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Investigation 24 Feb 15

Abbas: Dahlan Citizenship is ‘Serbia’s problem’

The Palestinian President told BIRN he will not confront Serbia over its award of citizenship to his arch-rival, Mohammed Dahlan - whose ties to the Balkans are coming under scrutiny.

Ivan Angelovski, Lawrence Marzouk
BIRN
Ramallah

 

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestianian President | Photo by Ivan Angelovski

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has told BIRN he will not let Serbia’s decision to award citizenship to his chief rival ruin historic relations with an important ally.

In an exclusive interview, the 79-year-old leader declined to answer detailed questions about Dahlan, formerly his security chief but now his rival, preferring to concentrate on the stalled peace process and on relations with Israel and the US.

But, while the President sidestepped issues related to his opponent, BIRN has learnt that investigations against Dahlan are ongoing, including a probe by the Palestinian anti-corruption council into his investments in Serbia and Montenegro.

Abbas lauded former Yugoslavia as “brothers” during the exclusive interview with BIRN from the Muqata, the new presidential headquarters that replaced Yasser Arafat’s destroyed compound.

When pressed on Serbia’s favour to Dahlan, however, he said: “We have excellent relations [with Serbia]. Now, if they have some contacts with this man, it is not our question. It is their issue, their matter.

“I will not go to the Serbian President and say ‘Why do you have this relationship with this man?,’” he added during the interview.

“It’s up to them. It’s their own problem and they should handle it without our interference.”

However, Abbas’ political advisor, Nimar Hamad, admitted that the Palestinian Authority had made Serbia aware of its “surprise” at the decision to award citizenship to Dahlan, five family members and six political supporters over the past two years.

The former chief of security in Gaza became an advisor to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammad bin Zayed, after he fled Palestine in 2011. He has been sentenced to two years’ jail for defamation and is currently on trial for corruption. Dahlan denies the allegations.

Hamad said the decision to bestow citizenship on the 12 Palestinians in return for Dahlan’s involvement in securing Belgrade the promise of investment from Abu Dhabi should “open a debate for Serbia.

 “There is a problem with the [citizenship] system in Serbia,” he said. “I am sure that the [Serbian] government was aware that some of these people have problems with the Palestinian Authority and leadership – serious problems,” he added.

“For the Serbian authorities, they already know our surprise about this [decision],” he continued.

The Serbian government has refused to discuss the award of citizenship to Dahlan, bar a short answer by Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic at a press conference. He said that Dahlan was not given Serbian citizenship for political reasons but due to the economic relations with the Emirates.

“When Dahlan was in Serbia, we spoke only about relations with the United Arab Emirates,” Dacic said. “Internal Palestinian issues were not on the agenda,” he added.

Balkans investments probed

Jibril Rajoub | Photo by Ivan Angelovski

Dahlan, who has made no secret of his desire to replace Abbas, was sentenced to jail for slandering President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. The verdict was imposed in absentia in March 2014.

He is being prosecuted for allegedly embezzling $18 million of public money in 2007 in a case due to conclude by the end of the month, Rafiq Al-Natsheh, head of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Palestine, said. He insisted that politics had played no role in targeting Dahlan and that “investigations into other top officals” were also ongoing.

No recognition for Kosovo

President Abbas told BIRN that Palestine would not recognise Kosovo as an independent state. “We have good relations [with Kosovo] but we don’t interfere in conflicts between countries. We distance ourselves and we stay away from all the conflicts, because we don’t want to be here or there,” he said.

The President said he was happy to offer Kosovo his “moral support” but no more. “They are friends, they are our people. But, because we have our problems, we hope that they will find a solution for themselves, without our interference,” Abbas said.

Al Natsheh’s deputy, Akram Al-Khateb, said the commission was looking into a number of other cases against Dahlan, worth tens of millions of US dollars, including his investments in the Balkans.

“Our job is to look for Dahlan’s money transfers to Egypt, Jordan, the Emirates, Serbia, Montenegro and all over,” Al-Khateb said.

Since 2006, Dahlan and his family have established a number of real estate businesses in Serbia and Montenegro, accumulating capital of at least 2.5 million euro, according to company accounts.

Through his role of advising the Abu Dhabi royal family in the Balkans, he has built up strong relationships with the Prime Minister of Serbia, Aleksander Vucic, and with his Montenegrin counterpart, Milo Djukanovic.

While Dahlan rents a luxury state-owned villa in Belgrade and is regularly photographed with senior politicians in the region, Palestinian officials told BIRN he needs to answer for the assassinations of 13 opponents in Gaza.

“Dahlan was responsible for security in Gaza, and we are investigating allegations that he commanded a ‘death unit’ responsible for 13 murders in Gaza. We have almost finished investigation in six of those cases,” the Attorney General Muhammad Abd al-Ghani Uweili said.

Dahlan, whose iron-fisted tactics in Gaza led to the area being nicknamed “Dahlanistan”, admitted in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2008 that “mistakes” had occurred in the running of the strip’s Preventative Security Service, but said no one had been tortured or killed under his orders.

His supporters believe the judicial investigations against him are aimed at preventing his return to Palestine for long-delayed presidential and parliamentary elections. Dahlan’s French lawyer, Sévag Torossian, did not respond to our request for a comment.

No one interviewed in Ramallah was willing to publicly back Dahlan’s political ambitions. Some suggested that, while the charges against Dahlan’s need to be heard in court, the decision to prosecute him was essentially politically motivated.

In Gaza and Palestinian refugee camps his generous handouts to the impoverished residents, reportedly bankrolled by Abu Dhabi, have won him a following. Internationally, Dahlan also retains some support in Israel, the Gulf and the West.

Time magazine journalist Joe Klein in January wrote that Dahlan had held clandestine meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and could hold to the key to peace in the Middle East. Dahlan denies the meeting ever took place.

“He is perhaps the most skilled of the next generation of Palestinian leaders, although he developed a well-deserved reputation as a thug when he led the Palestinian security services in Gaza,” Klein wrote.

But Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of the Abbas-led Fatah Movement and Dahlan’s former security counterpart in the West Bank, categorically dismissed the political hopes of the man once dubbed Palestine’s “Prince Charles”.

Sitting below a photo of Yasser Arafat, he told BIRN: “Dahlan will never, never, never come back to Palestine.”

 

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