Who is The Man Who Many Hope Will End Hamas in Gaza?

Published March 17th, 2021 - 10:40 GMT
A Palestinian woman walks past a pro-Hamas mural
A Palestinian woman walks past a pro-Hamas mural saying that the Islamist movement has embraced the armed option, in the village of Kober near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, on March 3, 2021. As Palestinians ready for their first elections in 15 years, two powerful players loom large from afar. One is a royal advisor living in the wealthy United Arab Emirates who has just delivered a large shipment of Covid vaccines to the impoverished Gaza Strip. The other is a veteran fighter of the second intifada, who has lived in an Israeli prison cell for nearly two decades and is sometimes dubbed the "Palestinian Mandela". The role of the two political heavyweights -- Abu Dhabi-based Mohammed Dahlan, and imprisoned Marwan Barghouti -- is seen as crucial ahead of the May 22 legislative and July 31 presidential votes. ABBAS MOMANI / AFP
Earlier this month, Qudwa, a member of the committee and a nephew of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, announced he would form a list to run against Fatah in the May legislative vote.

Rashid Abu-Shbak, a senior leader of the Democratic Reform Current, returned to the Gaza Strip after 14 years in exile, Palestinian media reported on Monday.

Upon his arrival in Gaza, Abu-Shbak was warmly greeted by a large crowd of supporters, with many hoping the Democratic Reform Current would succeed in ending the existing dual control of Hamas and Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The return of senior leader Abu-Shbak to the Gaza Strip came according to understandings that the movement had made with Hamas in advance, against the background of several talks within the framework of a reconciliation process, according to which the conflict between the Current and the Islamist movement ended,” senior leader of the Democratic Reform Current Imad Omar told The Arab Weekly.

“Abu-Shbak’s return is aimed at more coordination between the two sides on the upcoming elections,” he added.

Abu-Shbak was back in Gaza following the return of hundreds of Fatah members and leaders loyal to Dahlan, who fled the Strip in 2007 after failing to oust Hamas from power. Hamas had won the Palestinian elections months earlier.

The Democratic Reform Current’s activities are still banned in the West Bank, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Fatah and Abbas.

“These activists and leaders returned to Gaza in order to take part in the preparations for the parliamentary elections,” said senior leader in the Democratic Reform Current Salah Abu-Khatla.

Abu-Shbak headed the Palestinian Internal Security Forces when bloody confrontations broke out between Fatah and Hamas, leading to the Islamist movement’s control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.

Dozens of members of Fatah and the PA security services, including Abu-Shbak, fled from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and abroad.

Abu-Shbak held the position of deputy-director of the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus before succeeding Dahlan as head of the agency in 2001. In 2006, he was appointed director-general of the Internal Security Forces.

In 2007, Abu-Shbak was dismissed from his position by the PA after he was accused by a court in Ramallah, West Bank, of neglecting his duties. After that date, Abu-Shbak, along with Dahlan and others, founded the Democratic Reform Current.

Last week, Hamas allowed dozens of activists from the Democratic Reform Current to return from Egypt to Gaza, at a time when the Palestinian Authority continues to restrict their movement in the West Bank.

The Democratic Reform Current had earlier announced its intention to participate with an independent list in legislative elections. However, many observers believe that the Current will coordinate with other senior Fatah leaders who have also decided to run in the elections with independent lists, like Nasser al-Qudwa. Observers, however, rule out the establishment of an electoral alliance.

Earlier this month, Qudwa, a member of the committee and a nephew of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, announced he would form a list to run against Fatah in the May legislative vote.

He called on party member Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader serving life imprisonment in Israel after being convicted of orchestrating deadly attacks against Israel, to head the candidate roster.

These moves eventually prompted Abbas’s Fatah party to expel Qudwa.

Abbas, 85, has ruled the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank by decree for over a decade, and the last Palestinian election was 15 years ago.

In January, Abbas announced legislative and presidential votes, seen as a response to criticism of the democratic legitimacy of his rule.

Omar stressed that the Democratic Reform Current is coordinating its positions with all segments of the national political spectrum, including the National  Democratic Forum established by Qudwa, as well as the Palestinian National Initiative created by Barghouti.

He added that the Current is open to the possibility of a consensus to file a single list in the upcoming elections, but so far the discussions have not led to the elaboration of a unified position or list.

An informed source with the Democratic Reform Current ruled out the possibility of filing a unified list with Qudwa, but he did not deny the existence of ongoing talks between the two sides to increase coordination, pointing out that relations between the two political movements have taken a positive turn.

“The Democratic Reform Current finds in the upcoming elections, if they are held on time, an opportunity to legitimise its presence on the Palestinian arena,” the source said.

“We see the elections as an opportunity to confirm our political weight, reach to the public, and allow our cadres to establish a strong presence on the political scene” it added.

The source pointed out that the current situation of Qudwa closely resembles that of Dahlan, who was expelled from Fatah, in violation of the movement’s regulations and without launching a fair investigation.

“Qudwa is currently facing the same ordeal and this factor is facilitating our cooperation. However, this does not necessarily mean that there are plans to establish an electoral alliance,” the source said.

The same source revealed that coordination will be mostly with independents whose political visions are close to those of the Democratic Reform Current.

There will also be contacts with political groups in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and members of the Fatah movement who requested coordination with the Current, the source added, warning of Abbas’s attempts to prevent members of the Democratic Reform Current from running in the elections by resorting to the judiciary.

This article has been adapted from its original source.     

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