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Will Abbas reconcile with Hamas over Dahlan?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is under Egyptian pressure to achieve reconciliation with dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, but it might push the president to agree on reconciliation talks with Hamas instead in Doha.
A Palestinian supporter of former head of Fatah in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, holds a poster depicting Dahlan during a protest against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza City December 18, 2014. Dahlan, who lives in exile in the Gulf, is a powerful political foe of Abbas. 

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to resist Arab pressure to reconcile with dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. Abbas has also been under pressure to back the Arab road map, which calls for internal reconciliation within Fatah between Abbas and Dahlan, followed by a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and ultimately leading to a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement.

Abbas has said he is willing to resume reconciliation talks with Hamas that Qatar has been hosting since 2012. In July 2013, Egypt suspended the reconciliation talks it had held since June 2008 due to the tense relations between Hamas and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime, after Cairo accused Hamas of meddling in Egyptian affairs.

Tensions rose between Abbas and the Arab Quartet — which includes Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — against the backdrop of the reconciliation efforts with Dahlan following statements by Abbas and PA leaders like Ahmed Majdalani and Azzam al-Ahmad, who asked the Arab Quartet states not to interfere in internal Palestinian affairs on Sept. 4.

In response, some Egyptian and Emirati media outlets attacked Abbas, and he was labeled in a headline on Sept. 5 in Egyptian newspaper Youm7 as “deceitful and contradictory.” Emirati Al Khaleej newspaper demanded Sept. 10 that Abbas step down and accused him of "imposing himself as the guardian of the Palestinian people, meddling with their cause and compromising on their national rights.”

Egypt had launched its own efforts to broker reconciliation between Dahlan and Abbas back in December 2014. The dispute between the two leaders broke out when Abbas accused Dahlan of telling Fatah leaders like Nasser al-Qudwa and Rohi Fotouh that they are more fit to be president, pitting them against Abbas. Dahlan also meddled in the work of the Palestinian government in 2009 and expanded his influence in the Palestinian security apparatus. He was blamed for Gaza’s fall into Hamas’ hands in 2007, when he was a security official in the Gaza Strip. Finally, the row culminated in Dahlan’s dismissal from Fatah in June 2011.

A source close to Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Abbas held a meeting for Fatah’s Central Committee in Ramallah on Sept. 27 to inform Fatah leaders of the steps that the movement will take toward achieving internal reconciliation with Hamas and of the Arab efforts to promote reconciliation with Dahlan. This meeting came after Abbas had met with Sisi in New York on Sept. 20 to discuss the internal Palestinian reconciliation and the diplomatic steps needed to make the French peace conference successful.

The source noted that Abbas is taking steps to soothe the anger of the Arab Quartet. The latter is seeking to unite Fatah’s ranks and keep the movement stronger than Hamas, which is considered a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. These steps include Abbas trying to return some members who were dismissed from the Fatah movement for joining Dahlan’s current.

Abbas also insinuated in private circles, according to the source, that the ongoing pressure on him over Dahlan will push him to pursue reconciliation with Hamas through the mediation of Qatar, whose relations with Egypt are tense.

The head of Fatah's delegation for reconciliation with Hamas, Azzam al-Ahmed, told Al-Monitor, “Fatah received a call from Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani mid-last week to resume the internal reconciliation efforts with Hamas. We gave basic approval during the phone call to hold the meeting, and we are waiting for Qatar to set the date.”

He noted that Fatah is communicating with Qatar rather than Hamas, whose leaders did not seem keen on resuming the reconciliation sessions. On Sept. 21, Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, denied any arrangements had been made for a new reconciliation meeting in Doha.

Ahmed denied allegations that the meeting in Qatar is linked to deteriorating relations with Arab countries such as Egypt over the reconciliation issue with Dahlan. He said that Qatar has been hosting the reconciliation sessions for years due to tense relations between Egypt and Hamas.

He stressed that Fatah will not propose anything new in the next round. Instead, the movement intends to discuss a way to implement the 2011 Cairo Agreement, which stipulated the formation of a national unity government, months after which legislative and presidential elections as well as national council elections would be held.

For its part, Hamas denied any arrangements for a next round of dialogue on the internal reconciliation issue with Fatah. Hamas spokesman Hazem Kasem told Al-Monitor, “Hamas still prefers comprehensive national meetings to fix the Palestinian situation, mainly to end the division and achieve national reconciliation.” He added, “It is better to include all parties in the Palestinian situation, as this would entrench future consensus.”

Kasem reiterated that achieving reconciliation is a strategic goal for Hamas. He said that his movement has done its best to reach this end and will not let the question of a meeting place be an obstacle.

Political analyst Talal Okal, who writes for Al-Ayam newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “The new round of dialogue will most likely be held in Doha rather than Cairo. Abbas and Fatah want to tell the Arab Quartet that its ongoing pressure for reconciliation with Dahlan will push Abbas toward reconciliation with Hamas, and Qatar will broker this deal instead of Egypt.”

He noted that the Quartet, specifically Egypt, believes it is important to unite Fatah’s ranks and achieve reconciliation between Abbas and Dahlan first, and between Fatah and Hamas second, and then hold a comprehensive meeting for all the Palestinian factions. He expects some progress to be made in the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation at the upcoming meeting in Doha.

Palestinian author and political analyst Akram Atallah told Al-Monitor that the Palestinians should beware of falling into the trap of distributing roles among Arab capitals, saying that Palestinians couldn’t bear the repercussions of such a scenario. He was referring to the Palestinian leadership moving from one country to another while working to arrange Palestinians affairs.

Atallah and Okal agreed that Abbas wanted to send a message to the Arab Quartet by agreeing to another round of negotiations with Hamas in Qatar. It appears that Abbas wants them to back off on their pressure and demands to mend ties with Dahlan. Atallah described the upcoming dialogue in Doha as a maneuver rather than reconciliation.

With Fatah’s seventh conference looming on the horizon at the end of 2016 or early 2017, Abbas and Fatah's options remain limited in the foggy internal Palestinian situation and the Arab Quartet’s preoccupation with its domestic and foreign disputes. Egypt itself is currently plagued with economic and security problems, and Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are preoccupied with the war in Yemen.

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