Human Rights

Expert: West’s Blind Eye to Abbas’ Corrupt Dictatorship is Undermining Palestinian Statehood

The West’s refusal to challenge the growing corruption and autocratic rule of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “could have a devastating effect on the long- prospects for a viable Palestinian state,” Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote Monday in Newsweek.

As long as Abbas continues security cooperation with Israel and “pay[s] lip service to the moribund peace process,” Western leaders will not pressure him to change, Rumley observed. He added Abbas “has tested the limits of Western leniency” since the end of the American-sponsored talks two years ago, which Abbas himself torpedoed.

Rumley raised concerns that Abbas, who is in the 11th year of a four-year term, is becoming increasingly dictatorial. Last month, Abbas established a new constitutional court, all of whose members are picked by Abbas, “that would, naturally, confirm his own presidential decrees,” Rumley wrote. When a Palestinian legislator accused an Abbas ally of corruption in March, Abbas issued a warrant for her arrest.

When teachers launched an unprecedented strike over the PA’s broken promises to raise their wages, the PA set up roadblocks to prevent the teachers from marching on Ramallah, arrested the leaders of the teachers’ union, and threatened legal action unless they returned to work. The crackdown prompted one Palestinian journalist to write that the PA “really should not continue to exist.” And a recent report from a Palestinian NGO found that in 2015, 60 percent of the nearly 200 violations of press freedom in Palestinian territories occurred in the PA-governed West Bank, with only 40 percent occurring in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

With Abbas sensing little interest from the White House in pursuing bilateral talks, Abbas is using the final year of President Barack Obama’s term in office as an opportunity for the “consolidation of power at home” and to “further isolate Israel,” Rumley wrote.

But the indulgence Abbas has been given to grow increasingly autocratic comes at a price—”a devastating effect on the long-term prospects for a viable Palestinian state.” Rumley concluded:

As one former Bush administration officialremarked in 2013, Palestinian self-governance—with free and fair elections—were “a powerful argument that it was time for Israel to stop governing Palestinians.” In other words, Abbas’s increasingly tyrannical government in the West Bank does not only handicap political expression—it also sets back the very legitimacy of the Palestinian national project.

Other experts have raised concerns about the PA’s corruption and its effect on the viability of a future Palestinian state.

In We Really Need to Talk About Corruption, which was published in the December 2013 issue of The Tower Magazine, Jonathan Schanzer observed:

It seems clear that, despite being rejected by both the ballot and the gun, Abbas has failed to learn his lesson. He has failed to reform the dysfunctional Palestinian Authority, and does not show any signs of attempting to do so in the near future. And the West, addicted to top-down peacemaking, shows little interest in genuinely helping the Palestinian people attain a government dedicated to coexistence with Israel, nor one built on the open, fair and transparent civil society and legal system required to build a successful state.

Similarly, in Terrorists and Kleptocrats: How Corruption is Eating the Palestinians Alive, which was published in the June 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine, Aaron Menenberg wrote:

Through the PA, a small group of elites has concentrated power and wealth, estranging the Palestinian people from its government and insulating the government from the people. Sadly, foreign attempts to aid the Palestinians are subject to the same regime, with devastating consequences. The attempt to use foreign aid to the PA as both a carrot and a stick has not closed the gap between the Palestinian people and their government. Rather, it has helped widen it.

American and European support for the Palestinian Authority now totals hundreds of billions of dollars—possibly trillions if non-governmental activities are included. With that money, we have helped build an elite-run system that bludgeons the entrepreneurial Sammys and marginalizes the pragmatic Izzats. Not a lot of Westerners get to see this dynamic from the inside, and that is a shame.

Much of the foreign support for the Palestinians is given with the best of intentions. This makes those who question it susceptible to all manner of criticism. That this questioning is often warranted, however, escapes many supporters and financiers of the Palestinian Authority, because it contradicts the comfortable mainstream narrative that reinforces their motivation. Meanwhile, the PA is as corrupt as ever, and uses our foreign aid to literally sell its people short.

The gap between the Palestinian people and their leadership is nothing less than catastrophic, and it will not be closed unless donors change the way they support the Palestinian Authority. A good first step would be to tie aid to greater PA transparency and responsibility to the Palestinian people. Donors should also insist on fiscal and legal reforms, as well as the establishment of robust and independent institutions—judiciary and education included. These are all necessary ingredients for economic growth and nation-building. Unfortunately, so long as we and other donors refuse to take these steps, we will remain part of the problem, not part of the solution.

[Photo: Flash90 ]