Palestinian Peacemaker No Longer Speaks of It

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Gaza-It is so important to republish this interview that had been conducted by LATIMES in the year 2000 with the current PLC member Mohamed Dahalan who served at that time as the chief of preventing security apparatus in the Gaza Strip in order to shed a light on the escalation of the relation between Israel and the PA.

The western media at that time focused on what had been said by Dahalan about the right to resist Israel and considered it as a shifting point in the Palestinian attitude towards Israel despite all the agreements between both sides.

Mohammed Dahlan seems unusually relaxed for someone who tops Israel’s list of bad guys.

Arguably the Palestinians’ most powerful security official, Dahlan has been accused by Israelis of masterminding terrorism. His offices have been bombarded by combat helicopters. One right-wing opposition leader is even said to have suggested assassinating him.

Not so long ago, Dahlan was a favorite of the White House and a willing negotiator with the Israelis. His crackdown on Islamic radicals had won him accolades in the West. But today, he has dropped any and all language of peace and reconciliation.

The metamorphosis in Dahlan, and in the way he is perceived by Israel, reflects the upending of the entire Middle East peace process, devastated by more than two months of bloody revolt. Those once considered the moderates are now hard-liners; those once considered partners are terrorists.

For Dahlan, more is at play. As he takes an increasingly belligerent stance, his stature among Palestinians improves–an important tactic ahead of what may become a chaotic power struggle as the influence of Yasser Arafat‘s Palestinian Authority declines.

In an interview Sunday at his elegant office in the headquarters of the Preventive Security Service, which he commands, Dahlan said he will no longer lift a finger to protect Israelis from terrorism.

“I have a right to resist Israel as an occupier,” Dahlan said. “It is not my job anymore to protect Israel. Do they think we are units of the Israeli army?”

Many Israelis argue that this is the true face of Dahlan, that his commitment to the peace process was a matter of political expediency.

Offices of the security service were prime targets when Israel launched rocket strikes Nov. 20 in retaliation for a bomb blast that tore apart a school bus traveling between Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, killing two Jewish adults and severely wounding five children.

A senior Israeli military intelligence officer, briefing foreign reporters a few days later, implicated members of Dahlan’s police force in the bus bombing. On Sunday, as Dahlan dismissed suggestions that he should be responsible for seizing the perpetrators, the Israeli military announced it had arrested a Palestinian suspect in the case.

Two days before the bus attack, another member of Dahlan’s force infiltrated the outskirts of the Kfar Darom Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip and killed two Israeli soldiers before being shot dead. Later, at the man’s funeral, Dahlan hailed him as a courageous martyr and promoted him posthumously. Posters of the man are now displayed all over police stations.

As Gaza was being hit by Israeli gunships that November night–more than a dozen missiles punctured Dahlan’s building–the right-wing Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon was reportedly suggesting that Dahlan be assassinated. Israel has in fact targeted Palestinian militia leaders during the conflict, so the idea had a particularly chilling ring to it.

Initially, Dahlan made a point of moving around the city a lot and not revealing his whereabouts. By Sunday, however, he was keeping what seemed like more regular hours. Seated behind his expansive wooden desk decorated with intricate mosaic inlays, he joked with aides, talked for more than an hour with a reporter and seemed in no hurry. His desk was uncluttered, and there were two telephones that rang regularly. There were no computers, only an electric paper shredder.

While he was still on speaking terms with the Israelis, Dahlan was emerging as a key negotiator. At the summer’s Camp David summit, pictures routinely showed him at the elbow of President Clinton or Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He was described by diplomats as one of the Palestinians who most attempted to persuade Arafat to sign a deal. And he has met from time to time with CIA Director George J. Tenet, whose agency assisted Palestinian security.

Working closely with Israeli security services in 1998 and 1999, Dahlan cracked down, if sometimes reluctantly, on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups who oppose peace with Israel and have carried out deadly terrorist bombings in major Israeli cities.

Dahlan noted Sunday that his efforts had helped give Israelis unprecedented security, which, he warned, they will not be able to replicate. Several of the bomb-makers and terrorism plotters whom Dahlan jailed were released in the early days of this conflict.

If his cooperation with Israel gained him points in Washington, at home Dahlan was increasingly seen as a sellout. His security service–one of more than a dozen police forces that exist in the West Bank and Gaza–is reviled by many Palestinians and accused of egregious human rights violations.

The same Islamic militants whom the U.S. and Israel were so happy to see arrested usually ended up deprived of due process, held without being charged or sentenced, and often tortured or beaten, human rights organizations say.

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