Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad says that his regime is short
of funds. And meanwhile a reader asks me: “Can you please explain to me why 20
years after Oslo and billions in dollars in foreign aid, the Palestinian
Authority still has not built modern hospitals? Or rather, why do the donor
countries pour money down the PA drain without expecting even some face-saving
Good question. Short answer: Swiss bank accounts.
words, a huge amount of the money has been stolen.
There is nothing more
distasteful than rulers of a people – especially a poor people – who complain
about their subjects’ suffering at the same time that they profit from
Of course, when some foreign observer sees Palestinians in poor
conditions they blame Israel, thus furthering the cause of the same leaders who,
by their intransigent policies, ensure that the situation continues.
personal wealth of PA “president” Mahmoud Abbas is estimated at $100
Add onto that millions of dollars for a large number of PA and
Fatah senior officials and you get the idea.
I have seen the villas of
the PLO leaders in Tunis and the PA leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I
have followed in detail the saga not only of Yasser Arafat’s personal stash but
also how he used corruption to sustain his political control. And his heirs
mostly continue to run the Palestinian movement.
It is easy to forget
that the PA has existed for 18 years and governed virtually every Palestinian
there starting about 16 years ago. That’s a long time. And while Israel can be
accused of harassment and putting up various roadblocks, its part in this
problem has been limited.
Indeed, Israeli actions that have hurt the PA’s
economy have arisen in direct response to episodes of terrorism, violent
confrontation, and allout wars started by the PA.
PA leaders have
received more aid money per person than anyone else in history and yet the
results have been remarkably unimpressive. The leaders have looted the money and
used it as political pay-offs to buy patronage. By patronage I mean paying off
the proportionately huge security forces that guard the PA and provide jobs for
its supporters and benefits for political supporters.
NOTE THAT in recent
years the aid money has gone mostly to the West Bank only, though some of it is
used to pay PA employees in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to keep them loyal, even
if these people just stay at home. In other words, the level of aid has stayed
the same but the number of people being supported generally has been cut in
Yet the PA cannot provide jobs for most of its people or build good
institutions. Luxury apartments are going up but not hospitals, schools and
Even though the PA economy is doing well –
how could it not do so given the tidal wave of aid? – the regime cannot even
enforce its own law forbidding Palestinians from working on Jewish settlements
on the West Bank.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is
respected in the West as a relatively honest, professional and moderate guy who
tries to stop the thievery. He is totally powerless in political
The leaders of Fatah have been working endlessly to get rid of
Fayyad so they can have unrestricted access to the loot again, while Hamas also
wants to fire him. Only the demands of the Western money donors have kept him in
office. But for how much longer will that be true? Why does the world not pay
attention to this massive theft, inefficiency and misappropriation of funds?
The money is not being given for development purposes but for
political purposes; to keep the PA going and to make sure that Hamas doesn’t
take over the West Bank. That’s why President Barack Obama, with Israeli
government support, has just overridden Congress to release even more US aid to
the PA. He also has not objected to the PA using that money to pay its former
bureaucrats in the Gaza Strip, thus indirectly benefitting Hamas,
Giving money to the PA supposedly supports the cause of peace and
therefore is considered sacrosanct in the West, even though the PA isn’t
negotiating for peace. From a cynical Western leadership standpoint it can be
said that at least the funding keeps things relatively quiet in the face of lots
of other troublesome issues in the region.
Thus, they overlook the PA’s
partnership deal with Hamas – which is not working out so well anyway – and
remained passive until the very end about the PA’s violation of its own
commitments to seek unilateral independence at the UN.
left-controlled media and academia don’t like Israel and generally refuse to
criticize the PA because it is allegedly the “moderate,” “peace-loving,” “good
guy” and victim. The Palestinians, after all, are non-Christian, non-Western,
and – in the bizarre parody of reality prevalent today, “non-white.”
so the Western taxpayers give the money, the PA leaders steal or use the money
for political purposes, and the average Palestinian suffers more from this
situation than from the largely extinct “Israeli occupation.” If, as seems to be
true, Fatah has finally pried control over the money from the hands of Fayyad,
whose sin was honesty, the situation would get much worse.
book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.
He is director of global research in the International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
and a featured columnist at PJM and editor of The Middle East Review of
International Affairs (MERIA) journal.