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Internal corruption corrodes the Palestinian cause

President Mahmoud Abbas
After the decision to boycott the Bahrain summit, President Mahmoud Abbas says: "We will not be slaves of Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman." EFE
  • The lack of mechanisms to detect and combat corruption within the Palestinian institutional framework makes corruption one of the main dysfunctions of its political system.
  • Filtered documents detail how President Mahmoud Abás and his Government have been enriched by salary increases since 2014, despite the adverse economic situation in Palestine.
  • Trump wanted to push the failed ‘Agreement of the Century’ through the Bahrain summit, which is based on the distribution of economic gifts in exchange for the transfer of territory to Israel.
President Mahmoud Abbas
After the decision to boycott the Bahrain summit, President Mahmoud Abbas says: “We will not be slaves of Kushner, Greenblatt, and Friedman.” EFE

Nepotism and corruption are two of the endemic evils that have been reproduced for generations in the Middle East. If during the Oslo Process they emerged within the framework of several joint initiatives such as the one in the Jericho casino, in which some Palestinian and Israeli leaders distributed benefits in detriment to the general interest, everything suggests that this dysfunction could now extend to other Arab countries. 

The recent  Bahrain summit,  held at the end of June, whose main rapporteur was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has created the ideal farmland for corruption to spread further throughout the region.

Held in Manama in June, this initiative aims to generate 50,000 million dollars to invest in the development and prosperity of the area (allocating 28,000 to the West Bank and Gaza, dividing the rest between Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon). For the veteran leaders of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who boycotted the Conference, this initiative has as its ultimate objective to liquidate the Palestinian national cause. Go from the axiom of ‘peace for territories’ in Oslo to ‘peace for prosperity’.

In this context, accusations of corruption between them have become the main throwing weapon. “It is a clear attempt to make it appear that we live in an oasis of luxury and corruption, based on the filtering of documents that are presented to us as if we were all thieves and corrupt,” said Al Fatah Information Manager Munir. Al-Jaghoub “Now Jason Greenblatt (special envoy of the Trump Administration) seems very concerned about the salary increase that Palestinian ministers have benefited from, but, nevertheless, he doesn’t say a single word about the three corruption cases of his friend Netanyahu” he adds indignantly, emphasizing that the Israeli prime minister is being investigated for two years by the State Attorney General’s Office.

Interested leaks

On the eve of the Bahrain Conference, the Associated Press agency delegation in Ramallah received several documents that called into question the transparency and accountability of the ANP. One of them showed how in 2017 the Office of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abás, authorized a salary increase of $ 4,000 to $ 6,000 per month for the Prime Minister, and from 3,000 to 5,000 for the other members of the Cabinet, at that time led by the already resigned Rami Hamdala. Said  salary increase of 67%It took place retroactively since the formation of the government in 2014, within an adverse economic situation in which the ANP carried out significant cuts between its civil and security officials (whose salaries range between 700 and 1,500 dollars), causing popular anger and forcing the President to cancel the salary increase of ministers.

“In my opinion, the salaries of the ministers remained low for a long time, so the increase had its logic,” explains the correspondent for Palestinian affairs of Haaretz, Amira Hass. “Talented people are leaving to work for international companies and not for the ANP state bureaucracy. The fact that wages are low is one of the reasons for this brain drain,” continues Hass, one of the best connoisseurs of the Palestinian reality. Still aware that nepotism and corruption corrode the political system, the Israeli always encourages external observers to proceed with caution and rigorously contrast the multiple accusations that circulate through social networks.

“I remember a leak that I read on Facebook that said that Abbas’ grandson, 5, had received a diplomatic passport from the ANP. But is it true or false?” Hass asks. “The people of Mohamed Dahlán (an important Palestinian political leader – and Abbas’s rival – who was expelled in 2010) are likely to filter many of these accusations, as the President’s people extend incriminating accusations against them,” he adds. “What to believe? It is difficult to know since there is no tradition of Palestinian investigative journalism,” Hass concludes in an interview with eldiario.es.

