On October 30, 2016, Palestinian Legislative Council member Muhammad Dahlan gave a comprehensive interview to the Palestinian news agency Ma'an from a Cairo hotel where he was staying with some of his close associates. Dahlan, who in early 2011 had been expelled from the Palestinian Authority (PA) following allegations that he engaged in activity to oust President Mahmoud Abbas, was later officially removed from Fatah, and currently resides in the UAE with his family.
In recent months, several Arab media reports stated that the Arab Quartet (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan) was looking to position Dahlan to succeed Abbas after arranging for the two to reconcile. Thus far, these attempts have been unsuccessful, as Abbas refuses to allow Dahlan back into Fatah, and even argued that the Palestinians will not allow anyone to interfere in their affairs.
Dahlan stressed in the interview that he did not see himself a presidential candidate, and that he actually supported Marwan Barghouti for president - but only through democratic elections, not dubious methods such as being appointed to the post by 'Abbas.
Vehemently rejecting claims that he was working to divide Fatah, Dahlan stated that he would be happy to reconcile with Abbas, but that all the reconciliation efforts to date had been unsuccessful because Abbas repeatedly backed out of participating in them. About the moves to distance him and his associates from Fatah, Dahlan said: "Fatah will never belong to [any one] person." He refused to say what he would do if Fatah's upcoming seventh conference were to convene without him or his associates, but said that they are following developments and would react appropriately at the right time. He added: "Things having to do with individuals disappear when they do, while things having to do with the homeland remain and grow in the hearts of the people."
Accusing Abbas of using the same methods as Stalin and Turkish President Erdogan, he argued that the PA leadership is responsible for the bleak situation in the West Bank, due to its weakness, failed policies, and ongoing obsession with intra-partisan affairs, leading the Palestinian public to lose confidence in its political leadership. The secret of Fatah's immortality is "dedication and self-sacrifice," he said, adding that this is why it will rise again.
According to Dahlan, resistance operations in the West Bank, particularly in Jerusalem, have not escalated into a full-blown intifada because they received no backing or financial or other support either from the PA leadership or from other large Palestinian organizations. He assessed that the current situation in Jerusalem and the West Bank could not continue, and predicted a popular uprising that would have dangerous consequences.
As for Gaza, Dahlan argued that the economic and social situation there is highly charged and would lead to an explosion that would plunge the area into an even worse and more painful situation than the current one. However, he expressed hope that Egypt would show openness to Gaza's hardships, and assessed that this could happen.
Dahlan called on the Fatah and PLO leaderships to strive for true Palestinian unity and to bring both Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO. Acknowledging that he is operating in refugee camps in Lebanon, he said that he would have no need to do this if the Fatah and the PLO leaderships would meet their obligations to the refugees in these camp, and called the camps "the bastion of steadfastness and the shield that protects our people's security and honor."
As for the political process, Dahlan said that the era of negotiations is over, and that only assertive international involvement can produce an outcome on this issue.
Muhammad Dahlan (Alresalah.ps)
Following are excerpts from Dahlan's interview with Ma'an:
'Abbas "Needs To Know That [His] 'Erdoganic' Moves Won't Help Or Last In Fatah"
Asked whether he was trying to divide Fatah, Dahlan said: "How can you accuse a Fatah man who spends day and night defending the honor of belonging to it of working to divide it? Isn't that hugely unfair [to me]? When did this great movement become a society... that expels people at a particular figure's [i.e. Abbas's] requests and whims? Talk about division is like a broken record aimed at distorting the image and positions of fighters known for their courage, heroism, and nationalism, whom some are working to oust... Is it me and my associates who are attacking refugee camps in the West Bank in order to break up a conference of Fatah leaders and members? Is it we who are announcing daily that fighters and commanders have been expelled [from the movement]...? We want one united, honorable, proud Fatah... We will not split off from Fatah, as some people dream and delude themselves into thinking, and we will oppose anyone who works to divide Fatah."
