Until recently, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan were close friends and political allies. Now the two men are engaged in a bitter dispute that is threatening to divide the ruling Fatah faction.
Hamas, of course, is the main party to benefit from this power struggle; its chances of taking over the Palestinian Authority have increased in wake of the infighting in Fatah.
The Abbas-Dahlan rivalry is a reminder the Fatah, the largest faction of the PLO, has not changed ever since it was established more than four decades ago.
The two men are now accusing one another of financial corruption and abuse of power.
Internal disputes and allegations of financial corruption and mismanagement are the main reasons why Fatah lost the parliamentary election to Hamas in 2006. The power struggle between Abbas and Dahlan shows that Fatah has still not drawn the conclusions from its defeat. Moreover, it shows that Fatah is still far from implementing major reforms and changes that could restore its credibility among a majority of Palestinians.
The crackdown on Dahlan should not be seen in the context of combating corruption in Fatah. This is a personal dispute between two leading figures in Fatah. It is a dispute over money and power, not reforms and better government
At the request of Abbas, Dahlan was expelled from Fatah on charges of embezzlement, murder and extortion. The allegations relate to the period when Dahlan was head of the notorious Preventative Security Force in the Gaza Strip between 1994 and 2002.
Last week Dahlan, who has been living in Egypt the past few years, arrived in Ramallah to appeal against the Fatah Central Committee's decision to expel him from the faction. After a two-day hearing, a Fatah "disciplinary court" turned down the appeal.
Hours later, Abbas sent a large force of policemen to raid Dahlan's villa on the outskirts of Ramallah. The security officers detained Dahlan's bodyguards, and confiscated their weapons and several armored vehicles.
In response, Dahlan packed his bags and fled to Jordan. As soon as he set foot in Amman, Dahlan denounced Abbas as a "dictator" and "bully."
According to Dahlan, the dispute with Abbas began after he demanded to know what happened to more than USD $1 Billion that the PA president had inherited from his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, in 2005.
Dahlan said that the large sum had been deposited in the bank account of the Palestinian Investment Fund, established in 2002.
No one knows what has happened to the money, and the Palestinian Authority leadership has refused to comment on Dahlan's allegations.
A senior aide to Abbas pointed out, however, that Dahlan should be the last person to talk about financial corruption. "This is a man who has made a fortune out of the peace process," the aide said. "Before the Oslo Accords, Dahlan was an ordinary Palestinian with a few hundred dollars in his pocket. Today he is one of the wealthiest Palestinians."
What is noteworthy is that a few days after Dahlan's accusations, the Palestinian government suddenly announced that it would pay its 150,000 civil servants their full salaries. Just last month, the Palestinian government in the West Bank had said it would pay onlyhalf-salaries to its employees as it was facing a severe financial crisis resulting from the failure of Western and Arab donors to meet their financial pledges.
Why did Abbas remember just now that Dahlan had amassed a fortune during the time he headed the much-feared Preventative Security Force in the Gaza Strip? Wasn't Dahlan a Minister for Security Affairs in the government headed by then-Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in 2003? Didn't Abbas know back then what every Palestinian knew about Dahlan's activities and behavior?
Although he has fled the West Bank, Dahlan obviously has no intention of retiring to a remote resort in France or Italy. He and his supporters, especially in the Gaza Strip, have signaled their desire to wage a campaign aimed at discrediting Abbas and representatives of the old guard in Fatah. Dahlan, a representative of the young guard in Fatah, has many followers who are now threatening to resign from the faction and create their own party.
Hamas leaders and spokesmen this week wished both Abbas and Dahlan much success in getting rid of one another.