Mohammed Dahlan was born on September 29, 1961 in Khan Younis Refugee Camp located in the Gaza Strip. Dahlan became politically active as a teenager in the Khan Younis camp and helped to establish the Fatah Youth Movement in 1981. During the next several years, Dahlan took part in the first intifada and was arrested 11 times for his activities; Israel deported him to Jordan in 1988.
From Jordan, Dahlan moved to Tunis and began working with the exiled PLO leadership, including Yasser Arafat. When Arafat returned to the Gaza Strip in 1994, he placed Dahlan as head of the Preventive Security Service and the Fatah movement in the Gaza area. Starting with nothing, Dahlan built up a force of 20,000 men, which made him one of the most powerful leaders of the Palestinian independence movement. Dahlan reportedly received help from CIA officials to train his security force to combat terrorism, which was one of Dahlan's primary responsibilities as head of the Preventive Security Service.
Jibril Rajoub is Mohammed Dahlan's sworn rival. Dahlan and Rajoub were both jailed by Israel during the first Intifada. Under Oslo they became heads of the Preventive Security Services in Gaza and the West Bank respectively. At that time they were both viewed as pragmatists, representative of a new generation of Palestinians who could live with Israel. Both Israel and the US groomed them as successors to Arafat. Both Dahlan and Rajoub were implicated in financial scandals and human rights violations.
For the next two years, Dahlan worked together with Israeli authorities to crack down on Hamas, arresting about 2,000 members in 1995 after receiving an order from Arafat. However, when Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel's Prime Minister, the cooperation based on the Oslo Accords of 1993 deteriorated and Dahlan attempted to distance himself from activities that seemed to be helping the Israelis.
In 2000, Dahlan participated in the Camp David negotiations, but the next few years brought conflict from all sides. With the beginning of the second intifada, Dahlan claimed that he was unable to stop the activities of such militant groups as Hamas. The relations with Israel unraveled, Dahlan became the target of Israeli attacks, both on his headquarters and on his personal motorcade. Dahlan reportedly resigned from his position as head of the Preventive Security Service in November 2001, but Arafat refused it.
In March and April 2002, Dahlan was one of the "Gang of Five" who lead the Palestinian Authority during the siege of Arafat's headquaraters in Ramallah. Although Arafat returned to power and named Dahlan as National Security Advisor in July 2002, Dahlan resigned three months later complaining of lack of authority and organization in the Palestinian Authority. Against Arafat's wishes, Mahmoud Abbas appointed Dahlan as Interior Minister, but when Abbas resigned, Dahlan was left outside the newly formed cabinet under Ahmed Qurei.
After being left out of the new Palestinian Authority cabinet, Dahlan began gathering support from low-level Fatah officialsand former Preventive Security Service officers in response to a perceived lack of democratic reforms among Fatah leaders. Mohammed Dahlan was thought by some to be behind much of the internecine violence in Gaza. He had often instructed Gaza's Preventive Security Service - whose new commander, Abu Shabak, is one of his loyalists - to engage in armed attacks against Arafat loyalists. Although Ahmed Qurei discussed the possibility of a cabinet reshuffling to include Dahlan, it has not yet taken place and Dahlan remains on tenuous terms with Arafat and other PA leadership.
Some have called Dahlan the Palestinian Chalabi, because he reportedly negotiated with the US and Israel about taking control of Gaza after Israel pulled out. In April 2002 testimony before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said he had offered control of the Gaza Strip to Dahlan. In exchange, Dahlan, who had control of the most significant military force on the Gaza Strip, would be obligated to ensure complete quiet along the border. Dahlan had the potential of becoming the leader who establishes orderly rule in the Gaza Strip, and who provided security.
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