Corruption in the Palestinian Authority


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in Ramallah, Jan. 14, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman. – At the moment, the hot topic of conversation in the Palestinian Authority (PA) is the most recent appointment made by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Earlier this month, Abbas extended the tenure of his friend Rafiq al-Natsheh as head of the PA’s anti-corruption department for the second time — contrary to Palestinian law. Even the department’s internal constitution does not allow its serving head to remain in his position once his term has ended.

However, for Abbas, everything is permissible. He considers himself above the law. He needs Rafiq al-Natsheh for outward appearances, to show transparency and to demonstrate that the Palestinian Authority and its senior officials are adhering to moral ethics.

Rafiq al-Natsheh is considered to be one of Abbas’ most faithful adherents. According to Fatah sources, Yasser Arafat did not like him. He was born in Hebron in 1934, and belongs to the generation of the Fatah movement’s founders.

Al-Natsheh has led the anti-corruption department since 2010. Previously, he served as Labor Minister in 1998, and Agriculture Minister in 2002. According to a report on the Feris news site from March 5, 2018, Abbas has turned al-Natsheh into his own personal lackey.

The report claims that al-Natsheh is suspected of “violating the law and receiving large sums of money in return for managing funds for orphans in Palestine.”

On September 9, 2016, al-Natsheh gave an interview to the al-Sabah newspaper. In it, he claimed that the “Israeli occupation” is the main source of corruption.

According to Fatah sources, Abbas also uses al-Natsheh to eliminate his political rivals. This is how he managed to put together a file of corruption charges against the politically ambitious Mohammed Dahlan.

Abbas is, once again, blatantly flouting Palestinian law. Just last week, senior Fatah official Tawfik Tirawi lamented that the complaint he submitted to the Palestinian public prosecutor regarding the wiretapping of leadership officials was neither investigated nor researched.

About a month ago, Tirawi, who used to be head of the General Intelligence Service in the West Bank, complained that PA security forces were wire-tapping mobile phones belonging to senior officials and thousands of other PA residents — all under the orders of the PA chairman and in cooperation with the Palestinian cell phone provider Jawwal. This is also in clear violation of Palestinian law.

Abbas is currently at the end of his political road. His health is deteriorating, and according to statements from the Palestinian opposition, he needs al-Natsheh’s help to whitewash several corruption inquiries that may lead to him and his two sons. Abbas’ main fear is what will happen to his sons — Yasser and Tareq — and their property, once he is gone from office.

Both of Abbas’ sons are perceived among the Palestinian public as symbols of the Abbas regime. In recent years, they have become incredibly rich and have developed prosperous businesses in the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries by using their father’s connections.

In contrast to Yasser Arafat, whose image among the Palestinian public was that of a modest leader who made do with very little, Abbas is perceived as a corrupt hedonist. Very recently, he purchased a new airplane for $50 million for his trips around the world.

Several months ago, Abbas also completed the construction of a luxurious palace for the PA, near the town of Surda, north of Ramallah. The palace occupies an area of 44 dunams and cost $13 million to build. This four-story building, including fountains and two helicopter pads, was intended to host foreign leaders visiting the Palestinian Authority.

However, due to harsh criticism on the Palestinian street, Abbas recently decided to convert the luxurious building into a public library.

Apparently, after 13 years in government as the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas is following in the footsteps of other Arab leaders in the region, with regard to maintaining moral integrity. He will go down in Palestinian history as a figure who never considered the difficult situation of the Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip; who created divisions and dissension between the West Bank and Gaza; and who betrayed the Arab states with regard to the Palestinian issue.

His sole interest during his final years in government is how to retire from the tumult of political life without making any concessions to Israel and the United States, once he has assured the welfare of his family and their economic future.

The widespread belief on the Palestinian street is that most of the senior PA officials close to Abbas and involved in his acts of corruption will try to seize additional opportunities before the leadership changes. They will smuggle funds abroad, and move their families to Jordan and the Gulf States in preparation for what will follow.

The public will expect that any Palestinian leader who replaces Abbas will “sweep out the stables.” This new leader will have to catch scapegoats, put them on trial, and confiscate their property to demonstrate that he is fighting corruption.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

A version of this article originally appeared here.

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