By Danny Rubinstein* for I24news –

The Palestinian Authority has been rocked by internal power struggles in recent weeks, only a few of which have been publicly exposed. The most significant public expression of this turmoil was a report in recent days that Yasser Abd Rabbo, one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders who served as secretary general of the PLO’s executive committee, had been dismissed by President Mahmoud Abbas and stripped of all his powers. The ouster of Abd Rabbo, once a confidante of PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s, stems from his ties with Mohamed Dahlan, a bitter rival of Abbas, and with Salam Fayyad, who served as prime minister until two years ago. Dahlan was removed from the Fatah movement and fled from Ramallah about three and a-half years.

These three are said to have formed a kind of triumvirate aimed at deposing Abbas and taking his place. They recently met in the Emirates, where Dahlan has connections and influence, and again in Cairo ten days ago.

Abbas, now 82, has no clear successor. There are also no obvious candidates within the ruling Fatah party to fill the three positions held by Abbas: Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Chairman of the PLO and head of the Fatah movement.

These are first and foremost power struggles for succession – and Israel is very possibly involved in them. Journalists in Ramallah believe it to be no coincidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently attacked Abbas over and over, accusing him of inciting terrorist attacks, and that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman repeatedly calls him a terrorist. Anyone looking for hidden conspiracies – and there are many such people in Ramallah – might well assume that the government of Israel is part of attempts to get rid of Abbas and replace him with the trio Dahlan, Fayyad and Rabbo.

What kind of power do these three have? The most prominent among them is Dahlan, who headed the security services in Gaza and was a minister in the Palestinian government until he was accused of corruption and of conspiring to overthrow Abbas. In recent years he has been living in the Gulf and in Cairo. Dahlan has published a long list of allegations against Abbas, especially focusing on corruption, and has accumulated power in recent years as security consultant to General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Egypt and to the Emirates in their fight against Islamic terrorist groups. There is no doubt that he is also a successful businessman who has accumulated a lot of money, and has for years been considered a protegee of US intelligence agencies.

Dahlan also has a network of connections and influence in the West Bank and Gaza. Most surprising of all were the recent news that he reconciled with the Hamas leadership in Gaza, against which he conducted a brutal war in 2006-2007. Dahlan was defeated and the PLO was expelled from Gaza, and was for years considered the most bitter rival of Hamas. But a Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament, Yahya Moussa, recently said in Gaza that there are no more problems with Dahlan. It is quite possible that the rivalry between Hamas and Abbas brought about the reconciliation with Dahlan. After all, there is no better political connection than a common enemy.

Mohamad Dahlan in Ramallah, West Bank
Mohamad Dahlan in Ramallah, West Bank

If Dahlan has a suspected connection with American authorities, things are much clearer with Salam Fayyad. Fayyad studied and lived for many years in the United States, and is considered close to many leading public and economic figures there. American spokesmen often expressed satisfaction with his performance as prime minister and the reforms conducted by the Palestinian government under his leadership. His political positions are considered moderate. The tensions between him and Abbas in Ramallah have long been known. Abbas suspects (probably correctly) that Fayyad would like to succeed him. This was clearly reflected in the extensive public relations campaigns that Fayyad conducted when he served as prime minister.

In contrast to Dahlan and Fayyad, who were excluded in the past two-three years from official positions in the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Abed Rabbo, the third man, held his senior posts until Abbas threw him out now.

Beyond the struggles of succession and power, it is clear that Israel and the United States feel more comfortable with the positions and connections of the trio than with those of Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is striving for a diplomatic confrontation with Israel. However, one can say for certain, that in the current political climate there are no prospects that Abbas, or those aspiring to succeed him, can reach an agreement of stability and peace with Israel.

*Danny Rubinstein lectures on Arab issues at Ben Gurion University and Hebrew University, and is a columnist on Palestinian economic issues at Calcalist.

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