Earlier this year, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas instituted a series of punishing sanctions on the Gaza Strip aimed at weakening Hamas’s hold on the territory. Instead of bringing Gaza under his control, however, the sanctions have driven it straight into the hands of a rival: the UAE and Egyptian-backed Mohammad Dahlan.
In July, Dahlan, a former Fatah leader and PA security chief in Gaza, reached a power-sharing agreement with Hamas. While this deal may bring immediate relief to Gaza’s long-suffering people, it will not solve the root causes of Gaza’s current situation.
Dahlan and Hamas make strange bedfellows. Dahlan rose to prominence as the head of Palestinian Preventative Security in Gaza in the 1990s. During that time, he was accused of imprisoning and torturing Hamas members. Following Hamas’s legislative election victory in 2006, Dahlan was chosen by Bush administration officials to launch a coup against the newly elected government. The coup attempt started a brief civil war between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza, which resulted in Hamas’s takeover of the territory.
Nevertheless, at this point, Dahlan’s relationship to Abbas is even more fraught. In 2011, fearing Dahlan’s ambitions to replace him, Abbas expelled Dahlan from Fatah on charges of corruption. Prior to Fatah’s November 2016 conference, Abbas also purged Dahlan’s supporters from the party.
This has hardly slowed Dahlan down, however, thanks to his strong support from Egypt and the UAE and reportedly good relations with Israeli government officials. Seizing on Hamas’s increasing isolation due to Abbas’s sanctions and the ongoing Gulf Crisis, Dahlan has used the current Gaza crisis as an opportunity to return to the Palestinian political scene.
The Dahlan-Hamas deal promises an open border between Egypt and Gaza by late August and the construction of a new UAE-funded $100 million power plant. Given that Israel’s ongoing siege, compounded by Abbas’s Gaza sanctions, have created a critical electricity crisis and shortages of essential medical equipment, these projects would bring much-needed relief to Gaza’s suffering population.
But, Dahlan’s return does not solve the root causes of Gaza’s situation. While Israel and its blockade are most responsible for Gaza’s suffering, the situation has been profoundly worsened by the political division between Fatah and Hamas. According to a recent survey of Palestinian leaders from various fields conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, national political division is seen as a “massive barrier to fulfilling Palestinian aspirations.”
This division means that there is no single representative Palestinian political entity, which facilitates Israeli control of the occupied territories. Additionally, Hamas and Fatah appear far more concerned with silencing political opposition and maintaining power than advancing the Palestinian national cause.
The Dahlan deal only exacerbates this division. Rather than seeking reconciliation with Fatah, Hamas has chosen to maintain as much power as it can in Gaza. Abbas is equally at fault. Preferring to adopt Israel’s strategy of punishment for political gain, Abbas has been unwilling to compromise and has unwittingly pushed Gaza into the hands of his biggest rival. As a result, Palestinian national political reconciliation, and real respite for Gaza’s people, looks further away than ever.