An exiled foe of Mahmoud Abbas helped engineer the Arab peace deals with Israel that are infuriating the aging Palestinian president.
Mohammed Dahlan looked like a disgraced has-been in 2011. That’s when Palestinian police ransacked his Ramallah home and sent the former Fatah security chief, who had emerged as a rival to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, scrambling across the Jordan River to take refuge in Abu Dhabi. Still in exile in the United Arab Emirates, Dahlan has finally found an opportunity for sweet revenge. In a new role as confidant of Persian Gulf leaders and regional strategic mastermind, Dahlan is helping to shape the Arab peace deals with Israel that are driving an aging Abbas berserk.
Over the past nine years, Dahlan has forged an unusually close relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the iconoclastic ruler of the United Arab Emirates who gave Dahlan sanctuary when he fled from Abbas. Born in a Gaza refugee camp, Dahlan operates as an international envoy for his boundlessly wealthy patron, helping to arrange business and political deals from northern Africa to Eastern Europe. When the sun sets, Dahlan says, the two men take midnight joyrides in a fast car, singing favorite Arab tunes together as they cruise Abu Dhabi’s desert highways.
Their apparent friendship has made Dahlan an influential—if invisible—hand in crafting the Abraham Accords, the U.S.-brokered normalization agreements Israel signed last month with the UAE and Bahrain. He is considered a behind-the-scenes architect of the Emirati stance that offers effusive support for Palestinian statehood while squeezing the 84-year-old Abbas into embarrassing positions, such as when Abbas found himself forced to turn down two planeloads of COVID-19 medical supplies for predictable face-saving reasons—because the UAE delivered them through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. Abbas’s rejection of the aid in August and his furious denunciation of the peace deals as a “stab in the back” has alienated old allies across the region, including Saudi Arabia, the biggest and wealthiest Gulf nation.