A Palestinian Hand in Peace Deal?

Most Palestinians seem to consider the peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ‘a stab in the back’. There have been many accounts of angry reactions and even threats towards the Emiratis.

Shortly after the deal was announced, demonstrations and sit-in protests took place after Friday prayers in the disputed territories and in Gaza, appealing to the UAE to change their mind. Slogans were chanted calling the deal a betrayal of the Palestinian people and their struggle.

But reports suggest that a Palestinian may have been influential in arranging the deal. Back in 2011, Mohammed Dahlan, former head of Fatah security, had to flee as the Palestinian Authority (PA) sought to arrest him, apparently because he had become a threat to the leadership position of Mahmoud Abbas.

Living in exile in the UAE, Dahlan has formed a close relationship with its ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Said to operate as an international envoy for his wealthy friend, Dahlan helps to arrange deals through a wide range of international contacts.

And this has angered the PA, who moved to arrest dozens of Dahlan’s supporters in the West Bank in September this year. Whilst in exile he has even worked with Hamas get aid into the Gaza Strip, where people have received significant help from the Gulf states.

Some people have long thought of him as potential successor to the ageing Abbas. Dahlan has denied having any political aspirations, but whilst in exile has cultivated ties with authorities in Egypt as well as the UAE.

Something that may have played into his hands is the September agreement to hold the first Palestinian general elections since 2006. Ironically, that surprise announcement arose from Hamas and Fatah being united in their opposition to the Arab-Israeli normalisation deals.

If the agreement goes ahead, elections will take place in the Spring next year. This opens an opportunity for Dahlan that is enhanced by the fact that Mahmoud Abbas’ popularity has waned significantly in recent months.

Some observers say that it is wrong to view competition for the leadership as just about personalities. They suggest that the struggle is actually between local Palestinians and those who have come from outside the area.

Once again this reveals that the situation in and around Israel is far from simple. Even the relatively small number of people called ‘Palestinians’ is actually made up of a number of disparate groups, some of whom came from outside the area – contrary to the claims they make when contesting territory with the Israelis. 

The impact of the peace deals will continue to unfold in the weeks ahead. Many would welcome a change of leadership in the PA, given widely held views regarding corruption and failed policies.