Q&A: Mohamed Dahlan on direct talks with Israel, Hamas-Fatah rivalry

In an exclusive interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Mohamed Dahlan–the controversial adviser to US-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas–discussed the future of the so-called peace process and the ongoing rivalry between Fatah and Hamas.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: You were present in France on the eve of the current peace negotiations being held in Washington and one day after the recent Egyptian-French summit. Is that a coincidence? What was the aim of your visit?

Mohamed Dahlan: It was planned long ago, particularly after a visit by President Abbas. I met with the French foreign minister and informed him of the seriousness of the situation and the infeasibility of negotiations with the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in light of Israel's settlement expansion policy. I told him that talks could never be fruitful if the building of settlements–which is another sort of terrorism–persisted. I also pointed out that Netanyahu was preempting the results of final status talks by insisting on pre-conditions.

The US administration and the EU have to realize that Netanyahu is playing games to waste time and thus maintain his post, rather than seeking a political solution that activates the two-state idea.

Al-Masry: How is Netanyahu impeding a solution?

Dahlan: He is struggling to side-step the practical execution of the two-state vision. Jerusalem is currently besieged and detached from the West Bank, where settlements are mushrooming like cancer. Therefore, he is trying to preempt the final status talks by emboldening the occupation. But this is unacceptable for the Palestinian side. Israel will not be able to combine peace and settlement expansion.

Al-Masry: You are said to oppose direct talks. Is this a reflection of division within the PA, or is it some kind of negotiating tactic?

Dahlan: We support president Abu Mazen’s positions, and there are no differences within the Palestinian leadership over the methods to be adopted. I contributed to the Camp David negotiations, and I believe we do not need more talks as much as we need political decisions. Abu Mazen has already made historic moves, but Netanyahu is not mature enough to take another step. Rather, he is rather working to sabotage the two-state idea.

That being said, we support President Abu Mazen in principle since he is representing the entire Palestinian nation. But the way the US convened for the negotiations, ignoring the EU and following conditions set by Netanyahu, represents an unhappy start. I am totally convinced that these talks will not prove fruitful, and I am sure the Palestinian people would agree with me.

Al-Masry: So your pessimistic tone conforms to the that of France, which–represented by its foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner–expressed its discontent with the marginalization of the EU?

Dahlan: There is an Israeli rejection of any European role. By the way, every effort made by the EU to reconstruct the PA has been met with Israeli demolition activities.

Al-Masry: Netanyahu is adamant on the "Jewish identity" of Israel and on the issue of Israeli security. He has also challenged the right for return for Palestinian refugees. Can peace be realized in these circumstances?

Dahlan: This is not peace, this is surrender. Not a single Palestinian will agree to Netanyahu's conditions. The Israeli PM is a liar–he is not seeking peace. He will maintain his habit of ruining the peace process and will eventually bring destruction down on the whole region. As for us, we will keep adhering to our longstanding principles, spelled out by former president Yasser Arafat in 1988, which were re-emphasized at Camp David. If Netanyahu is seeking surrender, let him look for it elsewhere.

Al-Masry: Can a disarmed Palestinian state ever emerge in this context?

Dahlan: That’s a precondition we refuse. But at the same time, we are not seeking a state saddled with tanks and aircraft. We will invest in the Palestinian people after they endured 60 years of hardship by improving education, upgrading infrastructure, caring for the youth, developing the economy, and adopting a health system capable of handling the catastrophes wrought by the occupation. But we will not accept a state according to Netanyahu’s terms.

Al-Masry: Who is hindering inter-Palestinian reconciliation? Do you accuse Syria or Iran?

Dahlan: First of all, we accuse Hamas, which has rebuffed the hands of peace that we extended over the past three–in fact, 15–years.  The first meeting I attended with President Arafat was about negotiating with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan in 1989. This was followed by other meetings in Kuwait and Tunisia. Hamas, at the time, rejected all offers to join the PLO.

The problem is that Hamas always promotes itself as a substitute to the organization–as if the issue were over who represented the Palestinians and not who was best able to restore their rights.

Hamas does not posses a clear national plan. We are seeking a Palestinian state enjoying sovereignty over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hamas’s decisions, meanwhile, are influenced by its regional links.

I do not want to throw accusations at any state, but some countries–such as Iran–are using the situation in the occupied territories as a playing card rather than a tool to support the Palestinian people. Last year, Israel completely levelled Gaza and turned it upside down, but Iran's reaction was strictly verbal.

Al-Masry: How does the PA view Qatar's emerging role in the equation? Has it come at the expense of the Egyptian and Saudi roles?

Dahlan: I do not think that’s what Palestinians are looking for, since all Arab states are required to stand by the Palestinians. Israel wants to be left alone to take on the Palestinian people. Therefore, any unified stance on the part of Arab countries will bolster the Palestinians’ resilience.

Nobody can tread upon or manipulate Egypt’s role, given its regional weight on the military, political, security, economic, human and geographical levels. The Egyptian people have endured much for the sake of liberating Palestine.

Al-Masry: As for the direct talks now unfolding in Washington, what do you expect in terms of the post-negotiation stage?

Dahlan: I do not hold high hopes for these talks. They are more like a party than a political process. We will argue again about all the same issues that we have always wrangled over. No doubt the same differences will emerge: over final statues issues, time schedules, deadlines and references for negotiations.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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