Hamas made a breakthrough in its relationship with dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan after a delegation, led by Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, met with him during a nine-day visit to Cairo that began June 4.
Although the meetings were secret, Samir Masharawi, a close associate of Dahlan, revealed June 13 that the latter, along with Majed Abu Shamala and Suleiman Abu Mutlaq, leaders of the Fatah Democratic Reformist Current, held four meetings with the Hamas delegation in Egypt, without specifying the exact dates. They reportedly discussed the conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that are deteriorating as a result of power cuts and the closure of the Rafah crossing, and tackled the reconstruction of Gaza.
On June 15, Rai al-Youm reported that Sinwar held four meetings with Dahlan in Cairo under the supervision of Egyptian intelligence chief Khaled Fawzy, noting that Sinwar was accompanied by Rawhi Mushtaha, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, and Maj. Gen. Tawfiq Abu Naim, the head of the security forces in Gaza.
Hamas remained silent and neither confirmed nor denied meeting with Dahlan, which raised questions about its secrecy. Did Sinwar meet Dahlan personally, or were the meetings attended by lower-ranking officials from both sides? Have they reached any agreement?
Al-Monitor contacted Hamas leaders at home and abroad to obtain clear and specific information about the meetings but none of them provided a clear answer, for no specific reason.
Ahmed Yousef, a former political adviser to the head of Hamas’ political bureau Ismail Haniyeh, who had met with Dahlan on several occasions in Palestine and abroad, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas’ ideology is based on members listening carefully to the leadership and abiding by its orders, regardless of whether or not they agree on rapprochement with Dahlan. However, Hamas is embarrassed to publicly announce getting closer to Dahlan because it had previously accused him of serious violations and it thus fears a rapprochement. This is why it is unsure how to promote Dahlan within the movement, although the leadership might perceive him as the one who will help the Gaza Strip overcome the deteriorating living conditions.”
A few days after the leaks, the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, said June 18 that the movement met with close associates of Dahlan and does not mind his return to Gaza, but he did not mention any meeting with Dahlan personally.
For his part, Fatah leader Sufian Abu Zaida revealed June 23 that Masharawi will soon visit Gaza, followed by Dahlan.
Imad Mohsen, a media spokesman for Dahlan's Democratic Reformist Current, told Al-Monitor, “Although Dahlan is extending a helping hand to Hamas to improve Gaza's living conditions, the movement's reluctance to reveal to its members what happened is due to Hamas inciting against him in the previous years. However, the movement is — albeit slowly — convincing its members of getting closer to Dahlan. We understand the situation and we see Hamas’ embarrassment as an opportunity for it to stop accusing us of treason. We have different political views; we are opponents, but not enemies.”
Dahlan provides humanitarian and financial assistance to poor families in Gaza. In February, he gave 185 outstanding university students a $500 grant each and donated $10,000 for the Gaza Sports Club. In addition, the National Islamic Committee for Social Solidarity that is affiliated with the United Arab Emirates has been providing regular financial assistance to Palestinians in Gaza. The committee, established in 2014, is supervised by Dahlan’s Democratic Reformist Current and represents all Palestinian factions, including Hamas,
While Dahlan spoke positively to Al-Monitor about Sinwar at the beginning of April, some Hamas supporters backed rapprochement with Dahlan while others opposed it, warning of a civil war between the Palestinians.
Hamas' silence may be due to its history with Dahlan, especially the armed clashes it waged with his supporters before it took over Gaza in 2007. In addition, Dahlan has close ties with Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have expressed hostility toward Hamas. Thus, a Hamas-Dahlan rapprochement could harm the movement’s relationship with Qatar and Turkey, which are also hostile to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.
Hani al-Masri, the head of the Palestinian Center for Policy Research & Strategic Studies - Masarat, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas and Dahlan were somewhat forced to come together in light of their growing rivalry against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas was left with no choice in light of Abbas' measures against Gaza, and Dahlan can only get closer to Hamas to overcome the bitterness of the dismissal of his supporters from the Fatah movement during its seventh general conference in Ramallah back in November 2016.”
On June 19, Azzam al-Tamimi, the head of the London-based Al-Hiwar TV channel that is close to Hamas, warned of a nationally rejected rapprochement with Dahlan. In a TV interview on Al-Hiwar June 19, he described this rapprochement as a big mistake and political suicide for Hamas.
Meanwhile, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Hamas’ rapprochement with Dahlan is suicide. It is well aware of his close security connections with Israel and anti-Hamas regional countries, particularly Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Hamas will soon realize that instead of providing the movement with a lifeline, Dahlan is pushing it under.”
Gaza's undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ghazi Hamad, who is in contact with Dahlan, told Al-Monitor, “It was not easy for Hamas to take a step toward Dahlan. The movement was quite hesitant because he was responsible for the bloody clashes in 2007. He has close ties with Arab countries that have expressed hostility toward Hamas and he has played a regional role in inciting against political Islam. This is why, up until recently, Hamas believed rapprochement with Dahlan would not be the best move.”
On March 6, Mushir al-Masri, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for Hamas and a media spokesman for its parliamentary bloc, said that Dahlan's rivalry was not only with Hamas but with the Palestinian people, and that his criminal role against Hamas could not be forgotten.
Although Hamas is aware of Dahlan’s regional and international relations and regardless of the political rivalry between the two, the aggravating humanitarian disaster in Gaza may prompt the movement to turn a blind eye to the negative aspects of the rapprochement in order to overcome this harsh phase with as little damage as possible. Today, Hamas’ most important mission is to positively promote its connection with Dahlan within the movement as it believes he may use UAE funding to help improve the living situation in Gaza and ease the Israeli blockade on Gaza thanks to his close relations with Egypt and Israel.