Palestinians say Biden aid will only fund more corruption

A recent survey among Palestinians sends a clear message to the Biden administration: the funds you are sending to Palestinian leaders are being stolen.

By Bassam Tawil, The Gatestone Institute

Ignoring rampant corruption in the Palestinian Authority (PA), the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden says it is preparing to resume unconditional financial aid to the Palestinians.

“The suspension of aid to the Palestinian people has neither produced political progress nor secured concessions from the Palestinian leadership,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said at a press briefing earlier this month. “It has only harmed innocent Palestinians.”

In 2018, the administration of President Donald Trump announced that it would not spend more than $200 million set aside for Palestinian aid on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The assumption that renewed financial aid would lead the Palestinian leadership to make “concessions” has proven, over the past three decades, to be completely baseless. Anyone in the Biden administration who thinks that the Palestinian leadership would make real “concessions” to Israel in return for hundreds of millions of dollars is living under an illusion.

Funding changed nothing

Since the signing of the Oslo Accord between Israel and the PLO in 1993, the Palestinians have received billions of dollars in international aid, including from the US and many Western donors.

Did the money change the Palestinians’ position on crucial issues such as the status of Jerusalem or the “right of return” for millions of refugees and their descendants to their former homes inside Israel? No.

The “right of return” means flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians with the hope of turning Jews into a minority in their own state. For many Palestinians, the so-called two-state solution means establishing two Palestinian states: one in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, and another one that would replace Israel.

Did the money stop Palestinian incitement against Israel? No.

Did the money make Abbas change his mind about rejecting Israel as a Jewish state? No.

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Did the money make Hamas and other Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist? No.

Last year, the Palestinians rejected Trump’s $50 billion Middle East economic plan that would create a global investment fund to improve the Palestinian and Arab state economies. The Palestinians dubbed it an “attempted bribe.”

In 2019, the Palestinians boycotted the US-led “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain, which aimed to “facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region.”

Nabil Sha’ath, a senior adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, claimed that the workshop was aimed at “bribing” the Palestinians. “We won’t sell our cause,” he explained.

Another senior Palestinian official, Monir Aljaghoub, said: “The Palestinian cause is a political issue and not an economic one. We don’t need money.”

The “innocent Palestinians” the Biden administration is talking about would undoubtedly be happy to receive financial aid from the U.S. or the European Union. These Palestinians, however, are concerned that their leaders will continue to deprive them of the financial aid, and that the money, ever-fungible, would, as usual, just end up in the pockets of Palestinian leaders as well as to incentivizing murder for “pay-for-slay” terrorists.

A recent public opinion poll showed that a majority of Palestinians are still worried about the corruption of their leaders, especially the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinians, according to the poll, even expect an increase in corruption during 2021.

The findings of the poll, conducted by the Palestinian Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN), should sound alarm bells in Washington and other Western countries that continue to provide unconditional financial aid to the Palestinians.

The results of the poll also need to be brought to the attention of Western taxpayers, whose dollars and euros will continue to go into the fattening coffers of the PA leadership.

According to the poll, 58% of Palestinians believe that the scale of corruption in the Palestinian Authority’s institutions is still large. This year, the rate of Palestinians who believe that the scale of corruption is large decreased by five points (58%) compared with 2019 (63%). The rate is highest in villages (73%), compared with 59% in refugee camps and 50% in the cities. The rate is 63% among private sector employees, and 61% among public sector employees.

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More senior, more corrupt

The majority of Palestinians believe that corruption is concentrated among senior public sector employees, particularly in the executive public institutions (the ministries, the presidency and the security services). The Palestinians continue to believe that senior employees are the most corrupt individuals among the Palestinians.

According to 27% of the Palestinians, the ministries and public institutions are the most corrupt (35% in the West Bank and 15% in Gaza), followed by the PA presidency at 23%.

The Palestinian security services ranked third (19%) as the most susceptible to corruption.

“The crimes of nepotism, embezzlement of public funds, abuse of position, bribery, and money laundering were the most common forms of corruption,” AMAN noted in its survey.

Sixty-nine percent of Palestinians also complained about corruption in the Palestinian judiciary.

According to the poll, 53% of Palestinians believe that corruption increased during 2020. Another 55% said that they believe that corruption will further increase in 2021.

The poll also found that many Palestinians do not have confidence in efforts to combat corruption. The Palestinians are also doubtful of the independence of the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) and believe that it is under the influence of the Palestinian leadership.

“A high rate of citizens are dissatisfied with anti-corruption efforts, and are not confident of the independence of the PACC because of the Executive Authority’s interference in and influence on its work,” according to AMAN.

“Eighty-five percent of West Bank citizens considered PACC’s effectiveness in combating corruption either moderate or poor. Thirty-two percent said that the main reason for PACC ineffectiveness it that citizens have not seen senior-level corrupt persons held accountable seriously, while 30% said that it is not serious in holding the corrupt accountable.”

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The findings of the poll are significant for two reasons.

First, the poll coincided with the announcement by the Biden administration of its intention to resume financial aid to the Palestinians. The message that the findings send to the Biden administration and other Western donors: The funds you are sending to Palestinian leaders are being stolen. If you want to send money, you must ensure that the money does not end up in the private bank accounts of Palestinian leaders.

Second, the poll’s results were made public as Palestinians prepare to hold new general elections in the coming months. If, as the poll shows, a majority of Palestinians continue to see their leaders as corrupt, this means that Abbas’s rivals in Hamas are again likely to win the vote.

In 2006, Hamas candidates ran in the parliamentary election under a list called Change and Reform.

The list promised to end massive corruption in the Palestinian Authority; that was one of the two major reasons why Hamas won the parliamentary election. The list also promised to continue the “armed resistance” against Israel. That was the other reason, and still would be.

All this means that, if and when the general elections take place, Hamas is well on its way to score another easy victory.

To avoid such a scenario, the Biden administration and Western donors need to make financial aid conditional upon reforms and an end to financial and administrative corruption in the PA. Failure to do so would delight Hamas and assure it of sailing to victory in the upcoming parliamentary election.

Bassam Tawil, a Muslim Arab, is based in the Middle East.