The Palestinians are the last to be surprised over the recent Panama Papers revelations that indicate a connection between money and power among their leadership or, what in popular parlance, falls under the broad heading of “corruption.” There is nearly no daily conversation where allegations of corruption are not expressed, whether referring explicitly to individuals by name (cabinet ministers, senior members of the ruling Fatah party or NGO directors) or their institutions.
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In conversations with Palestinians, they speak of a broad range of corruption that they believe is present at top levels of society: Outright theft of public funds, receiving of bribes and other favors in return for services, hugely inflated salaries and favors paid to senior NGO officials and high-level political interference in the replacement of senior civil servants.
Then there are the allegations of partnership interests of senior figures from the ruling party and government ministries in private businesses, the provision of public land to senior officials and the payment of huge sums from the political organization level for construction of homes, for medical care or to attend conferences abroad. There are allegations of relatives being appointed to government ministries (and one of the most common allegations is that every minister fills his ministry with locals from his own home region). People speak of officials drawing two salaries at the same time (for example, a senior official in a political organization, a former legislator). And this is just a partial list of allegations that render almost every senior figure or public official into a corrupt suspect, who is therefore untrustworthy.
The animosity raging between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former senior Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan also includes regular mutual recriminations of corruption. Last year a court in Ramallah dropped an indictment filed by the Palestinian prosecution against Dahlan over major embezzlement charges and ruled that the stripping of the immunity from prosecution that Dahlan had enjoyed as a legislator was not carried out according to the law.
Dahlan’s associates regularly mention Abbas’ sons’ global business interests. They probably would have welcomed the Haaretz Panama Papers reporting by Uri Blau and Daniel Dolev regarding Abbas’ son Tareq and his hefty interests in a private company with links to the Palestinian Authority, but they would certainly not have been surprised.
In a shtetl-like society, which the Palestinian one is, namely small and with extended families whose members are at almost every rung of the social ladder, everyone is exposed to some kind of incriminating morsel of information, in his own view, about senior people or what would fit the popular definition of corruption.
And in contrast to the sparsity of written documents that may be exposed to bolster the allegations, there is other visible, concrete evidence of what is perceived as corruption: the ornate large private home or second home purchased by someone who is not known to hail from a wealthy family (meaning where the source of wealth is no longer questioned); the snazzy new car; the time spent at fancy clubs; and the use of official vehicles for personal purposes.
The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research regularly asks if people think there is corruption at the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. In the most recent poll, published at the beginning of the month, 79 percent answered that there is, and this response has been more or less constant for years.
In the interest of fair disclosure, in this writer’s opinion, the occupation (including the allocation of land on both sides of the Green Line to Jews alone) is the mother of all corruption, but that should not let the Palestinians off the hook easily. On the contrary, as part of a people fighting a despotic and fraudulent foreign occupation, the Palestinian leadership (the Palestine Liberation Organization, Fatah and Hamas as well) is more highly obligated than anyone else to act with integrity. And they are failing the test.
Under circumstances of occupation, it is natural the definition of corruption would be wide. When the newly-minted head of Israel’s Civil Administration in the territories, Munir Amar, was killed in a plane crash, several senior Fatah and Palestinian Authority officials, including political associates of Abbas, went to pay a condolence call. The Civil Administration is not a neutral Israeli entity. It should be remembered that it is the operational arm of a policy of land theft, water theft, home demolition, settlement, etc. Are their narrow personal interests (currying the favor of the overlords who issue the travel permits) the reason for the typical disregard that they have demonstrated towards their own people?
The senior Palestinian Authority officials continue to securely remain in their posts, not as representatives of the people but rather under the auspices of international support for continued negotiations with Israel in advance of the “establishment of a Palestinian state.” That means continued support for a lie: the status quo of Israeli domination, accelerated colonization, a stable security situation that is undermined from time to time and pockets of Palestinian self-rule.
In these pockets, one finds many senior officials and those linked to them who owe their personal and family wellbeing to that same status quo. In other words, they are incapable of turning the tables and imagining and developing a new and inclusive form of struggle (that does not necessarily require arms) against Israeli domination since that is liable to harm their economic status and that of those around them. And this is corruption.