Mohammed Dahlan was born in the Gazan refugee camp of Khan Younis in 1961, to a refugee family from Hammama (now Nitzanim, a kibbutz in southern Israel, located between Ashdod and Ashkelon). His father worked in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Dahlan grew up under Egyptian, then Israeli control. He soon joined the ranks of Palestinian activists, as leader of the Fatah Shabiba (youth) Movement, which he helped found in 1981. He was jailed by the Israelis 11 times between 1981 and 1986 for his involvement in the movement. During his time in prison, he learned to speak fluent Hebrew. Throughout his time out of prison, Dahlan was studying a BA in Business Administration at the Islamic University of Gaza.
When the 1st Intifada erupted in 1987, Dahlan became one of the uprising’s leaders, but was rapidly arrested and deported by Israel to Jordan, then by Jordan to Egypt, and finally by Egypt to Iraq. He then joined the PLO based in Tunis, from where he orchestrated actions and protests in the West Bank and Gaza, allowing him to gain Yasser Arafat’s confidence. He was also involved in the secret talks that led to the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993 and the creation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
Dahlan returned with Arafat to Gaza in 1994 and was rewarded with the control of the Preventive Security Forces for the Gaza Strip. Upon his arrival, he enjoyed a wave of popular support. He was a frequent member of negotiating teams on security issues for Israeli redeployments during the Oslo Process, and was part of the Palestinian Delegation at the Camp David peace talks in 2000 (See MEDEA Special File: What did really happen in Camp David?) . With the outbreak of the 2nd Intifada in September 2000, Mr. Dahlan’s credibility among Palestinians eroded somewhat, as he had to crack down on Islamic militants under Israeli and U.S. pressure. Moreover, many viewed his good relations with the two countries with suspicion. He negotiated several times with Israeli officials in order to reach a cease-fire after the 2nd Intifada broke out.
In 2001, Dahlan angered President Arafat by expressing dissatisfaction over the lack of coherent policy during the current Intifada. In June 2002, he supported calls for reforming the PNA and resigned from his post as security chief over a disagreement with Mr. Arafat, in hope that he would be reinstated as newly created Interior Minister in Mr. Arafat’s reshuffled cabinet. Instead, he was offered a post as his security advisor. He attempted to gather support for an electoral challenge to Arafat, but stopped out of loyalty to Palestinians when the Bush administration demanded a change in the PNA leadership. In April 2003, however, after strong opposition by Arafat, Mohammed Dahlan was chosen by Mahmoud Abbas, the newly appointed Prime Minister, to become the Minister of State for Security.
Dahlan was ousted in September 2003, when Mahmoud Abbas lost a power struggle with Arafat and resigned. He was succeeded by Nasser Youssef, a starch loyalist to Arafat, who was swiftly replaced by Hakam Balawi. Today, Dahlan continues to call for reform in the PNA leadership, elections, and democratisation of Fatah, but insists that Yasser Arafat should remain President.