Can UAE money get Mohammed Dahlan into Gaza?

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Majed Abu Shamala, a leading Fatah figure and member of the Palestinian group's bloc in parliament, is welcomed by supporters as he arrives in the Gaza Strip after crossing the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing with Israel on January 21, 2014. Three Fatah leaders arrived in the Gaza Strip after an announcement by rival faction Hamas that it would allow Fatah members who fled the strip in 2007 to return to the Gaza Strip. (Photo: AFP- Mahmoud Hams)

By: Orouba Othman

Published Thursday, February 13, 2014

In politics, change is the only constant. Today, political adversaries are preparing the fertile ground for the ripening of their common interests. This applies to the clandestine convergence between Hamas in Gaza and Mohammed Dahlan, the dismissed official from Fatah's central committee.

Gaza - Information about the opening of lines of communication between Hamas and the dismissed Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan is not new. However,the lines of communication were slowly being revealed, until it reached they surface when three Fatah leaders linked to Dahlan supporters arrived in Gaza last month. They received an official welcome by a Hamas delegation headed by the Undersecretary of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ghazi Hamad, accompanied by Dahlan supporters who carried pictures of their leader in public. Sufian Abu Ziade, Majed Abu Shamala, and Alaa Yaghi crossed into Gaza by means of economic assistance, at the inauguration of projects funded by the UAE and in preparation for a social solidarity committee financed by the same country.

Hamas decided to surround the issue with an initiative by Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the resigned government, calling for embracing Fatah leaders who fled Gaza during the split in 2007. It later became clear the bridges being built lately with the Dahlan camp had been Hamas's goal all along, under the pretext of reactivating reconciliation efforts.

The Economic Secret

It is no secret that Hamas is suffering under the Egyptian embargo. In the absence of all direct means for normalizing relations between Hamas and Egypt, the movement decided to rely on indirect means for mediation with Egypt, even if it was through its fiercest adversary, Mohammed Dahlan, due to his close links with Egyptian Defence Minister Field Marshal Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi and the Egyptian intelligence apparatus.

Hamas believed that opening the door for Dahlan's people in Gaza could be a push in the direction of resolving its crisis and allowing it space to breathe. Without announcing it, Hamas started to embrace Dahlan through the Social Solidarity Committee.

The UAE pumps money into the committee to promote mass marriages and hold group iftars, in addition to housing freed prisoners in a residential project, which it also funds. Having been active in Gaza for almost two years, the committee took on the character of reconciliation between factions, allowing for Hamas's wish to run the financial aspect of the committee and fulfilling the UAE's condition to have the Dahlan camp represented in it.

The committee distributed its portfolios amongst six factions; Fatah was given social relations, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) ran media affairs, and Hamas received what it asked for from Fatah to facilitate the committee's work in Gaza, with Ismail al-Ashkar tasked to oversee the financial dossier.

Finally Majed Abu Shamala was back in the spotlight. Informed sources told Al-Akhbar that Hamas had stipulated his presence in Gaza in order to transfer the funds for the UAE's residential projects. The sources revealed that a Hamas delegation had met with Dahlan around a year ago in the UAE. It was made up of Rouhi Moshtahi, Salah al-Bardawil, Ahmed Youssef, Ismail al-Ashkar, and others. They were accompanied by Fatah MP in the legislative council and Dahlan associate, Ashraf Jomaa.

Hamas believes Dahlan is the best man for lifting the Egyptian embargo, due to his strong influence in the UAE, which consists of being a security consultant for Abu Dhabi's ruler Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan. Dahlan could raise the issue with the UAE leadership, who are the strongest Arab supporters of Sisi, especially in terms of funding.

Fatah's Return does not Fall Under Reconciliation

Hamas also extended its arms to Dahlan through the unannounced opening in Gaza of the Palestinian Center for Human Perseverance (FATA), which is run by Dahlan's wife Jalila. The center provides humanitarian relief in Palestinian camps inside and outside Palestine. Its most recent activity was providing emergency assistance to 500 families affected by the storm front that hit Gaza last December.

