Israel Hayom newspaper’s alleged misquote of a US Ambassador stating that Palestinian strongman Dahlan was their pick to succeed Abbas, could well have been intentional, and not a mistake.
An Israeli newspaper has backtracked on an incendiary quote of US Ambassador David Friedman who it initially quoted as saying that Washington was considering supporting former Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan as the next Palestinian Authority (PA) president.
The statement came under fire immediately, widely deemed “an undiplomatic statement reflecting blatant interventionism,” at the heart of the Israeli establishment.
Dahlan, a former Fatah official, is mired in scandals and linked to a number of nefarious activities, including engineering a coup attempt in Gaza in 2007, being implicated in the poisoning of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2011, failing to answer corruption charges in 2016 for which he was found guilty, and playing a role in the July 15 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
Dahlan, a strongman who once headed the security and intelligence in the PLO, fled to the United Arab Emirates, where he would go on to play a role in the 2013 coup overthrowing Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, as well as arrange assassinations in Yemen for the UAE, and serve as the Emirate’s intermediary with Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar in attempts to overthrow the UN-backed government of Tripoli.
But was the misquote really a mistake?
Mark Jefferson, Analyst for Stratton Consulting Group, who spoke to TRT World, does not think that is likely.
“Whether or not there was a mistake in the newspapers reporting, there’s no doubt that Israel and the United States think Dahlan is their man for the job. He’s shown a willingness to compromise his people at any cost to work with them. I have no doubt that the envoy’s statement was actually true,” he says.
Speculating as to the motives behind revealing Dahlan as the United State’s top pick, Jefferson thinks it is just business as usual.
“The way manufacturing consent works is that there needs to be a triggered dialogue. Step one is leaking a fact which generates controversy. Today, controversy burns hot and fast and dialogue usually exhausts itself after a while,” he notes.
“If you guide that discourse through third parties over time, they can get the majority to agree with them, and silence the dissenting minority. Public opinion becomes crystallized, and most people will even think of it as their original idea,” concludes Jefferson.
There is more to it than that, though. Jefferson strongly believes that the ‘slipped’ statement was also a method of gauging reactions to the idea.
Testing the waters
“Dahlan has been out of the public eye for a while, and that’s not unintentional. Bringing him up like this now, it has the air of someone checking the water’s temperature to see people are ready to accept him,” he says.
“It’s part normalisation, part triggering public outcry early to give it enough time to die down. It’s also based on the reality that there really is no good successor to Mahmoud Abbas. But that doesn’t change the fact that Dahlan has proven himself a war criminal, mastermind assassin, and a political figure without principles,” adds Jefferson.
Dahlan is on Turkey’s most wanted terrorist list, with a $700,000 bounty on his head.
To put it into context, Jefferson paints a lurid metaphor.
“Imagine Russia Today reporting that Putin says we want to replace Trump with Biden for instance. Only for RT to walk back the statement. No-one would believe the correction, due to common sense. Or the explanation that Putin doesn’t want to see Trump replaced with someone more in line with his views,” he reflects.
When asked by Israel Hayom whether the US was considering possibly “appointing” Dahlan as Abbas’s successor, the US Ambassador was originally quoted as saying “We’re thinking about it, we have had no desire to engineer the Palestinian leadership.”
The US ambassador also hinted that Israel could nonetheless continue with plans to illegally annex more Palestinian territory, simply saying, “I think it will happen.”
"It's a temporary suspension," he said.
"When the dust settles, within months or a year, the Israeli-Arab conflict will be over," promised Ambassador Friedman confidently.