For many years Mohammed Dahlan was the top security official in the Palestinian Authority. Today, he is under assault by the PA; in late June his home was raided and he fled to Jordan.
Dahlan is a Gazan who joined Fatah as a young man in 1981. During his years in Israeli prisons he learned fluent Hebrew. At various times he has been Minister of State Security, head of the “Preventive Security” organization (which was was viewed as the toughest Fatah strike force), and a member of the Palestinian legislature. In 2009 Dahlan was elected to the Fatah Central Committee. During my own years in government I met with him many times and he was clearly one of the five or six most powerful Palestinians; he was viewed as a skilled politician and a bulwark against Hamas. He was also viewed as corrupt, and the question was whether he was an effective military leader. The easy Hamas take-over of Gaza in 2007 gave the unfortunate answer. Now Dahlan has been expelled not only from the Central Committee but from the Fatah Party as well, partly due to accusations of corruption. This is ridiculous; if every Fatah official involved in corruption were expelled the Central Committee would lack a quorum. But in reaction, Dahlan has made some interesting charges against his former colleagues.
Dahlan’s general attacks on President Abbas are nasty:
“Abbas does not recognize any law, morals or values….Abbas feels that he’s above the law…. Abbas is trying to cover up for his political, organizational and internal failures. Fatah has lost the Gaza Strip, the parliament and even the municipal elections. In his era, we have become without a political horizon and there’s no hope for Palestinians. We are in a pathetic situation.”
More striking are his allegations about the Palestine Investment Fund or PIF:
“Dahlan said that the dispute with the PA president erupted after he demanded to know what had happened to $1.3b. that was in the account of the Palestinian Investment Fund….Dahlan said that after the death of Yasser Arafat, the responsibility for the fund was transferred to Abbas in 2005. ‘This is money that Yasser Arafat had collected from Palestinian taxpayers for the day that we would need it,’ Dahlan explained. ‘There aren’t more black days than today, where our employees are not receiving salaries. Why doesn’t he pay from this fund, which he controls personally? The PLO does not know about this sum. This is documented money that was delivered to him [Abbas] from an international accounting company.’ Dahlan said that when he exposed the issue of the PIF last April, Abbas got furious….Mahmoud Abbas thinks that the people don’t know where this money is and who received it. Now he’s admitting that there is only $700 million in the fund. But the real sum should be about $2b.’”
The PIF was funded mostly by assets “under Arafat’s control,” as it was politely put: that is, money Arafat stole but that was recovered. It appears that at least $800 million was in the Fund by the beginning of the previous decade.
Today, the Fund’s spiffy web site (www.pif.ps) says that it has $800 million in assets and has distributed $600 million over the years to the PA. But Dahlan’s allegations are not the only ones one hears from Palestinians. Management of the fund was in the capable hands of Salam Fayyad until the Hamas election victory in 2006; it was then separated from the PA government to avoid sanctions imposed against the PA. But that independence from the government has led to charges of corruption, lack of oversight and accountability, and self-dealing. As one article put it, “Mohammad Mustafa, the chairman and CEO of the PIF, doubles as Abbas’s chief economic adviser. As has been the case since its inception, the board is dominated by prominent businessmen, some of whose companies have taken part in ventures in which the fund has important asset stakes.”
In view of the PA’s dependence on foreign aid for survival, this entire mess is dangerous. Dahlan is certainly a very biased source for information about the PA and Fatah and these days may be motivated by a desire for revenge. But a careful look at PIF finances and management is once again in order.