Exclusive: Mohammed Dahlan on Israel-Hamas War, Biden’s Role

As calls grow for a ceasefire in Gaza, there is mounting speculation over just who has the credibility to help broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Mohammed Dahlan—the former national security adviser and a leader of the Fatah party—was once seen by both Washington and the Arab world as a go-to mediator between Tel Aviv and Gaza. Dahlan has spent the better part of the last decade in the UAE, effectively exiled from his homeland and without an official place in government.

In an interview on Nov. 15 in Dubai, Dahlan says that while he believes only the U.S. can make a lasting peace agreement, President Joe Biden’s role in the conflict risks a cycle of Palestinian resistance that “has no end.”

Rarely granting interviews with Western press, Dahlan is now courting the media. A recent proposal for a two-year transitional government of technocrats in Gaza and the West Bank raises questions over whether he might make a play for the leadership.  

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

TIME: When you think about what peace could look like, is there any peace for the Israelis and the Palestinians that includes Benjamin Netanyahu?

Mohammed Dahlan: Netanyahu is the biggest liar in the history of the Israeli people. He lies to his people, not to us. He destroyed the State of Israel and not the Palestinian people. Therefore, we were not able to forge peace with him in the past, and whoever believes they can forge peace with him in the present or future is deluded. 

He is committing this massacre against children in Gaza to protect his political standing and his position in Israel. He does not care about Israel’s security, he does not care about Israeli citizens, let alone Palestinians, and therefore he wants this war to drag on and on. 

As a Palestinian, do you believe that Hamas should be punished for the attack on Israel? 

Let’s assume that Hamas does not exist; is there anyone in Israel who can stand up boldly and say it is time to give the Palestinian people a Palestinian State with the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital? And live in peace with the Palestinian people? If such a person is found, you will find that most of the Palestinian people will support this. 

We are not warmongers, but we defend ourselves bravely. We are not the ones calling for killing others, but if others come to kill us, we have the right to defend ourselves. That is why we are provoked by the position of the U.S. administration and some leaders of the international community when they repeat Netanyahu’s lies that Israel has the right to defend itself. This means that Israel has the right to kill innocent people and children and enter and destroy hospitals? This is how Israel translates this license that it obtained from the U.S. Secretary of State, President Biden, and leaders in Europe.

But again, the whole world is watching. Do you believe that Hamas should be punished? Yes or no?

I mean, there is nothing in the Palestinian conflict that can be answered with yes or no. Have you heard one Israeli statement condemning the killing of innocent children? I am not talking about militants in Gaza. There were none. Secondly, have you heard a European official condemning Israeli statements from officials on the use of gas and mass killing in this big prison that is the Gaza Strip? There were none. Therefore, for any Palestinian or any Arab defending the rights of the Palestinians to say yes or no, we will not say it.

Would you consider being part of a future government?

It is the international community who decided that Mahmoud Abbas would remain in power without elections. Israel, the USA and the West. They decided on our behalf.  When Israel and Abbas rejected elections under the pretext of Jerusalem, they wanted to deepen corruption, deepen the division between the West Bank and Gaza, and further the occupation. This theory failed after Oct. 7, and whoever wants to repeat the same mistakes will have to bear future consequences.

But, yes or no question, would you be willing to be part of a future Palestinian government?

No, absolutely no.

Why?

But I will help, if there is an opportunity to rebuild the Palestinian political system. Then yes, I will certainly help because I have credibility in the Palestinian street … I have relations with all organizations, which allows them to listen to me. But personally, I definitely will not be, and I don’t want to be.

You’re a somewhat controversial figure. What can you do to help the Palestinian people?

A person who is not controversial is not useful, that is my view. Secondly, with regard to the relationship I have built over the past years, I think I have a good relationship with all factions. I have a relationship with civil society, I have a relationship with Hamas, with the [Islamic] Jihad, with the Popular Front, with all organizations. All of them tried me while I was not in power, and saw that I did not give up. Now how can I help? I help with money, I help through students, I help in many things that have been announced and a large part has not been announced. I will continue to do so. I consider it a personal duty that I will fulfill without being in an official position.

The broader Arab world was trending towards peace and I’m talking about the Abraham Accords. Saudi Arabia was on the verge of signing on to that agreement.  Does that mean the region is more or less inclined to peace now given what we’ve seen?

I believe that if Israel makes peace with the whole world and does not make peace with the Palestinian people, it will not have security, it will not obtain it, it will not achieve stability, it will not obtain it. They will not find the Palestinian people giving in to their will. Rather, we will enter a continuous cycle of resistance that has no end. 

When Golda Meir used to say that their elders will die and their children will forget, our elders have died and our children have become more patriotic than us and more committed to their rights than us. I can tell [Israel] nothing good will come out of this. The next generation will be tenfold more committed to national rights, stronger and with a more tenacious will, because this generation has seen the bombing with their own eyes. It would be better not to push them to the revenge that Israel has in mind. It would be better if Europe and America rekindle the hope of independence, otherwise the future of Israel will be black.

When we see protests erupt across the world, many Jews that I speak to in the United States, in France, in the United Kingdom, they’re very worried. They’re worried that they can’t send their kids to school and be sure that they’ll come home safely.  Should they be living in this kind of fear?

We are not against Jews. We, Palestinians, are not against Jews. We also do not stand against some Israelis. What we stand against is the Israeli occupation and the mentality of the Israeli occupation only. 

Is the conversation surrounding a two-state solution a non-starter?

Israel does not want a one-state solution and does not want a two-state solution. It only seeks to deepen and strengthen the occupation. That’s not going to happen and we will resist. However, if the international community works without repeating the past mistakes and without starting endless negotiations for the next 30 years, maybe if a two-state solution is offered to the Arab countries, the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people, it may find an opportunity. However, this is primarily America’s responsibility. America is the one that killed the children of Palestine in these 40 days. It is obliged to offer a solution. The solution can be viable by the way. It does not require further negotiations. We have negotiated for 20 years regarding the borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water resources, and a demilitarized state. All the details are there and only need political decisions..

So in your mind, the only folks who can move this forward are the Americans?

We live in one state.The two-state solution lies in the hands of America, not in the hands of Netanyahu or the Israeli side. If the U.S. administration has the political will as it had the political will to support Netanyahu in killing children, it can impose a two-state solution within a record time. I think that the Arab countries are more ready than they were 20 years ago to support this solution.

Who has the political will, the political credibility, the political leverage to call time on this situation and make peace? 

Only the United States, only the United States. The U.S., rather the U.S. administration, can change overnight from a country that supports crime and murder to a country that makes peace. Only the United States.

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