Palestinian Officials Outraged by Swedish Accusation of Alleged Corruption
Talk about corruption within the Palestinian Authority has been proved in documents issued by its own institutions, local expert says
One of the Palestinian Authority biggest European backers is calling out the PA for widespread corruption. A Swedish radio station quoted its country’s foreign minister as saying that: “The corruption that pervades Palestine is an obstacle to providing economic support.”
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Tuesday in Ramallah in the West Bank.
The alleged statements reported prior to the meeting infuriated Palestinian officials who described it as ” fake news,” and accused Fatah party rivals of propagating the troubling report.
PA Minister of Social Development Ahmed Majdalani vehemently denied that Linde made such a statement. “What this radio station broadcast is not true and I am sure of that. Mrs. Ann Linde is a friend of ours and we have known her for many years, and this statement cannot have been issued by her,” he told The Media Line.
“This is not true. We never heard from her on this subject in the meetings that took place on Tuesday, and those promoted by Hamas’ websites,” he added, referring to a Fatah party rival.
Majdalani, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), added that “I reviewed all the Swedish media with a number of our friends in the Swedish Parliament, and they categorically denied these statements. Her meeting yesterday with President Mahmoud Abbas, and what she confirmed during her meeting, was absolutely clear.”
Linde’s Twitter feed includes several entries on Tuesday in which she is enthusiastic and positive about her meetings with PA officials.
There have been numerous accusations that Abbas rewards officials who are close to him; for example; close advisors and top officials, or their children, have been appointed to top positions within PA institutions. He allegedly compensates his supporters for their patronage and loyalty with appointments in Palestinian embassies, diplomatic missions and in the prosecutor’s office in Ramallah.
A high-ranking PA official and one of Abbas’ closest confidants is rumored to have benefited financially by taking a cash cut from every work permit issued for Palestinians to work in Israel. This official has a family member who was appointed to an important position in the PA.
For years corruption stories of senior PA officials, their families and relatives were well known by the Palestinians, but recently these stories started going out to the international community
Attorney Moien Odeh, who specializes in human rights and international law, told The Media Line that the statement by the Swedish foreign minister is “proof that the corruption issue became very serious even to the donor community. Some of the PA officials’ reactions to the statement were again proof that they live in ignorance.”
Odeh explains that tens of millions of dollars in international aid have been steadily coming to the PA since its inception in 1993, but “unfortunately, the average Palestinians can hardly feel any change or any improvement in their daily lives.”
Odeh says these stories should not surprise anyone.
“For years corruption stories of senior PA officials, their families and relatives were well known by the Palestinians, but recently these stories started going out to the international community,” he said.
Majed al-Arouri, a Ramallah-based legal and human-rights expert, pointed to a recent report issued by the PA Office of Financial and Administrative Oversight indicating the extent of corruption within Palestinian society.
“This report is one of the most detailed reports issued by a Palestinian official body that refers to a group of problems and the general financial situation in Palestinian institutions. I do not think that a report issued by the board of oversight is to be questioned,” he told The Media Line.
Arouri says that talk about corruption within the PA has been proved in documents issued by its own institutions.
“To say that the opposition is behind the news is not true and has no basis at all. There is a waste of public money and that requires accountability,” he said.
A recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) showed that 83% of respondents believe there is corruption in PA institutions.
Majdalani dismissed the survey, labeling it too as made up.
“I think this poll is fabricated to create a public opinion and does not reflect public opinion,” he said.
But, according to Arouri, “the opinion poll reflects the opinion of the street.” He adds that officials have a low threshold when it comes to the topic of corruption.
“Because they are aware that if they admit to corruption, they will lose their credibility, and the issue of corruption is one of the most important challenges facing the Palestinian institutions, which constitutes an obstacle to any opportunity for change,” he said.
Many Palestinians have said that, to eradicate corruption in the Palestinian Authority, foreign financial aid must be conditional. But PA officials disagree saying these calls are political and will harm people.
“The lack of accountability might push the international community and the US to redesign its aid strategy, and this will affect severely the PA,” says Odeh.
Palestinians accuse the international community of looking the other way. The economy in the Palestinian territories is teetering on the verge of collapse and the internal Palestinian divide is growing deeper.
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Palestinians generally view PA officials as a self-serving, elitist group detached from the Palestinian national struggle and the daily hardships of the people.
“The Palestinian Authority refused to hold elections because it fears that the elections will affect the interests of the powerful that benefit greatly from the existence of the PA,” Arouri said.
The top echelon of the PA leadership holds many important positions and have a firm grip on the institutions, as rampant and systemic corruption reportedly grows.
“They refuse to give up power and will fight to the teeth to keep the positions they hold, not only because of the money, but for the extra benefit these positions provide for them,” Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian affairs at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, told The Media Line.
They are aware that if they admit to corruption, they will lose their credibility, and the issue of corruption is one of the most important challenges facing the Palestinian institutions, which constitutes an obstacle to any opportunity for change
Abbas has dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and consolidated his power. There is a lack of political pluralism in the Palestinian territories, and a weak civil society that has left his rule relatively unchallenged, except for a handful of outspoken activists who dare to speak.
Arouri argues that fighting corruption can’t be done without real political reform.
“Corruption can only be reformed in the Palestinian territories through a new administration that assumes power, that is an elected administration and has an elected Legislative Council.”
He says that international calls on the PA to fight corruption are meaningless if they are not accompanied by political and administrative reform. “If there is no accountability, corruption will continue,” Arouri concluded.
Those who call on the international community to either suspend or cut off financial aid from the PA are publicly criticized and condemned by PA officials and by the security forces, who label them a fifth column working for outside agendas.
Last summer, Palestinians packed the central square in Ramallah, the seat of the PA, chanting that Abbas “must go,” following the killing of outspoken activist Nizar Banat at the hands of PA security.
During one recent protest, demonstrators marched toward Abbas’ headquarters in Ramallah chanting: “The people want the fall of the regime.”
The uproar over the killing of Banat sparked protests throughout the West Bank over the summer, with PA security forces clamping down on protesters, beating and arresting many.
Journalist Najla Zeitoun was physically beaten, and her phone was forcibly taken away while covering one protest.
She accused the security forces of using obscene language threatening her and other female journalists with rape.
Abbas enjoys almost absolute power as the highest executive authority and has been governing with executive powers. This, despite the fact that a large majority of Palestinians want him out of office.
A record-high 78% of respondents called on him to resign, the survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found.
Abbas, now 85 years old, was elected president in 2005, for what was supposed to be a four-year term.
He dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2019, suspending a main pillar of democracy, and has been ruling via executive orders.
It is one-man rule in the territory under Abbas’ control in the West Bank, and he has total and unprecedented control over the Fatah party, the PA and the PLO, as he is simultaneously serving as the head of all three bodies.
The autocratic president has been facing a legitimacy crisis, and the only way out of it was to call elections, which he did in January. But Abbas’ decree to hold elections exposed him to the electorate, throwing his political future into the unknown, and providing opponents from within the Fatah movement that he heads a rare opportunity to challenge his rule.
In late April he canceled the parliamentary election slated for May and the presidential vote set for July.