Dahlan’s grand plans for Gaza’s revival threaten to sideline Abbas

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is expected to sit down on Sunday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a meeting that is being described as critical to the future relations of the two sides.

There have been numerous reports in the Arab and Palestinian media recently about meetings being held in Egypt between Abbas’s political rival, Mohammad Dahlan, and the leaders of Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas. These allegedly took place in Cairo under the close supervision of the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, Khaled Fawzy.

Dahlan and Hamas reportedly agreed to establish a new “management committee” of Gaza, which would see the Fatah strongman share control of the Palestinian enclave.

Abbas will likely demand explanations from Sissi as to the nature of these contacts, and Egypt’s support of them.

The PA chief and his allies have been flooded with rumors about a deal being concocted behind the back of the Palestinian Authority, under the auspices of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. These talks are seen by Abbas as insulting, even a spit in the face. Abbas will want to know whether Fawzy’s reported actions were authorized by Sissi.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, meets Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2014 (AP Photo/Ahmed Foad, MENA)

Abbas was also surprised by the timing of Egyptian mediation, just as he was attempting to pressure Hamas into rescinding its control over the Strip by cutting wages and electricity in Gaza. The Palestinian president was astonished that at the height of such a dramatic move to subdue Hamas, the Egyptians — once perceived as his allies — presented the terrorist group with a lifeline in the form of Dahlan.

Dahlan is a former Fatah leader in Gaza once considered persona non grata by Hamas. He was ousted from the Strip in the coup that put the Islamist terror group in power 10 years ago.

However he recently helped broker a deal with Egypt to try to resolve Gaza’s electricity crisis and is now looking to assume a far larger role in the governance of the Palestinian enclave.

Dahlan’s proposal to Hamas, some details of which are revealed here for the first time, is no less than revolutionary: It calls for a power plant to be built on Egypt’s border with Gaza that will supply electricity to the entire Strip, at an investment of $150 million; it stipulates that the Rafah Crossing will be opened for the passage of goods from Egypt into the Strip; and it specifies that a new independent energy authority will be established in Gaza, which will charge residents for electricity they receive and assure the Strip’s energy independence.

These are just some of the tempting proposals Dahlan and his men presented to senior Hamas figures who met with them in Cairo.

Mohammed Dahlan, left, speaks at the European Parliament, December 3, 2013 (photo credit: courtesy/Fernando Vaz das Neves)

According to the proposal, Hamas will remain responsible for Gaza’s internal security. It will not be required to disarm but will be asked to deal only with internal matters. Dahlan and his associates will be responsible for handling the Strip’s foreign affairs — with Egypt and with the international community in general.

The package that Dahlan is offering is meant to achieve several goals that will serve the interests of all parties — except perhaps those of the PA and Fatah in the West Bank.

If Hamas accepts Dahlan’s plan, the Strip’s economy will gain a substantial boost. A new power plant would provide residents with electricity all day, every day. Residents would be able to leave the Strip through the Egyptian border. Additionally, a free flow of goods would significantly lower prices.

As for the interests of Egypt and the UAE, the deal would distance Hamas from Qatar and move it closer to the moderate Sunni axis. The new power station would be financed by the UAE and operated by Egypt. This, runs the theory, would encourage Hamas to be more disciplined and docile.

In this June 4, 2017, photo, a father and his children ride their donkey cart past the idled Gaza power plant at Nusseirat, in the central Gaza Strip (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

If the plan is enacted, Dahlan would once again find himself in the center of the Gazan political arena, and would likely be regarded as the great savior of the Strip.

Hamas, meanwhile, has faced a deteriorating economic situation and the danger of an escalation with Israel or the beginning of an internal uprising. The deal would bring stability and secure the group’s continued rule over Gaza for the coming years.

Hamas would, however, be paying a price in the loss of some independence. The opening of the Rafah Crossing will be dependent on the establishment of a new, independent body that will be responsible for the management of the site on the Palestinian side. The Egyptians are not interested in booting Abbas from this arrangement. According to Palestinian sources, Cairo hopes the meetings between Dahlan and Hamas will pressure Abbas to reconcile with his rivals.

But Abbas is right to be concerned. The Egyptians seem to want to crown Dahlan as his unofficial heir, and are willing to go to great lengths to achieve this. It is not clear why the Egyptians favor Dahlan so enthusiastically, though it may well be his unique potential to weaken Hamas’s grip on Gaza.

And herein lies the main problem with Dahlan’s proposal — at this stage it is only supported by the Hamas leadership in Gaza, not the Hamas kingpins elsewhere.

Many senior officials outside Gaza fear Dahlan will do to Hamas what Sissi did as army chief to then-president Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the summer of 2013 — initiate a coup and remove Hamas from power. Dahlan, according to senior members of the organization based in Qatar, Lebanon and the West Bank, was and remains hostile to Hamas, with which he shares a long and bloody history.

It should be noted that Dahlan does have a plan on how to end this blood feud, which dates back to Hamas’s takeover of the Strip in 2007. Dahlan is promoting a reconciliation committee to provide compensation to the families of the victims of the internal power struggle, similar to the tribal customs of the Bedouin. The funding for such stipends would also come from the UAE — $50 million that would hopefully help grease the wheels of reconciliation.

And so in the coming days and months it seems likely the Hamas leadership will continue to debate whether to accept the proposal. During this time the reconciliation committee will complete its plan for compensation for those affected by the 2007 coup; Samir Mashrawi, a close associate of Dahlan, is expected to return to the Strip; and the Rafah Crossing will be reopened.

And perhaps, Abbas will give in to the pressure exerted on him by Egypt and make peace, reluctantly, with Dahlan.

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