“The truth is that Abbas and his children do not stop increasing their wealth,” accuses the founder of the new Reformation and Development party, Ashraf Jabari, who has precisely led the delegation of 15 businessmen from the West Bank who chose to ignore the boycott promoted by the ANP against the Bahrain Conference. “The Anti-Corruption Commission is nothing more than a smokescreen to hide the scandals and satisfy the EU,” adds Jabari, who claims during one of the interviews of the documentary ‘Terror, Racket and Corruption’ that the community bloc should launch an audit of the large donations given to the ANP since 1994, “which would show how billions of dollars have disappeared from the public treasury.”

The usual suspects

The main suspect of Palestinian corruption is the former director of the Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed Dahlán, possibly the politician who has generated the most controversial and social polarization in recent years, given that he was one of the main candidates to assume the presidency of the ANP – in fact, the favorite of the international community – but fell out of favor when Abbas felt he was conspiring against him. Since then, Dahlán lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is credited with a wealth of more than 100 million euros, accumulated from the investment of the benefits that were reported by the extra costs that he collected at the border crossings of the Stripe.

Likewise, Yaser Arafat’s former personal advisor, Mohammed Rashid, became a non-grata person in Palestine after emptying government coffers and moving his operations center from Ramallah to Cairo, and from there to London. The attorney general of the National Authority, Ahmed al Mughani, accused the elusive Rashid, who was tried in absentia by the Anti-Corruption Court on June 2012 and sentenced to serve 15 years in prison and pay a fine of 15 million dollars, in addition to returning another 34 million dollars sheared from the Palestinian Investment Fund. Al Mughani tried to process a search and capture order through Interpol, but since the ANP does not belong to the organization as it is not yet a member state of the UN, Rashid continues to live quietly in exile and make lucrative private business with money Of all the Palestinians.

Another usual suspect is the Minister of Civil Affairs, Hussein A-Sheikh, on whom there are accusations of illegal possession of weapons (A-Sheikh has a private militia in Ramallah, although not as numerous as the one that Dahlán had in Gaza ), economic corruption and sexual harassment. Allegations before which the head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Rafik Al-Natche, has always taken a profile. 

Likewise, the Foreign Minister,  Riad Malki, has several files opened for alleged cases of corruption in several of his Embassies and for fraudulent use of diplomatic passports. The Prosecutor’s Office has never acted against Malki since he has the favor of President Abbas, which has allowed him to retain his portfolio indefinitely.

Fighting corruption

The complex institutional framework that operates in the West Bank – in which the Al-Fatah structures intersect with those of the PLO and in turn these with those of the PNA, despite the fact that each one has its own budgets and donors – hinders the articulation of effective control and prevention mechanisms. Thus, Palestine does not have a national branch of the specialized NGO Transparency International (unlike Israel, which has an office in Tel Aviv, run by Heli Olami). Instead, it does have an associated organization known under the name of AMAN, Coalition for Transparency and Integrity. 

Despite the fact that during Abbas’ mandate “the ANP has provided itself with a series of specific institutional instruments to fight corruption – such as the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Anti-Corruption Court, the economic crimes section of the State Attorney General’s Office, the Council of the Judiciary and the figure of an Ombudsman of all security forces with the ability to investigate any type of allegation presented against them – in the end all are subordinated to the Executive branch, “says AMAN coalition director Mahdi Abu Zeid . “This is coupled with the fact that the Legislative Council has not functioned since 2007, so there is no parliamentary control of the Government,” he said.

From AMAN they consider that the solution to the problem involves “the development and implementation of a national plan with the participation of all the actors involved in the fight against corruption, which should be led by the Anti-Corruption Commission and articulate an effective evaluation system with Smart indicators, in addition to the urgent need to introduce greater transparency in public budget management, “adds Abu Zeid. A plan that should also include the participation of donors, especially the EU, enforcing the popular axiom of Muhammad’s Law: as guilty is he who gives as he takes.

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