Mohammed Dahlan, the longtime rival of Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has been sentenced in absentia by a Ramallah court to two years in prison, ABC News reports.
The sentence against Dahlan was reportedly handed down in March but was not made public until Wednesday in the official PA newspaper. There was no explanation for the delay.
The Ramallah magistrate’s court convicted Dahlan, who is now based in the United Arab Emirates, of defamation and slander because he alleged in an interview in October that PA security forces were helping protect Israeli residents of the West Bank.
Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief-turned-businessman, was close to Abbas for years, but was banished in 2010 after suggesting the Palestinian leader’s two adult sons profited financially from their father’s position as PA President. Dahlan was ousted from the party in 2011 and fled to Dubai. His home in Ramallah was later raided by PA security forces.
In recent months, the rivalry between Dahlan and Abbas has resurfaced, likely because Dahlan is planning to run against Abbas in future elections. The two-year sentence imposed on Dahlan would make it less likely for him to attempt a return to the West Bank, even though he could try to appeal.
A first political test may be the convention of Abbas’ Fatah movement, tentatively scheduled for August, where a new leadership is to be chosen. PA presidential elections are already five years overdue.
In March, Abbas accused Dahlan of having collaborated with Israel to assassinate a senior Hamas terrorist. Dahlan then hit back, branding Abbas a “catastrophe” in an interview with an Egyptian television network.
Responding to his conviction, Dahlan said on Wednesday that he remained intent on taking part in upcoming elections.
Dahlan said the trial took place in secret, arguing that the case represents a mockery of the law by the president, and was politically motivated to exclude him from planned elections and to impede his participation in the upcoming Fatah conference.
Dahlan said he was not “surprised” by Abbas’s decision to hold a “secret trial” as it “utilizes the respected Palestinian judicial system, and turns it into a tool that serves his needs, concerns, and personal grudges.”