Much is made of the fact that the late president Yasser Arafat controlled
billions in funds that were used to support the Palestinian struggle for
statehood and freedom.
And since it also involved politics, more than a
few people asserted there was corruption, asking how could one man be in charge
of so much money? When George Washington led the American revolution against the
British in the mid-18th century, he also controlled a vast sum of money, in the
tens of millions, which back then was the equivalent of hundreds of millions,
maybe even billions.
The point being that Arafat was our leader at a
precarious time. Revolutions are just that, revolutions, not formal governments
with elections or transparency. In fact, Arafat did what Washington did, hiding
the funds as best as he could so that the British – or Israel and the United
States in the case of the Palestinians – could not confiscate it and undermine
But Arafat ended the revolution to pursue a mirage of
peace with Israel, moving into the occupied West Bank in 1994. In the 10 years
that followed, peace was impossible and the funds remained partially hidden, as
they should have.
There is no sovereign Palestine state today, but rather
a quasi-administration that is subject to the political whims of Israel. And
those whims can be punitive.
Recently, Israel has withheld large sums of
funds from the Palestinians, putting the daily lives of more than 174,000
Palestinian government employees in peril.
Vicious anti-Arab members of
the US Congress, led by the likes of Ileana Ros- Lehtinin, have done everything
they can to financially choke the PA.
This week in an interview,
Ramallah-based journalist Mohammed Najib offered an interesting perspective that
should not be lost in this controversy.
Under pressure to find funds to
pay its employees, Arafat’s hapless successor President Mahmoud Abbas reached
out to find some of the lost Arafat treasure. The person he contacted last year
was Mohammed Rashid, the Iraqi Kurd who was Arafat’s financial
Rashid went from pauper to wealthy prince and now lives in
London, although Najib reports there are rumors he has a home in Haifa in
Israel. Reluctant to face Abbas, Rashid declined. The Palestinian
Anti-Corruption Commission issued indictments of Rashid accusing him of 12
counts of corruption and embezzlement.
They reached out to Interpol to
issue an arrest warrant, but since Palestine is not a sovereign country,
Rashid was quick to respond, attacking Abbas and
asserting that Abbas had embezzled money himself from this revolutionary
treasure trove that everyone believes exists but no one so far has been able to
The financial crisis, many believe, also is behind the
collapse of the attempted unity government that Abbas pursued with Hamas in the
Gaza Strip. Hamas is seeking to Islamicize the West Bank, as they have done in
Gaza, and Abbas eventually backed out.
Hamas wants a presence in the West
Bank but refuses to allow the secular Abbas government to have a presence in the
The Hamas treachery is more transparent than the issue of
where the money is.
Hamas is also hypocritical. They have historically
accused the PA of corruption and a lack of financial transparency but everyone
knows that Hamas is not that transparent about its own funding,
With the Arab World in turmoil as the “Arab Spring” fast wilting
into an Arab Winter, the flow of funds from Palestine’s “Arab Brothers” have
Abbas needs to pay his employees, or his government could
collapse, and if his government collapses, so to will the hopes for peace
further deteriorate. Najib says the PA faces a $1.2 billion budget shortfall.
Even in the world of Facebook wealth, that’s still a lot of money.
seems like the hopes for peace are dependent on so many undependable factors
making it so unlikely.
Whenever you have government, you also have
corruption. The two go hand in hand. You see it in the United States and the
West, and you see it often in Israel, too. So why is it surprising that we see
it in Palestine? Of course we will.
But it is troubling for a
poverty-stricken public to see their leaders go from revolutionaries to wealthy
entrepreneurs. How did Abbas build up an equity thought to be in the hundreds of
millions? And how does a guy like Rashid become the world’s “wealthiest
non-Palestinian Palestinian?” It’s one of the true miracles of government and
public service. It’s called “Virgin wealth” in politics and discussions of
political financial corruption. It’s one of those miracles that happens in
Poor public servant enters politics and suddenly becomes
wealthy, not by saving their small government payroll checks, but through other
means, and through other opportunities that come from power and
Well, the Middle East is the place where miracles first began, so
it is appropriate that the miracle of the “virgin wealth” might miraculously
Although just once it would be nice to have a good miracle,
like seeing an end to the occupation, this 64th year of the Palestinian
Catastrophe and the nearly two decades of the failed peace process.
that it is easier to see a politician get rich than to see a miracle of peace in
the Middle East.
The writer is an award winning Palestinian American
columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.