In the same vein, Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, maintained that several meetings were held recently in the UAE between Fatah and Hamas MPs, and Mohammed Dahlan. The meetings aimed to activate the role of the SSC, supported by the UAE.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, he said "No one has the right to work in the committee and seek funding for projects," on behalf of Fatah MPs, in an obvious reference to Dahlan's people who hold those tasks in the committee.

On the issue of meetings between Dahlan’s camp and Hamas, Abu al-Naja said "the visit by the three personalities close to Dahlan to the Gaza Strip does not fall in the context of supporting reconciliation. Fatah did not ask them to visit Gaza to discuss reconciliation." He explained that "Haniyeh's initiative concerning the return of Fatah members to Gaza does not mean that reconciliation has been put on track at all. The path is clear and it means the implementation of what has been agreed upon in Doha and Cairo."

Replying to Al-Akhbar's question if Dahlan was planning to create splits and fissures in Fatah through communicating with Hamas, Abu al-Naja revealed that "Mohammed Dahlan visited Egypt last month with a delegation from the UAE, which means that he is using outside forces to achieve his personal aims." He stressed that "those who leave their frame and flock to utilize the support of others will not find support." In his comments, he mentioned the emergence of a group, which could become a real nuisance for the Palestinian Authority and Fatah. However, he dismissed that their influence in Gaza was strong, due to Hamas's strength in the strip.

A Split in Hamas

The question of allowing Dahlan to visit Gaza in the next three months has led to sharp divisions between the political and the military leaderships of Hamas, according to a source close to the movement who spoke to Al-Akhbar.

The movement categorically rejects Dahlan's return to Gaza, contrary to the political leadership, which hinted the issue is under consideration, and there is a possibility of opening up to him in the future, according to Hamas spokesperson Salah al-Bardawil. However, other Hamas leading figures, such as Mahmoud al-Zahhar and Yahia Moussa, reject the alliance with Dahlan to lift the siege on Gaza.

"We cannot rely on contractors," Moussa told Al-Akhbar. "Our position is clear about such personalities. Hamas also realizes that lifting the siege is not something that Dahlan can do."

He maintained that the return of the three Fatah officials to Gaza was a result of Fatah's persistence and has nothing to do with restoring relations with Dahlan. "Hamas refuses to play on the contradictions within Fatah or to support splits within its ranks. It does not stand by one side against the other and does not compromise on its principles and values, no matter what."

Dahlan or Hamas?

Some people in Gaza believe that Hamas will be hitting two birds with one stone through its dealings with Dahlan’s camp. On the one hand, it would be improving its deteriorating relations with the current ruler of Egypt. One the other hand, it would be exploiting the bad relationship between Dahlan and Fatah's Central Committee to cause more fissures inside the movement.

"In his speech in mid-January, what Haniyeh considered as concessions to Fatah to help the reconciliation were actually concessions towards reconciliation with Mohammed Dahlan and not the official Fatah party represented by President Mahmoud Abbas," explained political analyst Ibrahim Abrash.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Abrash wondered whether "Mohammed Dahlan would be the first to respond to Ismail Haniyeh's call for partnership in running the Gaza Strip and confronting their common enemy, Mahmoud Abbas. Will Dahlan's return be a prelude for his complete control of the authority and rule in the Strip, with the blessing and support of Egypt, the Arabs, the US, and Israel? This will be answered in the next few days and we will see who laughs last, Dahlan or Hamas."

The Future President

Mahmoud Dahlan, who is famous for his opportunism, is currently exploiting his unannounced alliance with Hamas to direct a heavy blow to Mahmoud Abbas and push for assuming the post of head of the Palestinian Authority.

All the conditions are favorable for Dahlan's plans to come true. The leadership of the Israel believes he is the most capable of achieving a comprehensive settlement and providing more concessions. This issue was hinted to by the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, in its report about the meeting between the delegate of the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Molcho and Dahlan in Dubai.

Similarly, the Egyptian leadership has requested on several occasions that Dahlan returns to Gaza, in light of the tense security situation in Sinai. However, Abbas visited Riyadh last November to protest Sisi's requests for Dahlan to return to Fatah and take control of Gaza.

Follow Orouba Othman on Twitter

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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