Dahlan was asked whether a resolution to the conflict between himself and Abbas was possible. He replied: "Tell me how, and give me a magical remedy, and I will stick to it. Obviously there are things we would absolutely not accept; we will not agree to a particular person ['Abbas] distancing us from Fatah. We will not agree to the expulsion of any [Fatah] members or commanders at someone's individual whim or reason, and we will not agree to [someone's] exclusive control over the movement, its decisions, and its resources. Thus far I have responded positively to all the efforts and attempts [at reconciliation]... all of which began with Abu Mazen's [Abbas's] consent and blessing, and all of which ended with his backtracking. I have relinquished many, even all, of my rights, and objected only to the condition of my removal, and the removal of my colleagues, from Fatah. I reiterate yet again that I am not opposed to resolving the disagreements and reconciling immediately, but this must not harm our rights in the organization and must not involve a policy of hegemony [over the movement] and removal [of individuals from it]. I stress that Fatah will never belong to [any one] person or be anyone's private company. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either deceiving or being deceived."
Moving on to the subject of the Ain Al-Sokhna Conference, Dahlan said: "I did not attend the conference. Ask those who did whether it conspired against Abu Mazen or whether it was an ideological meeting between Egyptian and Palestinian minds. I followed the commotion [raised by] the president's office regarding this meeting, and I tracked its results, but could not find a single correlation, or even a connection, between the quixotic slogans [condemning it] and [its] logical and careful results. I do not know whether there will be other meetings, but I encourage brainstorming [sessions] between Palestinians and their Arab comrades in order to draw conclusions and to come up with creative ideas to deal with matters of national security. Should we choose to isolate ourselves and willingly forgo the centrality of our [Palestinian] cause?... How is it that we [Palestinians] attend the annual Herzliya Conference, but condemn dialogue with our [Arab] brethren?"
"Fatah is the beating heart and the [voice of] reason of the Palestinian cause. It can fall ill, but cannot die, because the secret of its immortality lies in the dedication and self-sacrifice of a massive army of prisoners and martyrs, led by the founding fathers Abu 'Ammar [Yasser Arafat], Abu Jihad [Khalil Al-Wazir], Abu Iyad [Salah Khalaf], Abu Ali Shaheen ['Abd Al-Aziz Shaheen], and other martyrs from among Fatah's commanders, members, and fighters. Fatah's current image is misleading and illusory, because events below the surface do not match outward appearances, as everything [outwardly] visible depends on the whims and the control of a single man ['Abbas]. Some in Fatah may forgive this deviance for a while, but [ultimately] all of Fatah will reawaken, because people come and go but Fatah remains, whether this darkness lasts or is short-lived.
"There is no such thing as [Fatah's] 'seventh conference' if it involves expelling [Fatah members] and seeks division. These events are a blatant coup [from within] the palace. The conference and the procedures, which are planned in advance, are nothing but an attempt to carry out a coup against Fatah's history and traditions, and a pathetic attempt to eliminate pluralism in Fatah and push the movement towards strict Stalinist traditions and values that no one can impose, no matter who they are."
Responding to a question on how he would act if his supporters were expelled from Fatah, Dahlan replied: "There is no such thing as a Dahlan stream, trend, or camp, just as there was no 'Arafat Camp'... We are a national liberation movement that is still struggling to realize our people's goals. Abu Mazen's goal is not to marginalize Muhammad Dahlan, but rather the independent voices that are not under his control. Abu Mazen needs to know that his 'Erdoganic' moves won't help or last in Fatah, and that he must once again learn from the experience of Abu 'Ammar [Arafat] in order to recognize [the limits] of what is possible and impossible. I do not want to be premature [and state how I will act] if and when Abu Mazen holds his conference in its special format - I will cross that bridge when I get to it. We are preparing and tracking and we will not act rashly before understanding the developing trends. He who declares war on Fatah is a fool, and we are no fools since we are Fatah."
