Preparing for post-Abbas Palestinian leadership – the New Indian Express
At the beginning of November, Moscow welcomed Mohammed Dahlan, a former right-hand man of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who became a rebel. He met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the visit, raising speculation about Russian mediation in the internal Fatah tensions that have crippled the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) over the past decade . Since Obama’s presidency, Vladimir Putin has engaged with various stakeholders, often rivals, in the Middle East; active Russian diplomatic engagements included the Syria-Turkey, Iran-Saudi Arabia, Qatar-Saudi Arabia, Israel-Palestine and Fatah-Hamas tracks. With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visiting Moscow later this month, Russia could open another diplomatic front. Abbas studied at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow and obtained his doctoral equivalent. He often visited Soviet and later Russian leaders and often engaged with them.
Dahlan, a grassroots Palestinian leader in the Gaza Strip, led one of the many security teams under Arafat following the Oslo accords. Its downfall began when violence and lawlessness in Gaza forced Arafat to move the headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to Ramallah in the West Bank following the al-Aqsa intifada. Hamas’ election victory in January 2006 and the militant group’s military takeover of the Gaza Strip the following year forced Dahlan to flee to the West Bank. In no time he was embroiled in the power struggle within Fatah in the West Bank and fell out with Abbas. Dahlan was accused of being an “Israeli agent” and of having played a role in the death of Arafat. Accused of corruption in December 2014, he was kicked out of Fatah. Some ANP officials have even accused Dahlan of playing a role in Israeli-Emirati normalization. In short, Dahlan has a colorful but eventful history. In recent years, the UAE has projected Dahlan as the future face of Palestinians after Abbas. Dahlan’s visit to Moscow appears to have come at the request of the Emirates.
Even if the Abbas-Dahlan reconciliation does not materialize any time soon, Moscow’s intervention is interesting. The Palestinian national movement has remained fractured since the 1991 Madrid conference, which was premised on a political compromise with Israel. The abandonment of the resistance and Arafat’s claims over all of historic Palestine has not been welcomed by sections of the PLO and the militant group Hamas. In addition, the Oslo accord, which formalized Palestinians who claimed their national rights only in part of historic Palestine and the then occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, further intensified the internal division. . So, while negotiating with Israel for the implementation of the Oslo accord, Arafat was also fighting with Hamas and competing for the legitimacy and political support of the Palestinian masses.
Arafat’s legacy of putting the Palestinian cause on the world map also came with his failure to realize the state. Abbas, who has taken the reins, has fewer accomplishments to show. In January 2005, he was elected president for a five-year term, but no election has taken place since then. In January of next year, Hamas routed Fatah and seized power, which plunged the Palestinians into internal conflict and led to a spiral of violence. In no time, the Palestinians found themselves in two distinct and irreconcilable political climates: the West Bank ruled by Fatah and the PNA and the Gaza Strip administered by Hamas, without engagement or cooperation between the two parts of Palestine. Resistance to the Israeli occupation has become secondary to their ideological differences and competition. The mediation efforts of Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the former united Sudan to achieve Fatah-Hamas unity have failed.
The loss of administrative control of the Gaza Strip has been followed by the growing marginalization of the Palestinian question in inter-Arab affairs. The Arab Spring protests and their aftermath have suppressed any interest Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iraq, the main supporters of the Palestinians, had in their affairs. Their territorial and regime survival has become more important than Palestinian statelessness. Then came the Trump peace plan and the Abrahamic Accords, which facilitated Arab-Israeli normalization even without the resolution of the Palestinian problem. In addition to the occasional support, mainly during the violent clashes between Israel and Hamas, the international community has also come to recognize the limits of octogenarian Abbas in shaping the Palestinian destiny.
True, Fatah has several others like Jibril Rajoub, Mahmoud al-Aloul and of course Marwan Barghouti, who has been serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison since 2002. However, unlike them, Dahlan enjoys the patronage of the Emirates. Arab Emirates and could be the dark horse to succeed Abbas. But whatever the results, Dahlan’s visit to Moscow indicates that some external actors are preparing for the post-Abbas Palestinian leadership. Will India read the tea leaves this time around?
Professor at JNU. Teaches contemporary Middle East