Israeli media reported in the past few hours that an Israeli minister met several times with former Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan. My Israeli source confirms the meetings and tells me the minister was Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister. The meeting was in Paris as confirmed by this Maariv report which noted Lieberman had been spotted in a hotel frequented by Arab leaders and people from the Gulf. Lieberman had been telling Israeli journalists that he was meeting Qatari officials (Hebrew) there as a “cover” for his actual plans. Dahlan, one of the most brutal and corrupt of ex-Fatah strongmen, was exiled by the PA and now lives in Dubai under the protection of the royal family there.
It seems especially appropriate for these two individuals to meet. Lieberman was a nightclub bouncer back in his native Moldova and is known for his hot temper and beating up teenage boys at his settlement home in Nokdim. Dahlan is known as Fatah’s enforcer. His jails in Gaza before Hamas’ ascendancy, were well known for their brutality and torture chambers. The two have much in common.
A bit of context is in order: whenever Israel gets particularly pissed at Mahmoud Abbas they trot out Dahlan as a bogeyman. And man are they ever pissed with his joining the International Criminal Court. This means that Israel may have the added headache of preparing for international trials against its generals or ministers in the coming year or so.
When Abbas gets particularly nettlesome, Israel re-“discovers” a Palestinian “alternative.” They treat Dahlan like a king, hold “high-level” meetings with him, consult with him as if he carried the divine tablets from Sinai, etc. They’ve held such Dahlan tetes a tete in the past with other senior ministers. The goal is to spook Abbas into believing that Israel might seek a more pliable Palestinian partner; or alternatively to drive Abbas into a rage.
The tactic is beyond pathetic: who in their right mind in Israel or Palestine believes Dahlan is a serious interlocutor among Palestinians? Who does he represent? All the gunmen, bouncers (a nod to Lieberman’s past), enforcers, torturers and anyone else who can be bought off in Palestine?
Apparently, there are a few Israeli journalists and U.S. neocons who believe Dahlan represents someone other than thieves and hitmen. Avi Issacharoff, writing for the Likudist-neocon Times of Israel, writes:
Dahlan, a longtime opponent of Abbas who was expelled from Abbas’s Fatah party in 2011, is considered a legitimate contender by some Palestinians and PLO leaders to replace the president…
Let’s take a look at the link in the above passage. It leads to a National Interest story bruiting the idea that Dahlan is a legitimate rival to Abbas. But the article was written by Grant Rumley of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. This is a pro-Israel neocon outfit whose mission is to peddle nonsense like this.
In fact, the National Interest published another nugget by a different FDD “analyst” claiming, preposterously, that Iranian clerics are in fear of American Islam because its level of moderation might tempt Iranians to abandon their own Shiite revolutionary zeal. Just because the National Interest appears to be giving free rein to FDD staff to opine in its pages, doesn’t mean we have to accord any credibility to any of this garbage.
So returning to Issacharoff, he falsely claims there are ‘Palestinians and PLO leaders’ who consider Dahlan a “legitimate contender,” linking to Rumley as his source. Rumley himself offers exceedingly thin proof of this claim:
Thousands marched in the streets of Gaza last Thursday in support of Mohammad Dahlan, a longtime rival of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas who has lived in the UAE ever since Abbas forced him into exile in 2011. Protesters blasted Abbas, whom they accused of corruption, tyranny and even treason, while at the same time cheering the exiled former leader.
…Dahlan…appears to have some support among ordinary Palestinians. Indeed, last week’s demonstration was not the first time pro-Dahlan supporters hit the streets. When thousands of Abbas supporters previously marched in Gaza in early 2013 for Fatah’s anniversary they were disrupted by swarms of Dahlan supporters.
Note, this rally was in Gaza, not the West Bank. Gaza was formerly Dahlan’s stronghold, but it’s also now the bailiwick of Hamas. It would naturally be in Hamas’ interest as a rival of Fatah, to allow, even encourage rallies for Dahlan. So the fact that Gazans protested for Dahlan means very little. Now, if they protested in the West Bank right under the PA’s nose, that would be notable.
Rumley also claims Dahlan recently met with two senior former PA officials who are now Abbas rivals. But he also notes that the officials not only denied the report, but threatened to sue journalists who printed it.
The effect of all this that Israeli policy strategists and their journalistic scribes are a self-enclosed echo chamber. Bibi turns to the Times of Israel which turns to FDD and they teach each other what they want to hear. They want to hear there is a viable quiescent Palestinian leader who will bought and stay bought like other Arab strongmen past and present: Mubarak, Al-Sisi, Gemayel, Hussein and Abdullah, among others. This has nothing to do with Palestinian reality nor with any real prospect of a successful policy that will advance Israeli interests. Instead, it’s more like a block and parry move in fencing. It may stave off a single hard blow, but it does nothing to win the match.
UPDATE: Maariv has published this story here.