by Barry Rubin
To see what's happening — and what's wrong — with Palestinian politics, consider Muhammad Dahlan. In him is embodied the ideological and strategic straitjacket, preventing Palestinians from making peace and getting a state of their own.
Dahlan, 48, is one of the two most able young Fatah leaders, the other being Marwan Barghouti. Dahlan, an architect of the first intifada in the late 1980s, became PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Yasir Arafat's favorite proteges. A decade later, however, Dahlan broke with Arafat because he thought his boss was letting Hamas get too strong. If Arafat had heeded him, Fatah and the PA would be far better off today.
For many years, Dahlan was the key PA-Fatah "general" battling Hamas in the Gaza Strip. So when Hamas totally defeated Fatah in a 2007 coup and seized control there, Dahlan was responsible for the debacle. Now he's back as special advisor to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Aside from his anti-Hamas credentials, Dahlan has been considered a relative moderate on the peace process. But what does this mean in practice? Dahlan told al-Sharq al-Awsat that the second (2000-2005) intifada and terrorism against Israeli civilians harmed Palestinian interests. His critique, though, was based not on moral considerations but because such acts hurt the Palestinian image and made
He also complains that the uprising lacked a clear goal. Yet Dahlan never defines what that objective should have been. Here's the movement's fatal flaw. Neither he nor the PA nor Fatah tell Palestinians to accept
Next, Dahlan talks of his hatred for Hamas but not because it blocks any deal with
So what's his solution? Merely that Hamas and the PA unite. Yet, given what Dahlan says about Hamas, what possible joint strategy and activities could such a coalition pursue?
Clearly, peace with Hamas is more important for Dahlan than peace with
Indeed, Dahlan is ready to do anything to cooperate with Hamas, as long as it accepts the PA and Fatah as leading partner. He explains the PA won't ask Hamas to recognize
Why, then, has the PA agreed to accept
This attitude fits perfectly with the fact that even today the PA does nothing to prepare its people for peace and compromise. The claim that a Palestinian state should and will some day encompass all of
No wonder every poll shows overwhelming Palestinian support for armed attacks on Israeli civilians and little backing for a compromise peace that would end the conflict forever.
Of course, there won't be a Fatah-Hamas unity deal since Hamas won't give up control over the Gaza Strip and neither faction will accept the other's rule. But Dahlan is saying that on anything concerning
The idea that the world should encourage a PA-Hamas merger is one of many ridiculous notions connected to the fantasy that Palestinian leaders are ready for comprehensive peace with
The PA's current rulers tell the West (but not their own people): We want a two-state solution based on peace with
Dahlan and Barghouti have another viewpoint. They advocate armed struggle to force
This doesn't mean
There will never, however, be a comprehensive peace agreement ending the conflict as long as Hamas's motto is: "Today the Gaza Strip and today all of
If even Muhammad Dahlan can't go visibly further than that, any overall peace process is, unfortunately, a mirage.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.