Analysis |

In Absence of Palestinian Parliament, Tribalism Thrives, Anti-corruption NGO Says

Report by AMAN criticizes power of clans, but also reflects a vibrant society that voices domestic criticism despite authoritarian self-rule in parts of West Bank and in Gaza

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A Palestinian vendor sells food as Palestinian laborers cross illegally into Israel from the West Bank through an opening in a fence, south of the West Bank town of Hebron, Sept. 6, 2020
A vendor sells his wares as Palestinian laborers cross illegally into Israel from the West Bank, last month. Domestic deterioration due not only to the occupation but decision makers' failures.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

In 2019, the power of tribalism expanded in the West Bank as an alternative to the rule of law – and as a sign of its weakness – as well as to Palestinian Authority state institutions.

This critical indictment appears in the 12th annual report of AMAN, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging transparency, accountability and integrity in the conduct of Palestinian Authority institutions and the de facto government in the Gaza Strip (in other words, Hamas).

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The report describes and warns against increasing domestic deterioration that’s due not only to Israel's occupation, but also to the errors and failures of decision makers. Thus, the report also bears witness to the vibrancy of Palestinian society, which finds ways to express internal criticism and to demand corrective measures, despite the authoritarian and suppressive self-rule that has developed under Fatah in the West Bank enclaves and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In a society where the prevalent underlying assumption is that the official establishment is drowning in corruption, AMAN, which sees its mission as fighting corruption, allows itself to take a stand that is not populist. The example it gives in its critical appraisal of the power of clans – large, conservative families – refers to the revocation of the social security law, a law against which many thousands of Palestinians have protested in the past year or so.

The tribalism it refers to has been expressed in the connection between large, powerful families, mainly in Hebron, and Hizb ut-Tahrir (a fundamentalist Islamic party) – which opposed the law. The report does not mention these details specifically, but cites the powerful influence of "politicized religious groups" and "the undeniable growth of clans allied with them.” The legislation, proposed in 2016, aims to ensure allocation of pension funds, maternity leave and compensation for victims of labor accidents in the private sector.

The business sector was opposed to the legislation. Many of the large families in Hebron are business owners, and they also support Hizb ut-Tahrir. The AMAN report mentions that "the clans and allies were supported by influential people in the private sector despite the law’s provision for the continuation of dialogue between all relevant authorities, in order to reach a national consensus on the provisions of the law."

Their opposition to the legislation resonated among many Palestinians who were not convinced that the PA would not steal the money for its own needs and those of Fatah. Under the pressure of protests and in light of the power of the large families, President Mahmoud Abbas ordered the annulment of the law.

The report cites another low point in 2019, when President Abbas dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council without setting a date for new elections. The council was essentially dysfunctional as a legislative body since the 2006 election and its mandate officially expired in 2010, but its elected representatives, at least some of them, tried to provide some measure of oversight of the Palestinian government. The report suggests that there’s a link between the paralysis and elimination of the legislative council and the strengthening of large clans as pressure groups – also within local councils. This in addition to the weakness of the judicial system, in which “political forces” (meaning Abbas and Fatah) intervene when it comes to appointments and composition.

AMAN’s latest report –136 pages in English and 134 in Arabic – was issued last week. It contains a very detailed description of issues that facilitate corruption: in policy (“decisions are concentrated in the hands of a few individuals"; the continuous appointments of cronies to special and high-level roles despite a declaration that government expenses will be reduced); in official institutions; in the private sector; and in the employment terms of international organizations operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (which permit their Palestinian employees to avoid taxes) and in the Gaza Strip.

In an effort to show a positive spirit, the report mentioned a few areas in which there was progress in 2019: For example, the Ramallah government decided to set up mechanisms to prevent gift giving and bribes to officials in the public sector and to defend whistle-blowers who reveal corruption in public administration, and to encourage citizens to file complaints; moreover, the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission increased the number of complaints it's submitted to the prosecution, so that it may issue indictments, and its public credibility also rose due to the appointment of a new director. Similarly, local councils improved public accessibility to information about their activities.

However, in general the report complains that the lack of transparency is a given: The government is dragging its feet regarding enactment of a law guaranteeing freedom of information, with its decisions published only in brief, without further details; the treasury is very late in filing its annual final accounts and does not respond to AMAN’s requests for information on various matters. Similarly, there is a total lack of clarity regarding information about the money deducted by the occupation (Israel) from taxes paid by the Palestinian public.

AMAN was established in 2000 by a number of NGOs working in the realm of democracy, human rights and good governance. In 2006, it was accredited as a national chapter of the Transparency International organization. It is currently calling on people to nominate candidates for an annual prize it awards to those exposing corruption in the West Bank and Gaza.

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