TEL AVIV — A whole lot of money is involved in the current Palestinian political struggles, with some suggesting that the ability to bring in the bucks is a non-official competition for the title to be the next president of the Palestinian authority. And no better way to judge that than to measure how notable weddings are being celebrated.
We see, for example, that the current president Mahmoud Abbas marked his 80th birthday by celebrating his eldest grandson's wedding in Qatar.
At the same time, Abbas's bitter rival Mohammed Dahlan was celebrating his daughter's wedding in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The wedding season of recent weeks in the Palestinian territories thus became a way for the two leaders to compete with each other for who will grant more money and sponsorship to the young newlyweds.
Clearly, it isn't their money. It is money raised from countries in the Middle East, the Gulf, and beyond. A month ago, for example, a huge ceremony was organized in Gaza, where 2,000 couples got married on a soccer field, all sponsored by Turkey. Every couple received $2,000.
According to Palestinian sources, Dahlan was the man behind this enormous event. He also donated $5,000 from the UAE to each family who lost a member in the war last summer. His wife, Jaleela, donated generously to public institutions in Gaza with Hamas' authorization. Analysts see these recent moves as a possibility that Dahlan is trying to reconcile with Hamas, which could undercut Abbas's rule in Ramallah.
The fattest check
Abbas responded to the mass soccer field wedding by organizing a ceremony where hundreds of couples got married in the sacred Al Aqsa square in Jerusalem, and went to Jericho to celebrate afterwards. The rings and the celebrations cost $4,000 per couple.
Mahmoud Abbas is a wealthy man who has property both in Qatar and Amman, the capital of Jordan. Five years ago, Dahlan openly accused him of corruption carried out through his sons' business. Similar accusations have been made against Dahlan. In his early years as head of preventive security in Gaza, he was accused of collecting protection money from every truck that entered Israel. It is also said that some of the funds given by the United States to fight Hamas went through him.
Hamas has banned Dahlan from Gaza, and in 2011 he was thrown out of Ramallah and expelled from the Fatah party that runs the West Bank. He owes his success to the leaders of the UAE, with whom he also helped invest billions of dollars in a project in Belgrade, Serbia. As recognition, Dahlan and his family and close associates were granted Serbian citizenship.
Dahlan has significant support in the Palestinian territories and in Gaza. Abbas suspects certain key players will cooperate politically with Dahlan, such as Salam Fayyad, the former prime minister in Ramallah up to 2013.
Last week, security forces in Ramallah raided the offices of the Fayyad's Association "Palestine Tomorrow," which had received millions of dollars in funding from the Gulf for projects in the West Bank. The suspicion: money laundering.