RAMALLAH (Reuters) - The Palestinian High Court of Justice on Wednesday rejected an appeal by Mohammed Dahlan, a potential rival to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, against a presidential decree stripping him of parliamentary immunity.
The decision means Dahlan could be brought to trial on graft charges made against him by the Palestinian anti-corruption authority, which was set up by Abbas.
The court's ruling, which cannot be appealed, makes it more likely that Dahlan, who lives in exile in the Gulf, will not return to the Palestinian territories anytime soon, making him less of a political threat to Abbas.
Dahlan, a former senior official in Fatah, the Western-backed party headed by Abbas, fell out of favor in 2011. He is now seen as a strong potential candidate for the presidency if Abbas ever steps down or Palestinian elections are held.
In an effort to bring Dahlan to trial on the corruption charges, Abbas issued a presidential decree in 2012 stripping him of immunity. It is that decree the High Court upheld.
A statement issued by the judicial council said the court had rejected Dahlan's appeal because he had failed to petition against the decree within 60 days.
Dahlan argued it was not up to the president to strip him of immunity but the Palestinian parliament, known as the legislative council, which has not convened in full since 2007.
A former security minister from Gaza, Dahlan, 53, has seen his popularity rise within the Fatah movement and he poses a real threat to the leadership of Abbas, who is 79.
Because of internal factional divisions, it remains unclear when the Palestinians will hold their next presidential and parliamentary elections. The last parliamentary vote was in 2006 and Abbas has been in power since Yasser Arafat's death in 2004, even though his term expired in 2009.
Dahlan has described Abbas as a "dictator" and accused him of using his position for personal interests rather than administering to the affairs of Gaza and the West Bank.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Luke Baker/Mark Heinrich)