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June 21, 2017 12:31 pm

Exiled Palestinian Leader Dahlan’s Gaza Fuel Deal Could Revive His Bid to Succeed Aging Abbas, Expert Says

avatar by Ben Cohen

Palestinian supporters of exiled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. Photo: Twitter.

A bitter rival of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas could become a serious contender to replace the elderly Palestinian leader in the event of a succession crisis, a leading regional expert told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

Jonathan Schanzer — an expert on Palestinian politics at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank in Washington, DC — said that Mohammed Dahlan — a prominent Fatah leader exiled from the Gaza Strip following the 2007 Hamas seizure of power there — had re-entered the “succession matrix” following his successful brokering of a deal that will see Egypt supply Gaza with desperately needed fuel. Gaza has been experiencing power cuts of 12 hours each day following the PA’s refusal to compensate Israel for its provision of electricity to the coastal enclave earlier this month.

“There’s no doubt that Dahlan is still a player,” Schanzer said. “The question is, does he have a way in when it comes to the eventual succession?”

After the Gaza fuel deal was announced on Tuesday, Egyptian trucks delivered 220,000 gallons of fuel to Gaza — enough for two or three days of full power. Hamas and Egyptian officials plan to meet next week to discuss extending the supply.

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The key player averting a deeper electricity crisis in Gaza was Dahlan, who lives in exile in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. A seasoned political operator with strong ties to security agencies in the Arab world, he maintains close relationships with the UAE’s royal family as well as with Egypt’s autocratic President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Dahlan also has developed extensive business and political links in Europe and East Africa.

However, Dahlan remains exiled from the West Bank, in the light of a feud with Abbas that stretches back more than a decade.

After he relocated with his forces to the West Bank in 2007, tensions with Abbas mounted to the point that Dahlan was expelled from Fatah in 2011. In the interim, Abbas has accused Dahlan of murdering the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, as well as trying him on corruption charges.

In December 2016, a PA court sentenced Dahlan in absentia to three years in prison, along with a fine of $16 million.

With the Gaza fuel deal now to his credit, Dahlan “has a certain credibility now,” Schanzer said.

“The problem for him is that when the succession comes to pass, it will be handled by the PLO internally in the West Bank,” Schanzer explained. “He will have little opportunity to get back in time to be part of those deliberations.”

For that reason, Dahlan’s bid to become the legitimate heir to Abbas – a scenario much mooted when he first came to the West Bank — will receive the boost it needs only by way of a succession crisis.

“For Dahlan to become part of the equation, you’d have to see the rejection by the Palestinian people of the leader or group of leaders selected by the PLO,” Schanzer said. “Abbas has created a system where Dahlan will be on the outside looking in — at least in the early stage of the succession process.”

Schanzer noted that any bump in popularity for Dahlan would not displace support for other Palestinian leaders, most obviously Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah terrorist leader jailed in Israel who led a short hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners earlier this year.

Abbas, 82, was elected to the office of PA President in 2005. In 2009, the PLO Central Council extended his mandate indefinitely.

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