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A recent study placed the Palestinian Authority a dubious 107th on a list of corrupt countries, with number 159 being the most corrupt. The study, carried out by the NGO Transparency International (TI), headquartered in Berlin, analyzes levels of corruption according to the extent to which public office is used for personal gain. This is indeed a resounding failure for the Palestinian Authority, to which so much international money, and so many advisors, instructors and researchers of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund genre, have devoted themselves since it was established in 1994.

But an even more serious failing of the Palestinian Authority is that an institution as reasonable and well informed as TI found it proper to include the PA in a list of "countries," all of which have defined borders and their people are sovereign in their land. The PA, as opposed to Iceland or Bangaladesh, is neither a country nor a state. It is a bureaucratic-political system with limited administrative and governmental authority over a population of approximately three and a half million people. It has no authority or control over central elements that define a people's sovereignty: land, water, minerals, borders, freedom of movement, freedom to make decisions such as change of address and the right of residence for non-citizens, the awarding of citizenship, and the entry of tourists. An Israel Defense Forces soldier at an out-of-the-way checkpoint has more say in these matters than the PA.

For example, last Sunday IDF soldiers at the Beit Furiq checkpoint east of Nablus prevented the passage of Palestinians between the ages of 16 and 30 until further notice. That was the order, the soldiers made clear. Among those whose passage was prohibited were school children, students and people on their way to work in Nablus - the IDF does not define work and studies as "humanitarian needs" that would allow the soldiers flexibility in interpreting their orders.

Among those denied passage were also four or five women with small children on their way to the doctor. There was also a couple with their baby. The father and the baby were allowed to pass, he being over 30 and the baby being a few months old. But the nursing mother was not allowed to pass - she was under 30.

It is reasonable to assume that there are a few senior PA officials in Nablus who for years derived personal gain from their position. One essential element of this gain is that many of them, in Nablus as well as in Gaza and Hebron and especially among the senior echelon, receive "discounts" from the Israeli occupation forces, and avoid the severe travel limitations Israel imposes on their people. It is to be assumed that this standard of "personal gain" - free passage at the Hawara or Beit Furiq checkpoint - was not included among the TI standards. Neither was the fact that senior Palestinian officials, who have direct channels of communication with Israeli officials, are able to arrange for passage for their associates.

If these measures of corruption had been included, the authors of the study would have had to conclude that the PA cannot be measured as an organization divorced from the bureaucracy of occupation and Israeli colonialism. This is a case of two dovetailed corrupt systems, by which, obviously, Israel would be pushed to below the number 28 slot it now occupies on that same list. Not only because of the senior Israeli ministers and officials who live in the settlements, that is, on land not their own, but because they owe their position and their political and personal advancement to bribes they have been distributing for dozens of years to the Israeli public in the form of land and water robbed from the Palestinians.

Even if the TI study would have decided to compare "governments" only, the PA would still have failed. Regarding itself as "government" with all the outward trappings of one, it forgets and makes others forget that it is leading an occupied people, not a sovereign one. Mahmoud Abbas has neither the authority nor the power to ensure that students from Gaza and East Jerusalem can get to their classes in Nablus or Tul Karm. He cannot prevent the expropriation of land for Jewish-only roads in the West Bank. But the world perceives him as responsible for the behavior of the various militants, who disparage him because he cannot ensure that a nursing mother will be able to get to the doctor.

As the leadership of an occupied people, the PA is not exempt from integrity. On the contrary, the moral demand that the children of its senior officials not become rich thanks to their parents' position is even greater. But the PA should be included in an entirely different kind of list - of national liberation organizations. And its evaluation needs to address the question of how much its tactics and its strategy bring it closer to liberation from the yoke of foreign occupation. As the leadership of an occupied people, it has the right and the moral obligation to stop the wild behavior of the armed gangs vying with each other to see who possesses the biggest weapon without regard for the consequences. But its ability to do so has been impaired, because in impersonating an ordinary "government" to the world and to its people, at best it is perceived as a corrupt and failing organization and at worst, as a sub-contractor for the bureaucracy of the occupation.