PA Security Questions Salam Fayyad's Aid NGO Over Campaign to Help Gazans

Western diplomats see the move as an attempt by President Mahmoud Abbas to exert political pressure on his popular former prime minister.

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Then Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in his office.
Then Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in his office.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

Palestinian security officials recently questioned two employees at a nonprofit organization headed by former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in what some regard as an effort to exert political pressure on Fayyad after his organization launched a campaign to help needy Gazans.

Western diplomats who were informed of the incident said the questioning appears to have been carried out with the knowledge and consent of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

“There’s no doubt that this process was initiated by orders from above,” said a Western diplomat. “Such things don’t happen just like that.”

The launching of the investigation, itself strange, was especially peculiar because of its timing — in the midst of a war in Gaza that has left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead and caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Moreover, Fayyad is held in high regard by the international community.

The campaign launched by Fayyad’s group, Future for Palestine, encouraged Palestinians in the West Bank to donate drinking water and other vital equipment to needy Gazans via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Ads for the campaign that appeared in the Palestinian media appear to have made senior PA officials feel uncomfortable and prompted them to send Fayyad a warning by questioning his employees.

One of the reasons some say Abbas is behind the investigation is that the questioning was conducted by the Preventive Security Service, the equivalent of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, rather than the Palestinian police, which usually investigates financial irregularities.

In addition, the security officials, who arrived at the Future for Palestine offices early last week and summoned two employees for questioning the following day, also asked the workers several questions of a political nature. When the employees arrived at the appointed time, they answered a series of questions about the organization’s activities and the donations it receives, but were subsequently asked whether the organization has political ambitions or intentions.

One of the employees was asked to return for another interrogation a few days later and to bring several of the organization’s documents and internal reports.

Sources say Abbas and senior Fatah officials have been acting increasingly paranoid about the organization’s intentions, especially since some of its donations come from the United Arab Emirates, with which Abbas has very bad relations. Abbas claims that the UAE government supports Mohammad Dahlan, his staunch political rival.

Haaretz approached Fayaad several times on Monday asking for comment. Finally, he released a statement saying his group was in full compliance with all regulations.

“There has been no police search of my office or home,” Fayyad said in a statement. “There has been some activity which I am told is part of an effort on the part of the PA to verify compliance with rules and regulations. In the case of the organization I head, Future for Palestine, I am perfectly comfortable that we are in full compliance and with substantial margin to spare.”

Abbas’ office refused to comment on the incident, but his associates referred to a report by the Palestinian news agency Wafa from Sunday about the establishment of a special committee to evaluate the activity of civic action groups and nongovernmental organizations operating in the PA areas.

The report quotes Rafik Natshe, the head of the PA’s Financial and Administrative Control Administration, as saying that the aim is to regulate the activities of civic action groups operating in the West Bank and Gaza.

Fayyad resigned as prime minister in April 2013 because of sharp disagreements with Abbas. A confrontation between the two escalated over the unilateral moves in the UN Abbas promoted in September 2011, and then in November 2012. Moreover, senior PA and Fatah officials were furior with Fayaad due to his fight against corruption and over the strict oversight he had placed on the Palestinian treasury. Fayaad has since stopped commenting on diplomatic or political matters and focuses on social activism.

Nine months ago Fayyad launched Future for Palestine, which solicited funds from the Gulf states for social and economic projects in needy areas of the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem and in Area C, which is under Israeli control. These projects include digging wells in areas where there is no running water and erecting solar panels to produce and supply power to villages that aren’t connected to the electric grid.

Future for Palestine was legally registered and issues quarterly reports on its activities to the relevant PA oversight officials, although it is not required to do so.

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