The Man Who Could Be Arafat
(Page 2 of 2)
When Dahlan was deported in 1986, he found his way to Tunis, Tunisia, where the Palestine Liberation Organization was then headquartered.Skip to next paragraph
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Point man or 'spoiled son'?
When Dahlan first arrived in Tunis, the PLO was hesitant. "It's not that Arafat molded Dahlan. They were afraid of Dahlan, because Dahlan was the Gaza Strip," says Nawaty. "But Dahlan used to obey Arafat's orders, so Arafat loved him. Arafat was the leader, but he needed the details of what was happening on the ground so he brought Dahlan beside him.
"If the leader of a revolution is confident in you and believes in you, that's a very big accomplishment."
Dahlan soon became Arafat's intifadah point man, sending orders back to Gaza.
Today, some people in Gaza refer to Dahlan as Arafat's spoiled son. Arafat rewarded Dahlan's years of loyalty by putting him in charge of security in Gaza in 1994. Since then, he's proven able to maximize his power without making Arafat feel threatened. Whereas Rajoub sometimes entertains questions about filling Arafat's shoes, Dahlan flatly denies he has any interest in being president.
But the succession question is always being raised, especially since Arafat is reported to be in poor health.
"I'm tired of this question," says Dahlan. "Arafat is still in very good mental and physical health, and he's able to travel around the world. Unless the president wants to change my position, I'll be here implementing things on the ground."
For the most part, Israel seems to think he's doing a good job of it. Those who work with him say he's cool-headed and pragmatic. He's been instrumental in breaking up standoffs between Palestinian police and Israeli soldiers.
Still, they say, when a spark sets off violence, he has the power to stamp it out, and he doesn't always do so.
"Some of them [the Palestinians], you can see in their faces that they really hate us," says the Israeli security source.
"But he knows to play things very well. When we opened the tunnel in Jerusalem [the September 1996 incident that sparked gun battles that killed 80], we asked him to do something to stop the violence. Two days later, he decided to stop everything, and he did," he says.
Dahlan says that Israelis ought to be more concerned about the day when the Palestinian Authority isn't able to cool off the violence in a few days. "If this happens we will lose and the Israelis will lose," he says. "We want to see something positive on the ground. The Israelis have to show us some hope that there will be a solution one day, and that Palestinian hardships will be eased."
Though many Israelis and Palestinians think Dahlan is a force for good from a political point of view, human rights activists say that Dahlan is part of an arbitrary system that has no respect for judicial procedures. Dahlan can and does have anyone he wants arrested and detained.
Last year, Dahlan arrested a university professor who had asked his students to write about corruption in the Palestinian Authority and held him for several months.
Then-Attorney General Fayez Abu Rahme tried to force Dahlan to release the professor or bring charges against him.
But Mr. Abu Rahme finally resigned in May, saying the PA had refused to let him do his job. He has not been replaced.
"The Palestinian Security Service in Gaza is still torturing people severely, but we get less complaints in Gaza than in the West Bank," says Bassem Eid, who heads a Jerusalem-based independent human rights monitoring group. "We can see the difference ... in talks with the Israelis, [where] Dahlan appeared and Rajoub disappeared. It's clear that he's much more serious, intellectual, and he's a person who has a mix between a military mentality and cultural consciousness."