[News] Palestinian Pinochet Making His Move?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 22 11:22:36 EDT 2007

Palestinian Pinochet Making His Move?
Tony Karon, The Electronic Intifada, 21 May 2007


Mohammed Dahlan speaks during a Fatah rally at the Casablanca Hotel 
in the West Bank town of Ramallah, 15 January 2006. (Mushir 

There's something a little misleading in the media reports that 
routinely describe the fighting in Gaza as pitting Hamas against 
Fatah forces or security personnel "loyal to President Mahmoud 
Abbas." That characterization suggests somehow that this catastrophic 
civil war that has killed approximately 50 Palestinians during the 
past week is a showdown between Abbas and the Hamas leadership -- 
which simply isn't true, although such a showdown would certainly 
conform to the desires of those running the White House Middle East policy.

The Fatah gunmen who are reported to have initiated the breakdown of 
the Palestinian unity government and provoked the latest fighting may 
profess fealty to President Abbas, but it's not from him that they 
get their orders. The leader to whom they answer is Mohammed Dahlan, 
the Gaza warlord who has long been Washington's anointed favorite to 
play the role of a Palestinian Pinochet. And while Dahlan is formally 
subordinate to Abbas, whom he supposedly serves as National Security 
Adviser, nobody believes that Dahlan answers to Abbas -- in fact, it 
was suggested at the time that Abbas appointed Dahlan only under 
pressure from Washington, which was irked by the Palestinian 
Authority president's decision to join a unity government with Hamas.

If Dahlan takes orders from anyone at all, it's certainly not from 
Abbas. Abbas has long recognized the democratic legitimacy and 
popularity of Hamas, and embraced the reality that no peace process 
is possible unless the Islamists are given the place in the 
Palestinian power structure that their popular support necessitates. 
He has always favored negotiation and cooperation with Hamas -- much 
to the exasperation of the Bush Administration, and also of the Fatah 
warlords whose power of patronage was threatened by the Hamas 
election victory -- and could see the logic of the unity government 
proposed by the Saudis even when Washington couldn't. Indeed, as the 
indispensable Robert Malley and Hussein Agha note, nothing has hurt 
Abbas's political standing as much as the misguided efforts of 
Washington to boost his standing in the hope of undermining the 
elected Hamas government.

Needless to say, only an Administration as deluded about its ability 
to reorder Arab political realities in line with its own fantasies -- 
and also, frankly, as utterly contemptuous of Arab life and of Arab 
democracy, empty sloganizing notwithstanding -- as the current one 
has proved to be could imagine that the Palestinians could be 
starved, battered and manipulated into choosing a Washington-approved 
political leadership. Yet, that's exactly what the U.S. has attempted 
to do ever since Hamas won the last Palestinian election, imposing a 
financial and economic choke hold on an already distressed 
population, pouring money and arms into the forces under Dahlan's 
control, and eventually adapting itself to funnel monies only through 
Abbas, as if casting in him in the role of a kind of 
Quisling-provider would somehow burnish his appeal among Palestinian 
voters. (As I said, their contempt for Arab intelligence knows no bounds.)

Palestinian civilians and militants from Fatah demonstrate in support 
of Mohammed Dahlan, Fateh PLC member, near his house in Gaza City, 16 
December 2006. The previous day, Hamas accused Dahlan of being behind 
the shooting at Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as he arrived from 
Egypt to Rafah two days beforehand. (Hatem 

But while the hapless Abbas is little more than a reluctant passenger 
in Washington's strategy -- and will, I still believe, repair to his 
former exile lodgings in Qatar in the not too distant future -- 
Mohammed Dahlan is its point man, the warlord who commands the troops 
and who has been spoiling for a fight with Hamas since they had the 
temerity to trounce his organization at the polls on home turf.

Dahlan's ambitions clearly coincided with plans drawn up by White 
House Middle East policy chief, Elliot Abrams -- a veteran of the 
Reagan Administration's Central American dirty wars -- to arm and 
train Fatah loyalists to prepare them to topple the Hamas government. 
If Mahmoud Abbas has been reluctant to embrace the confrontational 
policy promoted by the White House, Dahlan has no such qualms. And 
given that Abbas has no political base of his own, he is dependent 
entirely on Washington and Dahlan.

Seeing the disastrous implications of the U.S. policy, the Saudis 
appeared to have put the kibosh on Abrams' coup plan by drawing Abbas 
into a unity government with Hamas. And as Mark Perry at Conflict 
Forum detailed in an excellent analysis Dahlan was just about the 
only thing that the U.S. had going for it in terms of resisting the 
move towards a unity government. Although his fretting and sulking in 
Mecca couldn't prevent the deal, the U.S. appears to have helped him 
fight back afterwards by ensuring that he was appointed national 
security adviser, a move calculated to provoke Hamas, whose leaders 
tend to view Dahlan as little more than a torturer and a de facto 
enforcer for Israel.

But Dahlan appears to have made his move when it came to integrating 
the Palestinian Authority security forces (currently dominated by 
Fatah) by drawing in Hamas fighters and subjecting the forces to the 
control of a politically neutral interior minister. Dahlan simply 
refused, and set off the current confrontations by ordering his men 
out onto the street last weekend without any authorization from the 
government of which he is supposedly a part.

The new provocation appears consistent with a revised U.S. plan, 
reported on by Mark Perry and Paul Woodward, that emphasized the 
urgency of toppling the unity government. They suggest the plan 
emanates from Abrams, who they say is operating at cross purposes 
with Condi Rice's efforts to appease the Arab moderate regimes by 
reviving some form of peace process. They note, for example, that 
Jewish American sources have told the Forward and Haaretz that Abrams 
recently briefed Jewish Republicans and made clear to them that 
Rice's efforts were merely a symbolic exercise aimed at showing Arab 
allies that the U.S. was "doing something," but that President Bush 
would ensure that nothing would come of them, in the sense that 
Israel would not be required to make any concessions.

Whatever the precise breakdown within the Bush Administration, it's 
plain that Dahlan, like Pinochet a quarter century ago, would not 
move onto a path of confrontation with an elected government unless 
he believed he had the sanction of powerful forces abroad to do so. 
If he does move to turn the current street battle into a frontal 
assault on the unity government, chances are it will be because he 
got a green light from somewhere -- and certainly not from Mahmoud Abbas.

But the confrontation under way has assumed a momentum of its own, 
and it may now be beyond the capability of the Palestinian leadership 
as a whole to contain it. If that proves true, the petulance that has 
substituted for policy in the Bush Administration's response to the 
2006 Palestinian election will have succeeded in turning Gaza into 
Mogadishu. But it may be too much to expect the Administration 
capable of anything different -- after all, they're still busy 
turning Mogadishu into Mogadishu all over again.

Tony Karon's blog is <http://tonykaron.com/>Rootless Cosmopolitan, 
where this analysis was originally published.

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