The Palestinians: Possible Coup?
Until recently, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas used to claim that Hamas was plotting to overthrow his government in the West Bank. Abbas's claim was aimed at justifying the massive crackdown that his security forces have been waging against Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
But in recent weeks Abbas's top aides have also begun talking about another threat to his government – this time from some Fatah leaders.
According to the aides, one of these Fatah leaders, Mohammed Dahlan, has been plotting to topple the Palestinian president. Dahlan is a former security commander who was thrown out of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Ironically, Hamas claimed then that it had to launch a pre-emptive coup in the Gaza Strip after noticing that Dahlan, with the help of Americans and Europeans, was conspiring to overthrow its government.
Dahlan and dozens of his supporters have since moved to live in the West Bank.
Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah claim that the overly-ambitious Dahlan has recently been plotting to replace Abbas as president – a charge dismissed by Dahlan as a "joke."
Dahlan's associates say that Abbas is obviously suffering from severe paranoia because of his belief that too many parties are planning to topple him. They note that similar charges have also been leveled against other senior Fatah officials, including Nasser al-Qudwa, a nephew of Yasser Arafat, and Ahmed Qurei, a former prime minister and veteran Fatah operative.
All three Fatah leaders have reportedly been targeted by Abbas for daring to criticize him and his policies in closed and public forums. The three have been punished in different ways by the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.
Qurei has been stripped of his VIP card, denying him even the privilege of travelling to Jordan in his private vehicle; after that, Abbas's aides announced that a special commission had launched an inquiry into charges of financial corruption.
Al-Qudwa, a former foreign minister, has been accused by Abbas's aides of working to undermine the Palestinian leadership by projecting himself as a "natural successor" to the president. After that, Abbas's office published an article in the official Wafa news agency strongly condemning al-Qudwa.
But most of the heat has thus far been directed against Dahlan. Abbas first ordered his security forces to assign only two policemen -- instead of four -- to guard Dahlan's private residence in Ramallah. The decision has been interpreted as an attempt to humiliate the former security commander.
After that, Abbas ordered the closure of a private TV station in Ramallah that is believed to be owned by Dahlan. All 35 employees working for the station, Falasteen al-Ghad [Palestine Tomorrow] were ordered to leave the offices of the station.
Abbas's aides now claim that Dahlan, like Qurei, is also facing charges of financial corruption.
The infighting in Abbas's ruling Fatah faction shows that the real threat to his authority is no longer Hamas but a growing number of disgruntled officials surrounding him. If anything, the charges made by Abbas's aides are a sign that the Palestinian president is under immense pressure.
Some Palestinians are convinced that the allegations coming out of Abbas's office are exaggerated with the purpose of winning international support. The message that Abbas is trying to send to the world is: I need your moral and financial support because everyone, from Hamas to Fatah, is now against me.
It now appears that the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East is no longer the construction in the settlements, but the threats facing Abbas at home.
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"If Hamas does not like you for any reason all they have to do now is say you are a Mossad agent and kill you." — A., a Fatah member in Gaza.
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"Hamas imposed a curfew: anyone walking out in the street was shot. That way people had to stay in their homes, even if they were about to get bombed. Hamas held the whole Gazan population as a human shield." — K., graduate student
"The Israeli army allows supplies to come in and Hamas steals them. It seems even the Israelis care for us more than Hamas." — E., first-aid volunteer.
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