Asked about Fatah's ability to complete the Palestinian national plan, Dahlan said: "I am convinced that Fatah is the key to national independence and is the only safety valve for the Palestinian issue. The current internal situation is nothing but a black cloud, which will soon dissipate... Things having to do with individuals disappear when they do, while things having to do with the homeland remain and grow in the hearts of the people and never disappear. Fatah is strongly tied to the people and the land, and is the salt of the holy Palestinian earth."
"I Am Not A Presidential Candidate And Don't Aspire To Be One"; I Support Marwan Barghouti, But Only In Democratic Elections
Dahlan said he had no personal ambition to become a presidential candidate and that he supports Marwan Barghouti as Abbas's successor. He said: "I am often asked if I aspire to become president and I always give the same answer: 'I am not a presidential candidate and don't aspire to be one,' and I say this with complete confidence and equanimity. My declaration of support for the brother Marwan Barghouti is neither new nor a response to the current crisis; it is an old stated [position that resulted from] daily tracking of Palestinian public opinion and numerous polls that I conduct. The time has come to realize the will of the people with free national elections."
When asked whether he would support Barghouti being appointed deputy president by 'Abbas in preparation for handing him the reins of power, he replied: "I do not believe Marwan will agree to circumvent the people's will and accept an appointment... I know that some are considering such dubious deals in order to ensure what they see as a smooth transition [from the 'Abbas era to that of his successor], but no one in our generation will agree to degrade the values of nationalism and morality, and I am certain that Marwan will not disappoint the people by agreeing to such questionable dealings."
Fatah Remains Backbone Of National Camp; Incorporate Hamas And Islamic Jihad In The PLO
Dahlan attributed the chaos in the Palestinian territories and the decline in political and national activity there to the weakness of the Palestinian leadership. According to him, "chaos typically stems from the weakness and failure of the leadership; [and sometimes the leadership] strives to create chaos for various reasons, often personal ones. We cannot place the blame for the decline in Fatah's performance on the political and national level on ghosts and ghouls or on those outside of the regime and decision-making circle. I have no doubt that the organizational and national weakening of Fatah is [the result of] a deliberate attempt to topple the tent of the national Palestinian [camp], since without this backbone, the tent cannot stand. However, Fatah was and still is the backbone of the national tent, even if some do not like it."
On the PLO, he said: "The currently reality in the PLO is very unfortunate, since there are those pushing it towards old age and disintegration. It is possible that some influential figures forget that our people sacrificed thousands of martyrs and prisoners to protect the PLO and its uniqueness. The PLO was like our moral homeland in the struggle against the oppressive occupation. Times have changed, and if we cannot deal with objective variables wisely, smartly, and fairly, then the unique Palestinian representation will vanish. Therefore, we cannot discuss true Palestinian unity without considering the weight and representation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and without giving a true role and representation in the PLO's leadership and framework to independent [representatives] who represent the majority. Those who strive for an agreement between the PLO factions and presume to market it as Palestinian national unity are deceiving themselves and their people."
Resistance In Jerusalem Never Ripened Into Intifada Because Large Organizations Didn't Support It; Popular Uprising May Break Out
About the dire situation in the West Bank, Dahlan said: "The problems in the West Bank stem both from the plans and plots of the Israeli occupation and from the failure of the PA leadership's policy to deal with the national issues and [this leadership's] ongoing preoccupation with intra-partisan issues. Add to this the fact that there is no political horizon at all, that foreign financial aid has decreased, and that the legitimacy of the PA institutions [i.e., the PLC and the presidency] has expired, and you can expect dire circumstances and dangers [to exist]. That said, what worries me most in the West Bank is the decline in the people's involvement in political issues, which does not reflect a loss of public interest in the national cause but rather a loss of trust between the public and the political leadership... As long as the current situation persists, there are [only] two possible [outcomes]: either we capitulate to the terms and principles of the occupation, which is unfeasible on the popular level, or a popular outburst will occur, which will have dangerous consequences. The only certainty is that the current situation cannot continue.
