Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad says that his regime is short of funds. And meanwhile a reader asks me:
“Can you please explain to me why 20 years after Oslo and billions in dollars in foreign aid, the Palestinian Authority (PA) still has not built modern hospitals? Or rather, why do the donor countries pour money down the PA drain without expecting even some face-saving results?”
Good question. Short answer: Swiss bank accounts. In other words, a huge amount of the money has been stolen. There is nothing more distasteful than rulers of a people–especially a poor people–who complain about their subjects’ suffering but at the same time that they profit from it. Of course, when some foreign observer sees Palestinians in poor conditions they blame Israel, thus furthering the cause of the same leaders who – by their intransigent policies – ensure that the situation continues.
The personal wealth of PA “president” Mahmoud Abbas is estimated at $100 million. Add onto that millions of dollars for a large number of PA and senior Fatah officials along with the hundreds of millions of dollars that Yasir Arafat carried off and you get the idea. Remember, too, that this total of about a half-dozen billion dollars over the last twenty years has gone to an entity ruling just over two million people.
I have seen the villas of the PLO leaders in Tunis and the PA leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I have followed in detail the saga not only of Yasir Arafat’s personal stash but also how he used corruption to sustain his political control. And his heirs mostly continue to run the Palestinian movement.
It is easy to forget that the PA has existed for 18 years and governed virtually every Palestinian in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip starting about 16 years ago. That’s a long time. And while Israel can be accused of harassment and putting up various roadblocks, its part in this problem has been limited. Indeed, Israeli actions that have hurt the PA’s economy have arisen in direct response to episodes of terrorism, violent confrontation, and all-out wars started by the PA itself.
Foreign donors have learned that no matter how great the humanitarian benefit of any project it will only get done if they pay for it and supervise it directly. One notorious example was the effort to build a better sewer system in the Gaza Strip (before the Hamas takeover) which was delayed for years while the PA did nothing to help its own people.
PA leaders have received more aid money per person than anyone else in history and yet the results have been remarkably unimpressive. The leaders have looted the money and used it as political pay-offs to buy patronage. By patronage I mean paying off the proportionately huge security forces that guard the PA and provide jobs and salaries for its political supporters.
Note that in recent years, since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip the aid money has gone mostly to the West Bank only, though some of it is used to pay PA employees in the Gaza Strip to keep them loyal even if these people just stay at home. In other words, the level of aid has stayed the same but the number of people being supported generally has been cut in half.
Yet the PA cannot provide jobs for most of its people or build good institutions. Luxury apartments are going up but not hospitals, schools, and infrastructure improvements. Even though the PA economy is doing well–how could it not do so given the tidal wave of aid?–the regime cannot even enforce its own law forbidding Palestinians from working on Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Thousands do.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is respected in the West as a relatively honest, professional, and moderate guy who tries to stop the thievery. He is totally powerless in political terms. The leaders of Fatah have been working endlessly to get rid of Fayyad so they can have unrestricted access to the loot again, while Hamas also wants to fire him. Only the demands of the Western money donors have kept him in office. But for how much longer will that be true?