Mohammed Dahlan

Mohammed Dahlan

Member of Fatah-Revolutionary Council, former peace negotiator with Israel, former head of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip. PA
Minister of State for Security Affairs in the Abu Mazen government of 2003. Retains good relations with Israel and the U.S. (has long-established cooperative links with the CIA). Ongoing intra-Palestinian violence between Fatah factions in the Gaza Strip probably reflects Dahlan’s positioning himself for leading role in Gaza in any post-disengagement administration.

Dahlan was born 29 September 1961 in Khan Younis Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, and is married with three children. He is the youngest of six children born to a refugee family from Hammama, Palestine. The Dahlans were neighbors of the Rantisi family of Abdul Aziz Rantisi (former Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip). Rantisi’s mother cared for Dahlan as an infant. Dr Rantisi himself was 15 years older than Dahlan, who may have been a paediatric patient of his when Rantisi returned to Khan Younis Refugee Camp from medical training in Egypt in 1972. The two families remained friends even after the PA’s crackdown on Hamas in 1996.

Dahlan’s political activity began as a teenager in Khan Younis, where he recruited friends into organized groups for civic projects, such as road sweeping. As a student leader at the Islamic University of Gaza (B.A. Business Administration), he expanded the group to become a network of charitable organizations, manned by children and teens. Members went into the streets to clean, and to deliver food and medicine door-to-door, but also to preach Palestinian nationalism and national unity in the communities they served. The group formally became the Fatah Youth Movement (Shabiba) in 1981, and would be a driving force behind the first intifada (1987 – 94). By the time he was 25, Dahlan had been arrested 11 times for his political organizing, and had became fluent in Hebrew while in jail.

After the first intifada broke out, Dahlan became one of the uprising's young leaders in Gaza, but he was swiftly arrested and deported by the Israelis to Jordan (1988). He made his way to Tunis, where the PLO leadership was then based. Returned to Gaza with Arafat in July 1994. Arafat rewarded him by putting him in control of the Preventive Security Service for the Gaza Strip (one of the PA’s major security forces), and of the Fatah movement in Gaza. The control of these two major organizations made Dahlan one of the strongest officials in the Palestinian Authority.

As head of the newly-formed PSS in the Gaza Strip, Dahlan was responsible for building a police force from scratch. He received training help from the CIA, a relationship he is believed to maintain. With a police force of more than 20,000 men under his control, Dahlan created a small empire in Gaza, which became known informally as “Dahlanistan”. He maintained order, sometimes ruthlessly: his PSS was accused by Palestinian and international human rights organizations of serious abuses, including torture. He also accumulated personal wealth from some of the PA’s monopolies, e.g. on oil and cement, and from the awarding of building contracts, and some eyebrows were raised when he purchased the largest house in Gaza for his family home.

As head of the Gazan PSS, Dahlan was responsible for restraining those Palestinian militants, specifically Hamas, who rejected the Oslo process and hoped to sabotage a negotiated settlement through strategically-timed attacks on Israeli targets. Dahlan is believed to have drawn up a plan for containing Hamas.

In 1995, Dahlan cracked down hard on Hamas’ infrastructure. On orders from Arafat, Dahlan disarmed and jailed about 2,000 known Hamas members, shaved them of their beards and allegedly tortured some. His police also raided and closed Islamic charities, schools and mosques.

Dahlan was a regular member (specializing on security issues) of the Palestinian negotiating team that negotiated Israeli redeployments, the return of Palestinians expelled since 1967, and prisoner releases, during the Oslo process. He also participated in the Wye River negotiations (1999), and was a member of the Palestinian negotiation team at Camp David (2000) and Taba (2001). Generally regarded by the Israelis as a pragmatist.

Predictably, Dahlan’s relations with the Israelis quickly cooled following the outbreak of the second intifada. As head of one of the main Palestinian security organisations, he negotiated with Israeli officials to try to arrange a ceasefire several times after the uprising erupted in September 2000. Dahlan maintained, however, that he was unable to clamp down on militancy this time as he had done in 1996, as it was impossible for the PSS to restrain widespread resentment at the peace process and universal anger at Israel's response to the uprising.

Six months later, Dahlan’s motorcade came under fire from the IDF as he returned to Gaza from a negotiating session with Israeli officials, and four of Dahlan’s bodyguards were wounded. Sharon denied that Dahlan had been deliberately targeted and expressed regret for the incident; but the claim that the affair was an unfortunate mistake was questioned, especially when Dahlan’s West Bank counterpart, Jibril Rajoub, was the subject of another “mistaken” Israeli attack the following month.

Dahlan reportedly tendered his resignation from the PSS on 5 November 2001, in opposition to the PA's policy of arresting PFLP and Islamic Jihad members; but it was refused by Arafat.

In anticipation that U.S. pressure would force Arafat to unify the myriad PA security forces into a single, manageable entity, Dahlan began to expand his power base beyond Gaza and into the West Bank. In the spring of 2002, he moved to bring under his control low-level commanders in the West Bank Preventative Security Service, in order to undermine the influence of Jibril Rajoub, leader of the West Bank PSS. Dahlan and Rajoub had much in common, both were considered pragmatic leaders who supported a negotiated solution to the I/P conflict, who generally kept their security forces out of the intifada, and who favoured the unification of PA security forces under a single leader, trained by the CIA, and working in close coordination with the security services of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Both, however, saw themselves as head of the unified service, and an intense and sometimes violent rivalry developed between the two.

In 2002, he resigned his post as head of the Preventive Security in Gaza in the hope of becoming the Interior Minister; this did not occur, but he was offered a post as security advisor. He did not take this step.

In April of 2003, he was appointed the Palestinian Minister of State for Security by Mahmoud Abbas, despite the objection of Arafat. By September he had been ousted when Abbas fell from power, and was replaced by first Nasser Youssef and then Hakam Balawi.

He repeatedly tried to campaign on a reform and anti-corruption ticket and tried to profile himself as an outspoken critic of Yasser Arafat, although many observers dispute his personal integrity. Nevertheless Dahlan and his followers in internal Fatah elections won over most of the Fatah sections in Gaza.

In 2003, gunmen stormed an raided the offices of the General Security organization Ghazi Jabali, they were said to be followers of Dahlan's ally Rashid Abu Shbak, head of the Preventive Security organization.

In 2004, Dahlan is assumed to have been the driving force behind week-long unrests in Gaza following the appointment of Yasser Arafat's nephew Mousa Arafat, widely accused of corruption, as head of Gaza police forces. This appointment was considered by some a deliberate step to weaken Dahlan's position before the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza strip and sparked massive protests.

Dahlan (2004) is currently Palestinian Minister for Civil Affairs and was in charge of coordinating some of the details of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza with his counterpart, Israeli Minister of Defence Shaul Mofaz.

On January 26, 2006, Dahlan was narrowly re-elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in the Palestinian legislative election of 2006 as a representative for Khan Younis.


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