Congress Briefed on Palestinian Authority Corruption

Washington, July 11 – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has failed to stamp out corruption in the Palestinian Authority and his two sons are among those siphoning off millions of dollars in foreign aid funds, according to testimony given to a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Committee chair Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) said in an opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing: “Reports suggest that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, has used his position of power to line his own pockets as well as those of his cohort of cronies, including his sons, Yasser and Tareq.”

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also highlighted Abbas’ two sons, who were part of a 2009 Reuters investigative series that tied them to several significant business deals. Some involved USAID contracts, including one for $1.89 million, which was intended to build a sewage system in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Schanzer also cited a poll, released last month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, that indicates more than 70 percent of West Bank residents believe government institutions under Abbas are corrupt.

“The staff at the U.S. Consulate General in East Jerusalem reportedly knows that Palestinians believe their ruling elites are corrupt. But for reasons that are not entirely clear, the State Department has yet to issue a clear statement to address the issue, or what it intends to do about it,” Schanzer said.

Elliot Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former special adviser to President George W. Bush testified: “There are a number of significant matters related to corruption that deserve real investigations, such as the business activities of the sons of President Abbas. He has been particularly allergic to such inquiries, and his reaction to allegations has often been swift -- and illegal.”

Schanzer concurred, saying: “Abbas silences political opponents. …He arrests writers who criticize him. The government shuts down websites that make allegations against him. Meanwhile, his allies and family members benefit handsomely from his rule.”

Schanzer cited the trial of Mohammed Rachid, a former advisor to the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat. According to Schanzer, “Rachid was found guilty in absentia, fined $15 million, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.” But that verdict was a “result of a personal dispute between Abbas and Rachid,” partly out of a grudge stemming back nearly 20 years.

Jim Zanotti, a specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs for the Congressional Research Service, said the international community had hoped that Abbas would stamp out the rampant corruption that existed under Arafat’s rule. Indeed, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has tried to do so. But, the subcommittee heard, his efforts have only been partially successful and have been undermined by Abbas himself.

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