Palestinian kleptocracy: West accepts corruption, people suffer the consequences
The Abbas family’s corruption is a hot topic in the territories, but not here in the U.S. Tareq Abbas, son of the Palestinian Authority president, is a multi-millionaire owning villas in Amman, a Beirut rooftop pad and a luxury London flat. His older brother, Yasser, has made a fortune from, among other things, his monopoly sale of U.S.-made cigarettes in the Judea and Samaria a.k.a. the West Bank.
Leaked records from a Panamanian law firm show that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his two sons used power and influence to control the two major Palestinian economic boards (Arab Palestinian Investment Company, Palestinian Investment Fund) and built a West Bank economic empire worth more than $300 million. Abbas’ authoritarian rule has allowed his family’s Falcon consortium to dominate the West Bank’s commerce and labor markets including owning shopping centers, media and insurance companies and distributing food, cigarettes, cosmetics and other consumer items. Falcon touches every aspect of Palestinian commercial life.
These documents, reports from senior Fatah officials and Palestinian social media reveal extensive corruption at the highest levels — the Abbas family and a Palestinian elite manipulating the political and financial systems to benefit themselves at the expense of the people.
The 1993 Oslo Accords established Palestinian self-rule over 98 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. Since then, the PA received an estimated $25 billion in financial aid from the U.S. and other Western countries, the highest per capita assistance in the world.
Instead of creating the independent and robust civil institutions necessary for good governance, promoting peace with Israel and improving the lives of its people, the billions of dollars of international aid were used to create a corrupt dictatorship focusing on enriching its elites, inciting its people against Israel, advocating terrorism and waging a massive international campaign to demonize, delegitimize and destroy the Jewish State. And the U.S. doesn’t seem to care, donating $442 million of taxpayer money in 2016.
Abbas is currently in the eleventh year of a four-year term. He rules by decree, and parliamentary and presidential elections are not on the horizon.
A May 2016 independent poll showed that 95.5 percent of Palestinians believe Abbas government is corrupt.
Public perceptions of widespread corruption are reinforced by the lavish lifestyles enjoyed by top PA officials, as well as the lack of transparency and accountability of the Palestinian government.
The Palestinian legislature, which previously had provided some measure of oversight, hasn’t convened since 2007, leaving Abbas free to rule by diktat and award family and cronies with exorbitant salaries and opulent villas in subsidized gated communities on the outskirts of Ramallah.
Hasan Khreishah, Palestinian Legislative Council member, remarked, “Since…the Oslo Accords we have had 228 ministers….All receive high salaries and luxurious vehicles.” The head of the Palestinian Investment Fund makes $420,000 per year while the average worker makes about $4,600 annually.
The PA fails to submit budgets for required audit, eliminating oversight of how over $4 billion is spent each year. As part of its “development budget” of $17.9 million for the first quarter of 2014, funds specifically designated for projects to benefit the Palestinian community, $9.4 million was budgeted for Abbas’ presidential plane and another $4.4 million was budgeted for “other” expenses.
Abbas recently established a new “constitutional” court to oversee lower courts and packed it with his Fatah political party accomplices to intentionally enhance his control of power and purse-strings.
The PA refuses to use its considerable international aid to relocate over 100,000 Palestinians from Palestinian-controlled refugee camps to residential locations in the territories, preferring to leave them confined under squalid conditions.
Muhammad Rashid, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s economic advisor, claims that Abbas misappropriated at least $100 million from Palestinian coffers. Abbas’ political rival Muhammad Dahlan accuses Abbas of stealing $600 million of the $1.4 billion that Arafat’s Prime Minister Salam Fayyad transferred to Abbas when Abbas assumed the Palestinian presidency.
An EU audit of the years 2008-2012 found that 2 billion Euros of its aid were lost to corruption and misappropriation by Palestinian leaders.
The refusal of the international community to hold Abbas and the PA accountable for nepotism and corruption drove Gazan Palestinians into the open arms of Hamas, the terrorist group which promised them reform.
Today, nothing has changed. The West is fixated on creating a Palestinian state no matter how corrupt. Given Abbas’ perfidious dictatorship, such a state is doomed to failure. All indications are that President Obama will reward this reprehensible behavior with a rapid path to statehood.
Why is the Abbas kleptocracy illegitimate in the eyes of the Palestinian people, but acceptable in the eyes of Obama and the West?
Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. She has a Master of Arts degree in public law and government from Columbia University and an A.B. in political science from Vassar College.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.