Hassan Barari
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
February 16, 2010 - 1:00am

Few, if any, were shocked by the news that senior Palestinian officials close to President Mahmoud Abbas were involved in various kinds of corruption.

One report after another has revealed corruption in the Palestinian Authority (PA) unparallel anywhere else in the Middle East. Indeed, one of the reasons behind the electoral fall of the Fateh movement was the widely held perception of a highly corrupt PA under Fateh rule.

As such, it is not that the phenomenon is unknown. It is about the timing for revealing the issue and the identity of the one exposing the corruption.

Palestinian officials insist that disclosing the “unfounded” stories and running them on Israeli TV is an indication that Israel has stepped up its diplomatic pressure on Abbas to cave in to Israeli conditions for resuming negotiations. Moreover, Palestinians accuse the Palestinian officer who revealed of these stories of being an Israeli collaborator trying to discredit Abbas. This claim seems to weigh much on Abbas and his close colleagues.

Two points on this. First, it is clear that as the Obama administration was gearing up for a fresh attempt to relaunch the peace process, the Israeli government was looking for a scapegoat, someone to blame for the failure of the American attempt. Abbas’ insistence on a complete freeze of the settlements as a precondition for resuming talks provided the Israeli government with ammunition to weaken him.

Abbas has been consistently rejecting talks simply for the sake of talking, aware that the Israeli government is not serious about peace. Had it been intent on attaining peace, Israel would have helped Abbas by moderating its position on settlements, even for a short period of time.

Second, I believe the argument that the Israeli government has been complicit in airing the corruption scandal. But, the PA will do itself a big favour by conducting an in-depth and transparent investigation into the problem. Continually blaming Israel in this issue is somewhat misleading. Instead, Abbas should sack all involved officials to preserve a clean image of his office. Defending the “corrupt” officials who stole millions of dollars and abused their offices for sexual favours is not wise.

That said, one should not lose sight of the broader picture. Abbas finds himself between a rock and hard place. On the one hand, he is targeted by the Israeli government for his rejection to collaborate with it against Palestinian interests; on the other, he is losing ground to a more popular and “cleaner” Hamas. Abbas seems to be in a losing position.

Palestinians, unfortunately, do not have a monopoly over corruption. Many other regimes in our region have that problem. These undemocratic regimes that suffer from lack of transparency and lack legitimacy are prone to cave in to external pressure.

The lesson that should be learnt from the PA problem is that Arab regimes should take reforms seriously. They should run the affairs of the state in a transparent way. This is the only guarantee that what happened to Abbas and his “corrupt” men will not happen to them.


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