Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has recently attacked the Palestinian Authority over what he terms the “reign of corruption” of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This corruption, Lieberman says, is the main obstacle to improving the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.
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Two weeks ago, at a briefing for military reporters, Lieberman unveiled his “carrot and stick” policy for the West Bank, which includes punishing communities whose residents have attempted or carried out terror attacks while rewarding towns where quiet prevails. At that briefing, he also said he planned to hold direct discussions with Palestinian businessmen and politicians, cutting out “the middleman,” Abbas.
The defense minister views Abbas as a bitter enemy of Israel and says that Abbas’s policies have eliminated any possibility of advancing the peace process.
In the past two weeks, Lieberman has said several times that defense officials meet frequently with West Bank Palestinians, without the involvement or approval of Abbas and his people.
“We’ve met dozens of economists and businessmen from the Palestinian Authority, and when you ask what’s most important for the Palestinian economy, they all reply that the most important thing is to get rid of Abu Mazen,” he said on one such occasion, referring to Abbas by his nickname. “He has imposed a reign of corruption that encompasses everything. He has people in every economic sector — in real estate, the fuel market, the communications market. Abbas’ people take a tithe from every deal, and aside from the people in the inner circle, the PA leadership doesn’t allow anyone there to develop economically.
“That’s why it’s so important for him to go,” Lieberman continued. “As long as Abbas is there, nothing will happen.”
Lieberman said he didn’t think Israel should actively work to end Abbas’ rule, but at the same time, he said, it shouldn’t blame itself for the situation in the West Bank.
“Not everything depends on us,” he said. “As long as the PA’s corrupt and ineffective management continues, the economic situation there won’t improve.”
The defense minister also charged that Abbas rarely visits Nablus and Jenin, the major cities of the northern West Bank, as he prefers to take diplomatic trips abroad. “He doesn’t want to deal with problems of economics and employment,” Lieberman said. “The entire system of management there has failed.”
Last week, Arab media outlets reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to arrange a diplomatic summit between Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this year. Netanyahu doesn’t use Lieberman’s blunt language, but he apparently shares the defense minister’s skepticism about the prospects for real diplomatic progress as long as Abbas remains in power. And, like Lieberman, he blames the impasse entirely on the Palestinians.