The exiled Palestinian Mohammed Dahlan, who has helped raise millions of dollars for Palestinians in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, is critical of how the Palestinian Authority is handling peace talks with Israel. Some say he may poised for a return to politics.
Peace talks ‘will bring nothing for the Palestinian people’: Dahlan
In a phone interview from London, Mohammed Dahlan spoke of his aid projects in the Gaza Strip, his closeness to Egypt's military leaders and his conviction that Mr Abbas, 79, has left the Palestinian national cause in tatters.
If staging a successful return, Mr Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief once valued by the West for his pragmatism, could reshuffle a stagnant Palestinian deck.
Some say Mr Dahlan has made too many enemies in Mr Abbas' Fatah movement and will continue to be ostracised by those planning to compete for the top job in the future.
Mr Dahlan, 52, said this week that he is “not looking for any post” after Mr Abbas retires, but called for new elections and an overhaul of Fatah.
“Abbas will leave only ruins and who would be interested to be a president or vice president on these ruins? What I am interested in is a way out of our political situation, not a political position.”
In the past, he and Mr Abbas were among the leading supporters of negotiations with Israel as the preferred path to statehood. Mr Dahlan now believes the current US-led talks “will bring nothing for the Palestinian people”, alleging Mr Abbas has made concessions that his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, would not have.
A bitter feud between Mr Abbas and Mr Dahlan seems mostly personal, but also highlights the dysfunctional nature of Fatah, paralysed by incessant internal rivalries, and Mr Abbas's apparent unwillingness to tolerate criticism.
Mr Abbas banished Dahlan in 2010, after his former protege purportedly called him weak. Mr Dahlan has since spent his time between Egypt and the UAE.
Before the fallout he was one of a few Palestinian leaders who saw themselves as potential contenders for succeeding Mr Abbas.
Mr Dahlan grew up in a Gaza refugee camp, but as a top aide to Arafat became the territory's strongman in the 1990s, jailing leaders of Hamas, which was trying to derail Arafat's negotiation with Israel through attacks.
Mr Dahlan was dogged by corruption allegations at the time, like Arafat and several other senior Palestinian politicians, but has denied wrongdoing and was never charged.
In exile, he has nurtured political and business ties in the Arab world.
Mr Dahlan said this week that he has been raising millions of dollars from business people and charities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere for Palestinians.
Last year, he said he delivered US$8 million (Dh29.4m) to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
“In Gaza, I do the same now,” he said. “I'm collecting money for desalination in Gaza. It's unbearable. Fifty per cent of the water in the houses is sewage water. Hamas and Abbas are doing nothing to solve the real problems of the Gazans.”
When asked if he was buying political support with Gulf money, he said: “This is not political money.” He added that the UAE also provides financial aid to Mr Abbas.
Mr Dahlan's relationship with Gaza and former archenemy Hamas is particularly complex.
Security forces under Mr Dahlan lost control of Gaza in a brief battle with Hamas gunmen in 2007. The defeat cemented the Palestinian political split, leading to rival governments, one run by Hamas in Gaza and the other by Mr Abbas in parts of the West Bank, and was seen as perhaps the biggest blot on Mr Dahlan's career.
However, there are now signs of a possible rapprochement between Mr Dahlan and Hamas – apparently because of Mr Dahlan's close ties to Egyptian military chief, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Mr Dahlan said he has met Field Marshal El Sisi several times and supported the military's removal of Mohammed Morsi from the presidency – he called it the “Egyptian revolution”.
Hamas is the Gaza offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Mr Morsi is a member.
Since Mr Morsi's removal, the interim government has tightened a closure of Gaza's border with Egypt. That blockade has squeezed Hamas financially, and it has been looking for ways to pry the border open.
In January, Hamas allowed three Fatah leaders loyal to Mr Dahlan to return to the territory. The Fatah returnees and Hamas officials formed a committee to oversee construction of a new Gaza town to be funded by the UAE, said a Hamas official.
Fatah officials accuse Mr Dahlan of trying to split the movement.
Underlying Fatah's fears about a return of Mr Dahlan is the open question of succession.
Mr Abbas was elected in 2005, but overstayed his five-year term because the Hamas-Fatah split has prevented new elections. Mr Abbas has not designated a successor and there is no clear contender.
The only other Palestinian politician with broad support according to polls is Marwan Barghouti, an uprising leader who is serving multiple life sentences in Israeli prison.
Hani Al Masri, a Palestinian analyst, said regional support has boosted Mr Dahlan, but that he's not a serious challenger yet because he has not offered any plans.
Palestinians “won't support a specific leader without being convinced of his political platform,” he said.
* Associated Press