Asked what can be done to strengthen the steadfastness of Jerusalem and its residents, Dahlan replied: "How is it that the PA manages to find three billion dollars every year to fund anything [it wants to fund], yet cannot find a third of this immense sum to fund the defense of Jerusalem and the steadfastness of our fighting brothers? How is it that when it comes to Jerusalem, the PA complains of a shortage [of resources], yet it builds embassies around the world and spends hundreds of millions of dollars on delegations, [diplomatic] missions and ceremonies, not to mention other things... The current [resistance] action [in Jerusalem] has not ripened into an intifada not because it is flawed, but because the large Palestinian forces do not want to back it and reinforce it. Hence, the action in Jerusalem finds no way to reinforce itself except through heroic operations by individuals. But these heroic actions will not remain unsponsored and unorganized forever... After all the attempts to suppress this activity have failed despite the growing number of martyrs, I believe that this action may shift to a different paradigm and find a different popular and political depth for itself."
Only International Involvement Can Promote Political Solution
Regarding the political process, Dahlan added that only assertive international involvement can produce an outcome on this issue: "Forget about what they call 'reviving the political process' in the sense we have become accustomed to, based on open and secret negotiations, either bilateral or involving three of four parties. That phase is over. [Today,] without tangible international [involvement] that translates into firm and binding resolutions with a definite timeframe, there can be no political process and no solution reached through negotiations."
The Fuse In Gaza Is Already Burning, And We Must Stop The Spark From Reaching The Powder Kegs
About the future of the Gaza strip, Dahlan said: "The [Gaza] Strip is a nuclear bomb that is about to blow up in everyone's face, and we are all responsible - to some degree - for the situation of our brothers there. Nobody has the right to expect limitless patience from those who suffer pain, hunger, deprivation and unemployment on a daily basis, as well as the absence of crucial services. Unless immediate change occurs, the future will be even bleaker and more painful for everyone, especially for those who hold the Palestinian purse-strings in the West bank [i.e., the PA], and those who hold the reins of power in Gaza [i.e., Hamas]. All this does not exempt the occupation and its ongoing wars from responsibility for the [even] bleaker situation that will develop. As a son of the Gaza Strip I know my Gazan brothers very well, and I can tell you that the fuse of the economic and social explosion has been burning for a while, and the spark must be kept from reaching the powder kegs. The total siege on and within Gaza must be lifted, or [at least] eased. [In this context] I see a glimmer of real hope [coming from] Egypt, but this glimmer is certainly not enough... Gaza needs air like an intensive care patient needs oxygen. It needs food, water, medicines and medical care... Gaza needs mouth to mouth resuscitation."
Asked how his good relations with Egypt and other prominent Arab countries can be leveraged to promote the Palestinian cause and especially the welfare of Gaza residents, Dahlan replied: "I do this every day to the best of my ability. Often I succeed, and sometimes I do not, but I will neither stop nor slacken my efforts [in this matter]. I have real hope that Egyptian will show serious openness to the problems and difficulties of our brothers in the Gaza [Strip], and such openness is expected to be one of the outcomes of the Ain Al-Sokhna conference, because brothers in Egypt have informed me that they heard some creative Palestinian ideas [there]."
Dahlan also addressed his relations with Hamas in Gaza: "Hamas suffered an injustice, and later if carried out an injustice. In 2006 my position was known to all: I demanded to accept the results of the PLC elections and hand the reins of power over to Hamas, and for Fatah to move over to the opposition. But my call fell on deaf ears, for the election results and the will of the people were not respected... This was the stage at which Hamas suffered an injustice and its legal rights were denied. But what happened later transformed Hamas from a victim of injustice into a movement that perpetrates injustice, for there was no justification for all the brutality [it used] in taking over the Gaza Strip. Let us work together to overcome this terrible past, for [otherwise] the future awaiting us all will be bleaker and more difficult.
