Why Did Fatah Expell Its Number-One Anti-Hamas Guy?

By Barry Rubin

Muhammad Dahlan has been expelled from Fatah by that group’s Central Committee, which also decided to have the Palestinian Authority (PA) prosecute him for corruption and murder, by a vote of 13 to 0 with six abstentions. Strange, I don’t remember anyone else being treated like this for a very long time. Why is this happening now and what does it tell us?

Dahlan was once Yasir Arafat’s protégé, practically the only post-1967 Gaza/West Bank Palestinian with any real influence on the PLO’s leadership in the 1980s. When the PA was formed, Dahlan became head of Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip with the difficult job of keeping Hamas in line. He genuinely tried to do that job but was often held back by PLO/PA/Fatah leader Yasir Arafat. Reportedly, Dahlan warned Arafat that if Hamas weren’t suppressed it would eventually challenge Fatah for power. Arafat didn’t listen to him.

Eventually, Dahlan broke with Arafat over this issue. He eventually worked his way back into power as the post-Arafat Fatah/PA strongman in the Gaza Strip. There were times that Dahlan seemed a possible candidate for future leadership; there were times when Dahlan seemed relatively dovish toward Israel in the spectrum of PA/Fatah opinion. According to good sources, Dahlan was one of those who thought the PA should have accepted a deal with Israel after the 2000 Camp David meeting instead of rejecting it entirely, as Arafat did.

His career crashed catastrophically when Hamas staged a 2007 coup in the Gaza Strip and easily defeated the Fatah forces that Dahlan was responsible for organizing and leading. Dahlan was understandably judged to have failed and was in the doghouse for some time before working his way back into favor. He was PA minister of internal security and was elected to the Fatah Central Committee—a very high honor—in 2009.

Why has Dahlan suddenly fallen so fast and so far? He is accused of corruption, but if that was the standard held to by Fatah its leadership would be meeting in a Volkswagen bug. Not the autombile. An actual bug in the shape of a Volkswagen. It is also said that he was setting up a private militia and tried to assassinate another Fatah official. Like he was the first one to do that!

This is all hard to believe as the reason for his fall. Most likely, there is something else and something more important at that: Dahlan hates Hamas and Hamas hates him. It is reasonable to think that he is being forced out because he opposes Fatah’s cooperation with Hamas. Dahlan believes that in any such deal Fatah will eventually be the loser and Hamas will take over the PA. I think he’s right. With all of his faults and failures, throwing Dahlan out of Fatah is one more step to that group’s decline.

Incidentally, nobody has ever been kicked out of Fatah for advocating, ordering, organizing, or participating in a bloody terrorist attack against Israeli civilians. Nor has anyone ever been thrown out for incitement or breaking the group's commitments in the "peace process." Indeed, Fatah leaders maintain that they have no such commitments since all the agreements were actually made by the PLO or PA.