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Palestinian officials play down leaked conversation with Egypt intelligence chief

The Palestinian Authority has sought to prevent its relationship with Egypt from declining any further
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) stands with Mohammad Dahlan (AFP)

The Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian factions declined to react to Saturday's leaked phone conversation between the Egyptian intelligence chief Wael Safti and the exiled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, during which Safti harshly criticised president Abbas - purportedly to avoid a further deterioration in their relationship with Egypt.

“We don’t care about this leak and Palestine is not the state that goes after such [an] alleged leak,” an adviser to president Abbas told Middle East Eye.

“President Abbas just had a very open and good meeting with his brother, the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in New York and both presidents Abbas and Sisi are working closely without any obstacles of any kind,” he said.

The adviser added that Abbas and Fatah were busy with big events in the coming days, like the series of Fatah leadership meetings scheduled to start on Tuesday and the seventh Fatah convention scheduled to take place before the end of this year when a new leader will be elected. “We are not going to pay any attention to such alleged small things,” Abbas' adviser said.

But Abbas' aides are not happy with the special treatment Dahlan receives in Cairo and with Egyptian attempts to bring him back into the political fold.

“We know that Egyptian officials have a special relationship with Dahlan, and there are interest calculations for some Arab countries in this regard like Egypt and Jordan - but president Abbas rejected all attempts to intervene in the Palestinian internal issue,” said a senior Palestinian official who declined to give his name due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“It’s no secret that United Arab Emirates leaders have a personal problem with President Abbas for rejecting their attempts to bring Dahlan into our system, and they are using their resources and ties within the region to put more pressure on President Abbas to let Dahlan make a comeback to the Palestinian politics, but this will not happen," he said.

He added: “President Abbas has proven that he is strong enough to block not only the pressure of Arab countries but also the pressure of international players like the USA.”

Fatah officials said Abbas will let the leaked conversation pass as if nothing has happened to avoid any more damage in ties with Egypt.

The Egyptian president made two attempts to bring Dahlan back to Palestinian politics, but Abbas rejected them.

The first attempt was in 2015, when Sisi asked Abbas directly to reconcile with Dahlan. Abbas welcomed the idea and delegated his security chief Majed Faraj to work out the details of the reconciliation with his Egyptian counterpart Wael Safti during which he killed the attempt.

The second Egyptian attempt was in early September when Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE pushed Abbas to unite Fatah by bringing Dahlan and his people back for reconciliation with Hamas. Abbas agreed to bring back Dahlan's people, but said bringing Dahlan himself would be difficult because of the cases he faces in the Palestinian legal system.

“The message was clear to the Arab Quartet: Dahlan has no chance of coming back,” an aide to president Abbas said.

Some Fatah activists like Muner Jaghoub lashed out on social media, accusing the Egyptian intelligence chief of being “part of the conspiracy” against Abbas.

“This places him [Safti] in the front that stands against the Palestinian national project,” Jaghoub said.

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leaders also avoided any reaction to the leaked conversation during which the Egyptian official revealed that PFLP leaders had harshly criticised president Abbas during their recent visit to Cairo.

Rabah Muhanna, PFLP leader in Gaza, said: “Our relationship with the Egyptian intelligence chief is wonderful and he always expressed his respect for PFLP and its positions.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri made a public statement on Monday, in an apparent attempt to contain the damage resulted from the leaked conversation.

In an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Seventh Day, he praised the relationships between Egypt and Abbas. "The meeting between president Abbas and president Sisi (in New York) was very warm and there is a complete understanding between the two leaders over the very detailed issues,” said Shukri.