Asked about his relations with the other Palestinian factions, Dahlan said that his ties with the national factions were "generally good" and his ties with the independent forces were "very good," and added: "I am proud of the level of ties I have with the commanders of Islamic Jihad, especially with my dear brothers, [the organization's secretary-general] Dr. Ramadan Shalah and [his deputy] Ziad Nakhleh."
We Help The Refugee Camps In The Diaspora Because Fatah, PA Leaderships Neglect This Obligation
Asked about the allegations that he has established cells and organizations of his loyalists in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and about his motivations for doing this, Dahlan said: "Any Palestinian who takes up arms in our people's refugee camps in Lebanon is a fighter sacrificing his life in the front-line battles against the forces of terrorism and injustice. Should we allow the camps to be targeted by the attacks of criminal murderers and allow [these murderers] to raise their blood-soaked banners over our camps, as happened in camps in Syria or in Sabra and Shatila? Al-Lino and his heroic comrades are a bastion of steadfastness and the shield that protects the security and honor of our people in the refugee camps. These are commanders and fighters who have dedicated their lives to defending the honor of our women from [falling victim to] the depravity and the slave markets of ISIS and others, as happened in Syria and Iraq... Had the leaderships of the PLO and Fatah met their national and moral obligations [vis-a-vis the camps], there would have been no need for our efforts."
Dahlan praised the role played by the Lebanese and Syrian refugee camps in the Palestinian struggle: "We have forgotten, or pretend to have forgotten, that the armed Palestinian struggle to liberate the land actually started in [these] refugee camps. Our brothers in these camps do not forget and do not forgive. The camps in Lebanon, and especially in Syria, were the ones that bore the heavy cost of shedding their blood for the revolution and for Fatah. So what is the meaning of this rejection and this denial [of their contribution]? Why do we treat these refugee camps the way we treat our brothers in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip? Let me give you the figures, and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong: The PA expenditure on the refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria is no more than 0.003 of its budget. Let me stress that we are talking of over than 600,000 Palestinian refugees who enjoy no freedom of employment or freedom of movement and have no right to healthcare or education [in their host countries]. The refugees in the Syria camps suffer doubly because of the war in Syria. In light of these economic, political and social circumstances, we cannot talk of security stability [in these camps], because he other forces, the forces of terrorism and injustice, spend lavish funds on their people and ideas. But [despite all of this], the facts on the ground are that our brothers [in the camps] risk their lives and [devote] their meagre means to defending their identity and their national positions, as well as their historic alliance with our brothers the Lebanese people, under the protection of the Lebanese law."
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1270, Tension Between Mahmoud 'Abbas, Arab Quartet Over Initiative For Internal Reconciliation In Fatah, September 27, 2016.
 Maannews.net, October 30, 2016.
 A reference to a series of confrontations between PA security forces and refugee camp residents, mostly in Nablus and Jenin. One such incident occurred in the early morning hours of October 21, 2016, when PA security forces raided the Balata Refugee Camp in an attempt to arrest armed men identified as Dahlan loyalists and engaged in a lengthy firefight with them.
 The conference was organized by the National Center for Middle East Studies in Egypt and held on October 16-17, 2016, at the Ain Al-Sokhna Red Sea resort. Fatah condemned the conference due to its suspicion that Dahlan was behind it and that it intended to discuss the rift in the movement. Fatah rejected the conference and any resolutions made by it upfront. A Fatah spokesman said that "this conference is empty and illegal, and constitutes unacceptable interference in movement affairs." Almesryoon.com, October 15, 2016.
 Likely referring to former PA minister and PLO Executive Committee Member Ahmed Majdalani, who attended the 16th Herzliya Conference on June 14-16, 2016.
 Al-Lino is the nickname of Mahmoud 'Abd Al-Hamid 'Issa, commander of Fatah's military forces in the Palestinian refugee camp of 'Ain Al-Hilweh in South Lebanon.