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Dahlan says he wants to run as next Palestinian president

Palestinian strongman Mohammed Dahlan says he wants to return to the West Bank to run for president, despite major dispute within Fatah party
Mohammed Dahlan speaks at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2009 (AFP)

Palestinian politician and exiled leader Mohammed Dahlan says he is ready to be the next Palestinian president.

In an interview this week from his current home in Abu Dhabi, Dahlan told Newsweek he has a "nice life" in the Gulf "but believe me, my heart is there."

"If there was an election tomorrow, I'll go back."

Dahlan was expelled from the Fatah political party by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2011 following accusations of corruption, but instead of falling from grace, Dahlan has revelled in his outcast role by cementing strong relationships with the Emirati and Egyptian governments.

Through a consultancy business he told Newsweek that he runs from his home, Dahlan is widely reported as acting as a security advisor to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, where he played an influential mediating role in securing arms deals between the UAE and Serbia. Last year, the Serbian government granted him and his family Serbian citizenship.

In the interview, Dahlan also claimed credit for the brief opening of the Egyptian Rafah border crossing in January, saying that the move came after he paid a visited to Egyptian officials.

“The opening of Rafah crossing to students, patients, Palestinians living abroad and holders of foreign passport is only a first step in a series of measures adopted by the Egyptian leadership during my recent visit to Egypt,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Dahlan is facing two court trials, one that has already sentenced him in absentia last year to two years in prison for defaming the Palestinian Authority. The second trial is underway, where he stands accused of stealing $17mn in public funds. He told Newsweek that he remains unfazed by the verdicts, describing them as irrelevant and in the PA's interests .

The acrimonious rift between Mahmoud Abbas and Dahlan escalated into a public feud where the two have traded accusations of corruption, even accusing the other of having a hand in the death of the late president Yasser Arafat.

“Because I know the facts, Abu Mazen [Abbas] hates me,” Dahlan told Newsweek. “I understand that, by the way. But it doesn’t give [him] the right to claim that I’m corrupted like [he is].”

Dahlan once commanded the PA Preventative Security Forces in the 1990s, which clamped down on Hamas activists harshly. He denies that there was any torture involved, but Hamas has not dismissed his notoriety and view him as a bitter enemy.

Dahlan was in charge of the security forces that failed to implement a coup against the Hamas government in 2007, and were overcome by Hamas in the Gaza strip. Recently, a rapprochement between Dahlan and Hamas led to the suggestion that relations between the two were driven by their shared rivalry of Abbas.

Questions remain about how would take over from Abbas who turns 80 next month. The president’s mandate ended in 2009, and he has not yet named a successor nor does he have an apparent heir. Abbas has refused to disclose any information on talks of presidential elections or given any indication of priming a candidate to take over his leadership role.