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Will Turkey rid Abbas of Dahlan before Palestinian elections?

The Turkish Ministry of Interior announced that it would include the dismissed leader of the Fatah movement, Mohammed Dahlan, on the list of most-wanted terrorists, which observers see as a golden opportunity for Abbas to rid of his rival before the elections.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Turkish Ministry of Interior announced Nov. 22 that it will include the dismissed leader of the Fatah movement, Mohammed Dahlan, on its most-wanted terrorists list. The ministry offered a $700,000 bounty to anyone who provides information leading to his arrest.

Dahlan, who is currently residing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is the political opponent of President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has been trying to issue a Red Notice against Dahlan through Interpol. It was turned down twice: on Sept. 27, 2017, and most recently on May 21. Interpol justified its rejection saying that the PA’s request is inconsistent with its laws prohibiting interference in matters of a political nature.

Dahlan was dismissed from Fatah in 2011, on Abbas' orders, on charges of “delinquency,” i.e., having other allegiances. Abbas also accuses Dahlan of collaborating with Israel and taking part in the assassination of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Dahlan denies all these accusations.

Turkey, for its part, accuses Dahlan of being a mercenary working for the UAE and of participating in the 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Nov. 22, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet described Dahlan as "the prince of darkness.”

On his Facebook page, Dahlan responded, “I propose to Erdogan to pay the $700,000 to a psychiatrist, after the collapse of his dreams and ambitions in the Arab region.”

Moin Naim, a writer and political analyst based in Turkey and specializing in Turkish affairs, told Al-Monitor that Turkey justified listing Dahlan on its terrorist list by invoking his alleged role in the military coup that took place in July 2016. But he believes that there are deeper reasons. “The coup is old news,” he said.

“Ankara believes Dahlan is the arm of the UAE and is linked to the counterrevolution in the region that Turkey sees as against its political interests,” he argued. “This is why Turkey is trying to tighten the noose on Dahlan. It wants to weaken the arm of the UAE.”

Naim continued, “This appeals to the PA, which fears Dahlan's competition in the upcoming Palestinian elections.” 

Mahmoud Salah al-Din, director of the Interpol national office in Palestine, refused to comment on the issue. He told Al-Monitor there is no information that can be provided about this file.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Fatah leader told Al-Monitor that the issue of Dahlan is very intriguing to Abbas, who seeks to erase all traces related to Dahlan within Fatah. He noted that the Turkish judicial procedures to arrest Dahlan would be a “gift to the PA.”

“The Turkish step may encourage the PA to submit a third application for a Red Notice against Dahlan, in addition to the possibility of opening channels of cooperation between the Palestinian and Turkish security in his regard,” he said.

He noted that the Palestinian security services might provide the necessary assistance to Turkey upon Abbas' instructions, in an attempt to oust Dahlan from the Palestinian political scene and minimize his influence before the expected legislative and presidential elections. “This is especially true since one of the reasons for delaying these elections is Dahlan and his political ambitions,” he added.

Imad Mohsen, spokesman for Dahlan's Democratic Reformist Current (DRC), told Al-Monitor that he does not rule out the possibility of the PA exploiting the Turkish announcement. “The PA is on the lookout for every action that could lead to the exclusion of its political opponents,” he said. 

He explained that the current Turkish leadership, run by Erdogan, entered the Palestinian internal political scene as a party to the conflict by supporting the PA and going after Abbas’ rival Dahlan. “Turkey is no longer a mere country supportive of the Palestinian cause. The Turkish accusations of Dahlan are political and leveled ahead of the Palestinian elections,” he added.

Meanwhile, Palestinians are awaiting the issuance by Abbas of the presidential decree to set the date for the upcoming presidential and legislative elections. All Palestinian factions have expressed approval on these elections, including Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

At the opening of the first international conference of the Anti-Corruption Commission on Dec. 9, Abbas said, “We will go to elections after all the factions have agreed to it.” He did not set the issuance date for the decree.

But Mohsen ruled out any impact of Ankara’s step on the Palestinian elections. “Our people know who are the individuals working to ensure political partnership,” he noted. 

In the same vein, writer and political analyst Mustafa al-Sawaf does not believe the Turkish step would undermine the DRC in the Gaza Strip. “Turkey has signs and indications that Dahlan was part of the 2016 coup d'etat,” he told Al-Monitor. “The Turkish announcement is a valuable opportunity for the PA to reapply to Interpol to arrest Dahlan, especially in light of the great enmity between him and Abbas.”

Sawaf does not believe the Turkish step would affect the relationship between Dahlan and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where Dahlan runs political and social activities. He pointed out that the visit of Ismail Haniyeh, head of the political bureau of Hamas, to Turkey on Dec. 8 is the best proof.

Haniyeh is visiting Turkey at the head of a Hamas delegation as part of a tour that includes Malaysia, Russia, Qatar, Lebanon, Mauritania and Kuwait. This is Haniyeh's first international tour abroad since he took over the presidency of the Hamas political bureau.

“Ankara will develop its relationship with Hamas, not the other way around, and will not allow this relationship to be affected by Dahlan's issue,” Sawaf said.

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