Who is Mohammad Dahlan?
By Arjan El Fassed
The Electronic Intifada
20 December 2006
Some have called Mohammad Dahlan the Palestinian Ahmad
Chalabi, because he reportedly negotiated with the US and
Israel about taking control of Gaza after the August 2005
disengagement plan. In April 2002 testifying before the
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Defense
Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said he had offered control
of the Gaza Strip to Dahlan. In exchange, Dahlan, who had
control of the most significant military force on the Gaza
Strip, would be obligated to ensure complete quiet along
the border. He is believed to have drawn up an early
agreement at a January 1994 meeting in Rome with senior
Israeli military and Shin Bet officials to contain Hamas,
and was actively involved in subsequent negotiations with
Today, Dahlan has become the face of one side of Fatah as
violence increased between Hamas and Fatah. In the past
week he has made his way back into Palestinian Authority
president Mahmoud Abbas' inner circle. Last week, Hamas
accused Dahlan of planning an attempted assassination of
prime minister Ismail Haniya of the Hamas movement. Haniya
was returning from a Middle East tour which raised badly
needed funds for Palestinians under occupation, and
obtained a promise from the Syrian government to release
all Palestinians in its jails, when chaos ensued. The
situation at the Egypt-Gaza border crossing was tense as
it had not been open long enough for the thousands of
people waiting on both sides to pass. The Israelis closed
the border when Haniya first tried to enter as he was
bringing in funds, prohibited under the US-led economic
and political blockade imposed after Hamas won the
parliamentary elections in January.
Dahlan began a tour of Palestinian towns this week to
rally support for Fatah, but it was not a spectacular
success. On December 17, while Dahlan toured Jenin refugee
camp, gunmen fired in the air over his convoy, shouting at
him until he made a hasty exit. He blamed Hamas for
sparking the killing of three children in Gaza City and
said that Hamas "does not have any political program,
leaving the Palestinian people in the predicament they
have lived through since this government took
Meanwhile the United States has accelerated its arms
transfers to Fatah, via Israel. Dahlan is now in command
of the armed campaign against Hamas from presidential
headquarters in Ramallah.
Dahlan was a founding member of Shabiba, the youth
association of Fatah. In 1994, Dahlan headed the notorious
Preventive Security Forces in Gaza. He is known to have
good connections with the Egyptian leadership and the US
administration, through his connections with the CIA.
Dahlan built up a force of at least 20,000 men and
received help from CIA officials to train them. Jibril
Rajoub, another Fatah strongman, is Dahlan's sworn rival.
Dahlan and Rajoub were both jailed by Israel during the
first Intifada. Under Oslo they became heads of the
Preventive Security Services in Gaza and the West Bank
respectively. At that time they were both viewed as
pragmatists, representative of a new generation of
Palestinians who could live with Israel.
Both Dahlan and Rajoub were implicated in financial
scandals and human rights violations. Dahlan worked
together with Israeli authorities to crack down on
opposition groups, most notably Hamas, arresting thousands
of members. Dahlan was in command when his Preventive
Security Forces arbitrary arrest hundreds of Palestinians.
The first violent clashes between his forces and
demonstrators erupted on November 18, 1994.The toll of at
least fifteen dead and hundreds wounded raised troubling
questions about his troops.
Throughout the years, Dahlan's forces were involved in
acts of violence and intimidation against critics,
journalists and members of opposition groups, primarily
from Hamas, imprisoning them without formal charges for
weeks or months at a time. A number of prisoners died
under suspicious circumstances during or after
interrogation by Dahlan's forces.
In 1996, Dahlan's troops were involved in mass arbitrary
arrests of opponents of Fatah. In the aftermath of the
February-March suicide bombings in Israel, an estimated
2,000 people were rounded up, often arbitrarily. Most of
those detained were never charged with a criminal offense
or put on trial. Torture and ill-treatment by his forces
occurred regularly during interrogation and led to a
number of deaths.
In 2000, Dahlan participated in the Camp David
negotiations and Israeli leaders saw him as someone they
could do business with. As head of one of the main
Palestinian security organisations, Mr Dahlan also
negotiated with Israeli officials to try to arrange a
ceasefire several times after the most recent Intifada
erupted in September 2000. With the beginning of the
second intifada, Dahlan claimed that he was unable to stop
the activities of such militant groups as Hamas.
In 2001 he angered the late Palestinian president Yasir
Arafat by expressing his dissatisfaction over the lack of
a coherent policy during the current uprising. Dahlan
resigned in June 2002 over disagreements with Arafat to
reform the Palestinian Authority. He attempted to gather
support for an electoral challenge to Arafat, but stopped,
when the Bush administration demanded a change in PA
leadership in July of the same year. Before his
resignation from the PA in June 2002, Dahlan was a
frequent member on negotiating teams for security issues.
In March and April 2002, Dahlan was one of the "Gang of
Five" who lead the PA during the siege of Arafat's
headquarters in Ramallah. Although Arafat retained power
and named Dahlan as National Security Advisor in July
2002, Dahlan resigned three months later complaining of
lack of authority and organization in the Palestinian
Authority. Against Arafat's wishes, Mahmoud Abbas, then
serving as prime minister, appointed Dahlan as Interior
Minister, but when Abbas resigned, Dahlan was left outside
the newly formed cabinet.
After being left out of the new Palestinian Authority
cabinet, Dahlan began gathering support from low-level
Fatah officials and former Preventive Security Service
officers in response to a perceived lack of democratic
reforms among Fatah leaders.
In 2004, Dahlan was the driving force behind week-long
unrests in Gaza following the appointment of Yasser
Arafat's nephew Mousa Arafat, widely accused of
corruption, as head of Gaza police forces. Some thought
this appointmnt was a deliberate step to weaken Dahlan's
position before the disengagement process in the Gaza
Strip and sparked massive protests.
Dahlan returned to the political forefront and security
arena this week. He appeared in a meeting with US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jericho, and
meetings with the European Union's Javier Solana and the
German Foreign Affairs Minister. It seems that for
whatever reason, world leaders think Dahlan is the right
person for them to deal with.
Arjan El Fassed is a cofounder of The Electronic Intifada
 Ha'aretz, Gideon Alon (30 Apr 2002)
 Middle East International, 520.
 Annual reports of Palestinian Independent Commission
for Citizens' Rights (PICCR); various reports from
Addameer, PCHR and LAW; Palestinian Self-Rule Areas: Human
Rights under the Palestinian Authority, Human Rights Watch
(September 1997); Annual reports Amnesty International and
Human Rights Watch (1994, 1995, 1996).