable. We live in a time of one-man rule. Abu Mazen has powers that no other Arab leader has. There is no parliament, nor is there a fair judicial system.”

The Palestinian Legislative Council has not functioned since 2007.

Many of the leaders of the camps say Abbas has been trying for years to remove these weapons from the camps, but that he has failed to do so.

One of the leaders of the Fatah movement inside the Qalandia camp, near Ramallah in the West Bank, who did not want to reveal his name because he was under threat of arrest, told The Media Line that Abbas’ policies are responsible for the tensions.

“The camps are outside Abbas’ security control. He does not want to collect weapons to maintain law and order, but rather he wants to collect them because he knows that the camp residents are not under his control and are not satisfied with his performance.”

Several polls conducted in the Palestinian territories have shown that Abbas’ popularity has declined and that if elections were held, he would lose to Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh in a head-to-head vote for the presidency.

Dahlan has the support of the so-called moderate Arab countries: the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Abbas earlier this week issued a decree preventing his security services from arresting any of the Hamas followers in the West Bank, and he sent a high-level delegation led by senior Fatah member Jibril Rajoub to Turkey to hold reconciliation talks with Hamas and try to end the division that goes back more than a decade and schedule elections.

“This is a pressure card that the PA uses to send a message to what is called the camp of moderate Sunni countries − Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Egypt and Jordan − that if the PA and President Abbas are ignored, they will ally with Turkey, Iran and Qatar,” Elyan says.

He laments the situation, saying the PA should work to regain the street’s trust.

“Isn’t it enough for the Palestinian people, the Israeli occupation, and some Arab regimes conspired against us, to be arrested by the Palestinian Authority?” Elyan asks.

The PA’s Interior Ministry, when reached by The Media Line, declined to comment.

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