Since his appearance on the Palestinian political scene in the early 1990s, Americans liked Mohammed Dahlan. This was due to the fact that Dahlan was able to come to an understanding with Israelis, including one state solution, detesting any type of Islamists, and mostly for having a compatible agenda with that of the US in the Middle East and North Africa. From his alleged relations with the CIA, primarily with former CIA official Whitely Bruner to the Trump administration, Dahlan has been favored by consecutive American Presidents, with the exception of Barack Obama, who leaned on Abbas in his bid to balance Netanyahu.
“[Dahlan] is our boy.”
George W. Bush
During his exile in Tunisia, Dahlan caught the attention of the Americans. Allegedly, it was first Whitely Bruner, a former CIA official who was also active in combatting al-Qaida, who approached Dahlan to recruit him. It is not clear whether he meant Dahlan but in one of his later statements, he said “some of our first really good information on [Osama] bin Laden in Sudan” in the early 1990s “came from Palestinian sources.” Further praising these anonymous Palestinians, he added “Palestinians are embedded all over the place, so they have access to things that the US doesn’t.” A Palestinian journalist Mohamed Dalbah claimed that Dahlan was spying on his fellows when he was in Israeli prison. His cooperation with Israel helped him to contact CIA, which, allegedly recruited Dahlan and another prominent Palestinian figure, Jibril Rajoub. This recruitment, in his opponents’ view, paved the way for his participation in the Oslo meetings in 1993.
Whether it is a conspiracy or truth, it is evident that Dahlan established warm relations with Americans. Former US President Bill Clinton described Dahlan in his book, as “one of the most forward-leaning” Palestinians but failed to bring his “leaders on board.” He also stated that they, the Americans, believed that Dahlan wanted a deal with Israelis during the US-brokered talks in 2000. Dahlan was one of the Palestinian representatives at the White House.
“Palestinians are embedded all over the place, so they have access to things that the US doesn’t.”
The Bush administration was equally pleased with his role as the Head of Security in Gaza and Interior Minister of the Palestinian Authority respectively. For instance, the US envoy enjoyed his role in facilitating Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, trusting him for providing necessary security measures.
Describing him as “our boy,” George W. Bush also liked Dahlan. So much so that his administration exerted pressure on Mahmoud Abbas to appoint Dahlan as his deputy in 2007 before the civil war broke out in Gaza. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed Dahlan and his armed group, Palestinian Preventive Security. This helped him turn Gaza into Dahlanistan by forcefully ousting Hamas, which had won the elections in 2006.
However, this did not necessarily make Dahlan a US tool as widely claimed in the Arab media. For instance, in 2005, during Brookings Institute organized US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Dahlan began his speech with extolling the US, saying that Washington’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was undeniably important. He also requested “an essential international intervention led by the United States, which will exert efforts to bring an international solidarity to combat terrorism and to help the process of peace.” Thus, decades before the so-called Deal of Century was signed, Dahlan was in favor of US-led intervention. Yet, he was not totally subservient. He censured US policy towards the conflict, saying that “I feel that the American administration has had no strategy for the management of a political process or to bring about peace between us and the Israelis.”
His criticism towards the US policy intensified during the Obama era. Dahlan could not develop warm relations with Barack Obama, mainly because of Obama’s reluctance on maintaining peace efforts despite Israel’s violation of UN resolutions. Obama focused his efforts to disdain Israel’s former Prime Minister, Netanyahu. Dahlan severely criticized Obama, saying that he made “no real efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.” He was also unhappy with Obama’s warm reception of Abbas in the White House.
“Dahlan is one of the most forward leaning Palestinians.”
Probably, Donald Trump has been the first American president with most similar ideas on the Palestine-Israel conflict to that of Dahlan, who did not go unnoticed by the Trump administration. He met former US Peace Envoy Jason Greenblatt in Abu Dhabi. He later met with him one more time virtually. His support for the Trump peace plan pleased the Americans, who were fed up with Abbas’ resistance. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told Israel’s Israel Hayom daily that Washington was considering Dahlan as a replacement for Abbas. Later on, the newspaper claimed that the ambassador was misquoted. Still, there were rumors that the US wanted to send a message to Abbas by this puzzling quote due to his resistance against the Deal of the Century.
There were conflicting reports about Dahlan’s role or approach to the Deal. On the one hand, he has been presented as one of the staunch supporters and even architects of the Deal. Which would pave the way for Israel-Arab normalization, and significantly contribute to his presidency bid. On the other hand, Dahlan has sent a different signal to the Russian side, calling the Deal “a disaster.” His main rejection was the two-state solution as he has long been defending the one-state solution, namely unifying Israelis and Palestinians as equal citizens of the same state. In an interview with Russia Today in 2018, he said “the ‘Deal of the Century’ that the Americans speak of as a solution to the Palestinian problem is a total disaster. I [also] do not see the two-state solution happening. That is why I come with a new proposal: to establish one state, where Palestinians can run their lives without being dependent on Israel.” Meanwhile, the Americans were confused with Dahlan’s contradicting messages. Yet, Dahlan toughened the tone, describing the Deal as “the most dangerous issue that faces the Palestinians.” This would obviously be related to Palestine’s internal politics and one of Dahlan’s another attempts to weaken Abbas.
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