Better the Devil You Know Michal Fattal/Flash90
Conflict

Better the Devil You Know

Israel and the Palestinians are no closer to a genuine comprehensive peace than they were two decades ago.

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Some would argue that goal is now even further out of reach. But there is relative calm at present. However, with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ health failing, Israel fears there could soon be a power vacuum that would quickly be filled by the likes of Hamas, or worse.

With an eye to future stability, if not peace, Israel has once again engaged with exiled former Palestinian Authority security chief Mohammed Dahlan.

A complex and ambitious plan being backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, the US and Israel would see Dahlan first return to power in Gaza as a “dress rehearsal” for eventually taking over the entire Palestinian Authority.

This “plan of the century,” as Israeli officials are calling it, was already put in motion back in June, when Egypt summoned Gaza’s Hamas rulers to Cairo where they were surprised to find Dahlan waiting for them.

Yediot Ahronot reported that Dahlan presented a plan whereby men loyal to him would man Gaza’s borders, thereby ending the Egyptian and Israeli blockade of the Hamas-ruled enclave. Furthermore, “Dahlan explained to the Hamas leadership that it must reach a dialogue with Israel, through him.”

When word of the meeting got out, the Abbas regime and regional forces aligned with it, primarily Turkey, were outraged and accused Dahlan of being an agent of Israel’s Mossad. That backlash, and Hamas’ resistance to the plan, has caused Dahlan to proceed with greater caution. In the meantime, his Jalila Foundation, named after his wife, continues to pour millions of dollars, donated by those nations backing the plan, into Gaza for the establishment of a hospital and providing financial assistance to the Strip’s neediest residents. The result, as intended, is that Dahlan’s popularity has never been higher.

According to the Yediot report, following his eventual triumphant return to Gaza Dahlan will set himself up as the coastal enclave’s de facto leader. Then, work will begin on putting him in the president’s chair at Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah.

There’s a long and bumpy road yet to reach that goal. And many forces are aligned against Dahlan. But if Dahlan’s backers, including Israel and the Trump Administration, remain committed to the final outcome, it’s difficult to see how he won’t be the next Palestinian leader.

But just what does that mean for Israel in the long term?

While Dahlan is very much cut from the same cloth as the rest of Fatah’s opportunistic, terrorist warlords, there’s some hope he’d rule over a less corrupt Palestinian Authority.

In 2013, Dahlan sued Abbas at the International Criminal Court in The Hague over what he called “tyrannical behavior” and “utter corruption.” The suit was filed through an Israeli law firm, which helped Dahlan paint Abbas as a self-serving despot.

“In practice, government in the authority is a tyrannical rule of one person — Mr. Mahmoud Abbas — and all of the [PA’s] institutes, its budgets and international relations are nothing other than means available to Abbas and his family, and their financial, political and personal interests,” he told Yediot Ahronot at the time.

If Israel’s leaders have assessed the situation correctly, improving the economic conditions of average Palestinians is the first step toward the kind of quiet that could eventually yield a genuine peace. And Dahlan seems committed to taking that first step.

All of this may end up being little more than wishful thinking. After all, Dahlan previously lauded his mentor, Yasser Arafat, for so effectively fooling everyone into believing he wanted peace with Israel. “Arafat would condemn [terror] operations by day, while at night he would do ‘honorable’ things,” Dahlan told PA TV in 2009, referring to continued incitement against the Jewish state.

Israel has allowed daydreaming to push it toward ill-advised policies in the past. More than once. The trouble is that the only true alternative–annexation and the imposition of Israeli sovereignty over the biblical heartland–is one that Jerusalem isn’t willing to consider. So, we are left shaking hands with the devil we know.

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