GAZA CITY: The Fatah breakaway Dahlan movement is returning to the Gaza Strip after a 14-year absence.
The movement is led by Mohammed Dahlan, who has lived in the UAE since a dispute with President Mahmoud Abbas forced him to leave the West Bank. He sought refuge there after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.
Last Sunday two of the movement’s members went back to Gaza. One of them was Abdel Hakim Awad, who heads the Dahlan election department. He is also one of the founders of Fatah Youth in Gaza and has a remarkable presence among young people and the student movement.
The return also follows Dahlan representatives meeting the Hamas delegation that took part in the Palestinian national dialogue in Cairo earlier this month.
There are legislative elections on May 22, but Dahlan spokesman Imad Mohsen played down the return’s timing. It had been scheduled since 2018 and was not primarily related to the polls even if it coincided with it, he added.
Hundreds of Fatah members left the Gaza Strip fearing for their lives after the 2007 split, which led to Hamas’ control of the coastal enclave, and joined the movement formed by Dahlan.
Mohsen said about 300 Fatah activists were in Egypt and elsewhere, and that there was no legal problem preventing their return to Gaza. “It is expected that large numbers of these brothers will return in the near future,” he told Arab News.
A Palestinian source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News it was possible that Dahlan himself would return to Gaza before the May 22 elections.
Observers have linked these developments with Dahlan’s possible participation in the elections, whether through a separate list or with a unified Fatah list if there are successful reconciliation efforts between Abbas and Dahlan.
“Our firm position from the beginning is to run the elections with a unified list of Fatah and, in the event Abbas refuses to do so, we will run in the elections with a list that includes leaders of the movement,” said Mohsen. “It consists of personalities with national, professional and youth competence, so that they meet the challenges that plague the Palestinian cause. We are part of the Palestinian scene, and no party can exclude us or prevent us from participating in this democratic path. Therefore, our movement will participate in all elections, including the presidential (one), in the form it deems appropriate with the requirements of the current situation.”
There are different views about Dahlan’s influence on the election results and Fatah’s ability to make gains and not repeat the scenario from the 2006 elections, when Hamas achieved an overwhelming majority.
Political analyst Mukhaimar Abu Saada said that Dahlan’s movement would run in the elections with a single list, after efforts to achieve internal Fatah reconciliation had failed.
He said it was in Hamas’ interest to have multiple Fatah lists because this approach would enhance its chances of achieving remarkable results.
He added that Fatah currently faced great challenges, not just from Dahlan’s list but also from Marwan Barghouti, who has not yet decided on participating in the elections.
“The best option is a unified Fatah, and if that is not possible, it will have the option of a partnership list with Hamas,” Saada told Arab News.
He believed it was too early to determine the extent of the damage as there were three months left before the polls and that options were still under discussion.
The legislative elections will be followed by presidential elections on July 31 and then elections to form the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization on Aug. 31.
A member of the Fatah Central Committee, which is responsible for national dialogue, said that Fatah would start dialogues with all factions to build a broad national front in which everyone could participate for the elections.
Jibril Rajoub also said that “all options are open, including running the elections with a single list, if it is not possible to agree with the rest of the factions.”
Fatah Revolutionary Council member Abdullah Abdullah said that while Fatah was united and did not suffer from any division, Dahlan was an industry and not a national movement.
“Dahlan is a person who is dismissed from Fatah and adjudications have been issued against him,” Abdullah told Arab News. “He is not able to run in the elections. As for the members of his movement, who are mainly Fatah, there is nothing that prevents them from returning to Fatah.”
But political science professor, Naji Shurrab, said that Dahlan’s movement had become a reality that could not be ignored.
“During the past few years the movement has proven that it has become an organization with a presence and the masses not only in Gaza or the West Bank, but in the diaspora,” he told Arab News. “It has clear regional and Arab support. It has elements of financial strength, and it has succeeded in attracting youth.”
He ruled out internal Fatah reconciliation being achieved during Abbas’ lifetime and said that recent laws and judicial amendments made by the president were his attempts to exclude Dahlan from competing in the elections.
Shurrab said that Fatah would be the biggest loser from Abbas’ refusal to reconcile with Dahlan and unify the movement in the upcoming elections.