Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has surroundedhimself with many of the corrupt officials who used to work for his predecessor,Yasser Arafat, and that’s why Hamas will one day take control of the West Bank,Fahmi Shabaneh, who was appointed by Abbas four years ago to root outcorruption in the Palestinian Authority, said on Thursday.In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Shabaneh, who until recentlywas in charge of the Anti-Corruption Department in the PA’s General IntelligenceService (GIS), warned that what happened in the Gaza Strip in the summer of2007, when Hamas managed to overthrow the Fatah-controlled regime, is likely torecur in the West Bank.“Had it not been for the presence of the Israeli authorities in the West Bank, Hamas would have done what they did in theGaza Strip,” Shabaneh told the Post. “It’s hard to find people in the West Bank who support the Palestinian Authority. Peopleare fed up with the financial corruption and mismanagement of the Palestinian Authority.”Shabaneh said that many Palestinians in the West Bank have lost hope that the PA would one day be reformed. “The PalestinianAuthority is very corrupt and needs to be overhauled,” he said.Shabaneh cited several specific cases of alleged corruption within Fatah andthe PA in the course of the interview, including asserting that Fatah personnelstole much of a $3.2 million donation given by the US to Fatah ahead of the2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, won by Hamas, which had been intendedto improve Fatah’s image and boost its chances of winning.Shabaneh, a resident of east Jerusalem who worked as a lawyer before joining the GIS as its legal adviser after thesigning of the Oslo Accords in 1993, said he was forced to quit his anti-corruptionjob several months ago after exposing a sex scandal involving one of Abbas’s top aides in Ramallah in 2009.Video footage and other documents presented to the Post by Shabaneh show theaide lying naked in bed after being lured to an apartment in Ramallah by aneast Jerusalem woman.The footage shows Shabaneh and other armed security agents storming thebedroom, much to the surprise of the Abbas aide who is heard uttering: “ThankGod it’s you and not the Israelis.”Shabaneh said in the interview, the first of its kind with a high-ranking PAsecurity official, that he and his men had been operating on instructions fromtheir boss, Gen. Tawfik Tirawi, the former head of the GIS. Tirwai, for hispart, denied that he had authorized Shabaneh to spy on the Abbas aide.The top aide, who is one of the closest advisers to Abbas, was caught on tapemaking derogatory remarks against Abbas and Arafat. “President Abbas has nocharisma” and is “not in control,” he was quoted as saying. The aide was alsocaught on tape denouncing Arafat as one of the biggest dajjals (swindlers).After the revelations, which were brought to Abbas’s attention and wereembarrassing for the PA president, Shabaneh was removed from his anti-corruptionpost and reassigned as head of the GIS’s internal security force. Morerecently, he was promoted to overall commander of the GIS in the area.Shortly afterwards, however, Shabaneh was arrested by Israeli police onsuspicion of recruiting east Jerusalem residents to the GIS, spying on Israel,chasing suspected “collaborators” and Arabs involved in real estate deals withJews, and threatening and blackmailing the senior Abbas aide.Shabaneh has since been released from prison and most of the charges againsthim dropped. Today he remains under house arrest and is banned from enteringthe West Bank. The only charge he faces todayis membership in a Palestinian military organization – a charge he claims isabsurd given the fact that about 1,200 residents of eastJerusalem serve in the various securitybranches of the PA.Shabaneh said that he had no doubt that his arrest by Israel was carried out atthe request of “someone high in Abbas’s office to punish me for fightingcorruption and exposing sex scandals involving not only the senior aide, butmany other officials as well.” He said that the decision to arrest him and prosecute him was also absurdbecause was always aware of his work and status in the PA security forces and never didanything to him.
“For many years I worked as legal adviser to the General Intelligence Apparatusand no one ever asked me anything,” Shabaneh noted. “When I was commander ofthe force in the area the Israelis even used to coordinate a lot with us.”Shabaneh insisted that the decision to pursue corrupt officials in Abbas’sinner circle was part of the PA president’s declared policy to combat financialcorruption. “In his pre-election platform, President Abbas promised to endfinancial corruption and implement major reforms, but he hasn’t done much sincethen,” he said. “Unfortunately, Abbas has surrounded himself with many of thethieves and officials who were involved in theft of public funds and who becameicons of financial corruption.”Shabaneh said that as head of the anti-corruption unit he and his men succeededin exposing dozens of cases involving senior officials who had stolen publicfunds but were never held accountable.“Some of the most senior Palestinian officials didn’t have even $3,000 in theirpocket when they arrived [after the signing of the Oslo Accords],” Shabanehsaid. “Yet we discovered that some of them had tens, if not hundreds, ofmillions of dollars in their bank accounts.
Until today we didn’t hear about one official who wasbrought to trial for stealing money from the PA, although we had transferredmany of the cases to the Palestinian prosecutor-general.”Questioned as to why he had decided to go public now, Shabaneh said: “I’m notcriticizing the Palestinian Authority simply because I like to criticize, butbecause I want to see a state of law, one with no room for corruption. I wasoffered $100,000 not to expose the last sex scandal, but I chose not to acceptthe bribe. I’m the one who resigned after my arrest, because after all that I’ve seen I no longer believe thatAbbas’s authority can be reformed.
Asked whether PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is working to establish goodgovernment, Shabaneh said: “Salam Fayyad is a good man and I have a lot ofrespect for him. He’s really working to build professional institutions andgood government, but the corrupt Fatah people around Abbas are doing theirutmost to thwart his efforts.”He added: “Even Abbas tried in the beginning, but the corrupt officials workingwith him didn’t allow him to make progress.”Shabaneh also said he had managed to track down some of the financial aid thatwent missing during and after the period of Arafat’s death.
“I discovered, for example, that several senior officialshad taken millions of dollars from the Palestinian leadership under the pretextthat they wanted to purchase land that would otherwise be confiscated by Israel,” hesaid.“Our investigations revealed that many of the purported land deals werefictitious transactions and we even forced one official to return more than$800,000. We had another case where a senior Fatah official and his brotherpocketed about $2.5m. which they took from Arafat under the pretext that theywanted to purchase land in the West Bank before Israel lays itshand on it.Asked whether he believed outside donors should stop channeling funds to Abbas,he said his advice to the donor countries “is to follow up on their donationsto examine how and where the money is being spent. We caught some officials whostole about $700,000 from the donors to study the atmosphere in . Why do we needto spend such a huge amount of money on something trivial like this when manypeople are suffering and have nothing to eat or feed their children?”Was he serious about Hamas taking over the ?“Yes, no question about that,” he said. “It will happen one day if the state ofcorruption and anarchy continue in the West Bank .“Why do you think Hamas kicked us out of the Gaza Strip? Because the peoplethere were fed up with the corruption and bad government of Fatah. What do youthink the people in the Gaza Strip used to think when they saw a colonel in thePalestinian Authority driving in a big motorcade and surrounded by dozens ofbodyguards and assistants?”Did he see no chance that Fatah would reform? “As long as the same corrupt guysare running the show we shouldn’t expect real changes,” said Shabaneh.“Before the 2006 parliamentary election, the Americans gave Fatah $3.2m. toimprove the party’s image and boost its chances of winning. But the Fatahpeople even stole most of the money that was intended to help them improvetheir image and reputation. These corrupt officials know no limits. They evenused to forge Arafat’s signature to obtain money by fraud,” he said.