Palestinian Authority officials were illegally using public funds, according to leaked documents.
The papers were leaked online and described two attempts by Palestinian officials to embezzle public funds have sparked fury, as they emphasize the corruption and mismanagement that critics say is out of control in the Palestinian government.
The uproar over the documents comes at a time when the Palestinian economy is deteriorating and Palestinians are becoming increasingly aggravated with government services. Palestinian Authority officials have attempted to justify their record on ending corruption, noting that they have salvaged millions of dollars in misused funds.
A senior Palestinian official, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity as he was forbidden from discussing the leak, verified the documents’ legitimacy to The Associated Press. No one knows where the documents have originated from, but the documents have been disseminated on Facebook. The documents have offered an unusual look into the wheeling and dealing of the Palestinian government, which has long been hindered by rivalries, especially between the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas.
One document signed by Majdi al-Khaldi, a diplomatic advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who frequently travels with Abbas on his trips to world capitals, asked Bahrain’s foreign minister for $4 million to finance a private neighborhood complex for Palestinian officials in an expensive area of Ramallah in the West Bank. Al-Khaldi asserted that the complex was “meant to resist the Israeli settlements,” despite the fact that there are no settlements at the site of the complex.
Fighting Israeli settlements in the West Bank has become an important way of unifying Palestinians, as the Palestinians demand the territory that Israel took control of in the 1967 Six Day War as a part of their future state, in addition to the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It is unclear as to whether or not Bahrain ever paid the money. Al-Khaldi would not comment when the AP contacted him.
The other document by Nazmi Muhanna, who is the general director of the Palestinian Crossing and Borders Authority, asked for the government to pay for his daughter’s schooling in addition to medical treatment for his family in Jordan for a grand total of $15,000, which is a lot of money for many Palestinians. Muhanna justified his demand by claiming that the Palestinian government allowed it. The government later said that it did not fund those costs.
Many Palestinians expressed their outrage about the documents on social media, where they questioned everything from their leadership’s finances to its political legitimacy in light of the oft-delayed elections, which were last conducted in 2005.
“If Muhanna’s daughter costs the Palestinian Authority 6,500 Jordanian Dinars [about $9,175] in private school in Jordan, what about the poor students in government schools? Who will pay attention to them?” Mohammed Abu Allan, a Palestinian political blogger, wrote on Facebook.
Commentators say that corruption has gone down since the 2004 death of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Abbas’s predecessor. While Abbas has promised reforms, he has been condemned for ignoring corruption among those most loyal to him while attacking political rivals.
Azmi Shoabi, the head of Aman, a branch of the corruption watchdog Transparency International, said that “there are big black holes” in the Palestinian financial and administrative system that “need to be addressed and reformed.” These black holes include failing to correctly publish finance reports and get them out on time while also not supervising approximately 20 government-run funds headed by senior officials with inordinate salaries, he said.
Assorted public departments have become “private kingdoms” for some officials, Shoabi said.
The Palestinian parliament, which has restricted oversight powers, has been inoperative since the Islamic militant group, Hamas’s, 2007 removal of Abbas’s government in Gaza.
Rafeq Natesh, who heads the Palestinian anti-corruption commission, said that the Palestinian anti-corruption commission is fighting against corruption and has reclaimed millions of stolen dollars. However, for Palestinians, the leaked documents only strengthened the perception that their government is still corrupt.
“We need to see the real picture which is much bigger than the fees of Muhanna’s daughter,” Rami Mehdawi, a columnist for the Palestinian al-Ayam newspaper, wrote on Facebook. “The entire Palestinian system needs to be addressed and reformed to clean up the rampant corruption, mismanagement and nepotism.”