Corruption in the PA

Had those claiming to be peace partners a fraction of Israel’s judicial evenhandedness, our region would have long ago enjoyed peace.

The Palestinian Authority’s law-enforcers, having apparently at long last resolved to get tough, demonstrate to all and sundry these days precisely what stuff they are made of. No, they aren’t concentrating utterly on the dynamic pursuit of terrorists – particularly not of their own Fatah faction. Likewise, they aren’t obsessively cracking down on the terror-inspiring anti-Israel hate-rhetoric and inflammatory anti-Semitic incitement rampant in their bailiwick.
Instead, some of the energies of the PA judicial system are now concentrated on silencing Fahmi Shabaneh, who was sacked from his position as head of the anti-corruption unit of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service because he actually did his job. Shabaneh’s sin is having exposed theft of public funds and sex scandals in the highest PA echelons and having further accused PA President Mahmoud Abbas of a cover-up.
Shabaneh’s diligence was rewarded last week with an arrest warrant issued by PA Prosecutor-General Ahmed Mughni for such crimes as “harming Palestine’s prestige and national sentiments,” “collaboration with Israel” and “spreading lies and fabrications.”
This has been garnished with accusations of attempted murder, blackmail and the staple of “selling land to Jews.”
Shabaneh, although a Jerusalem resident, is in mortal danger. He knew the grave risk entailed in breaking his silence. The Arab media and PA-based foreign correspondents refused to publish his findings for fear of violent retribution. The story finally broke in The Jerusalem Post in a recent exclusive interview with our correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh. It later featured in a Channel 10 documentary.
In his conversation with Abu Toameh, Shabaneh lamented the absence of a free press in the Arab world and the trepidation of foreign correspondents to vex Abbas and his coterie.
The only truly free press in the region resides in Israel, the Mideast’s sole democracy. This relates not only to dirty PA laundry. Israeli reporters just as eagerly divulge ills in Israeli society. This is the essence of journalistic impartiality, which unfortunately, is patently unacceptable in the PA’s milieu. Just as unfortunately, this fact is overlooked by international opinion-molders.
Despite the kneejerk reaction of accusing Israel of collusion with Shabaneh in “a smear campaign” – and more specifically of conspiring to divert attention from moribund peace negotiations – Abbas reportedly appealed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to “instruct” the Israeli media to cease embarrassing the PA via revelations of corruption in Ramallah. In this, of course, Abbas fundamentally misreads Israel.
Netanyahu cannot – even if he were willing to – do such a favor for Abbas. Netanyahu himself is hardly treated with kid gloves by Israel’s own news outlets, which vie with each other in digging up and publishing innuendo – often petty and irrelevant – about the prime minister’s own family.
In our system, an elected head of government cannot curb the press. In this we are happily very different from our Arab neighbors.
But most of all, in our system, it’s impossible to brutally bully whistleblowers. Shabaneh, by contrast, one fears, has made himself a real target.
In Israel, the judicial system has forced the resignation of a prime minister in 1977 (Yitzhak Rabin) and that year sentenced the designated state bank chief to prison (Asher Yadlin). A former president (Moshe Katsav) and premier (Ehud Olmert) are on trial and a former finance minister (Avraham Hirchson) is behind bars. Our courts didn’t shrink back from sending other ministers, notably Aryeh Deri and Shlomo Benizri, to do time – powerful coalition partners though they were.
This, of course, did not dent our national armor, or, in the PA idiom, “harm our prestige and national sentiments.”
Equitable justice is one source of our strength and resilience. In our system, public officials fear the courts. Israeli courts do not fear officials.
Had those claiming to be credible peace partners a fraction of Israel’sjudicial evenhandedness and commitment to truth, our region would havelong ago enjoyed harmonious coexistence. Instead we witness reliancenext-door on the hackneyed canards of Israeli villainy. There’s nohesitation to fabricate expedient lies and Israel is ever the handypunching bag.
This bodes ill for the prospect of contracting stable, enforceableagreements. And it leaves ordinary Palestinians denied the honestgovernment they so desperately need.