“If the current state of corruption in the Palestinian Authority continues, we will lose the West Bank to Hamas,” said Fahmi Shabaneh, a 49-year-old intelligence official who until recently, headed the "anti-corruption unit" in Mahmoud Abbas's General Intelligence Service. “What happened in the Gaza Strip will repeat itself in the West Bank.”
Shabaneh, who lives in Jerusalem with his wife and five children, is now willing to speak out because, he explains, he has reached the conclusion that Abbas and his authority are not serious about ending the corruption.
The international community, particularly the donor countries, need to ask themselves: How come Hamas’s chances of extending its control from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank remain so high after all the billions of dollars in financial aid that has been poured on Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad?
The Palestinian intelligence official has a clear answer to this question. "But," he continues, “The Americans and the Europeans don’t want to listen to people like me.”
His advice to the US and the EU: “Please don’t give money unconditionally. Yes, the Palestinians need your financial assistance and thanks for your willingness to help, but you must follow up to see where the money ends up.”
Shabaneh says he has evidence that huge sums have been stolen by senior Palestinian officials. “The money hasn’t been going to the right hands and places,” he charged. “Had some of this money been invested for the welfare and prosperity of the Palestinians, we would be in a much better situation today."
"Will the international community ever wake up and start presssing for reform, accountability and democracy in the Palestinian territories," he said, "or will they continue to fund corrupt regimes and liars, thus empowering Hamas and other Muslim fundamentalist groups. It's not about suspending or halting the financial aid, but about insisting that US and EU taxpayers' money does not end up in secret Swiss Bank accounts."
Shabaneh’s remarks, which were first published in The Jerusalem Post last week, should be taken seriously by decision-makers in Washington and European capitals who are deeply involved in efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East.
Shabaneh actually refutes claims by Washington and some EU countries that the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah party have taken real measures to combat corruption and anarchy.
“Today you won’t find one person in the West Bank who supports or believes in Abbas’s authority. That’s why one day Hamas will take over, whether through violence or a free election. Fatah lost the Gaza Strip because of the rampant corruption and thuggery of its representatives there. The people in the Gaza Strip were fed up with Fatah’s corruption and abuse of power and human rights.” “Abbas has surrounded himself by many of the corrupt officials who used to serve under Yasser Arafat,” he noted. “When you have the same guys running the show, how can one expect transparency and accountability?”
Shabaneh revealed that in his capacity as head of the anti-corruption unit in the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Service, he managed to expose many cases of financial corruption and returned millions of dollars to the Palestinian Ministry of Finance. However, he is quick to clarify that not a single corrupt official involved in the theft was brought to trial.
Ironically, Shabaneh feels free to express himself because he lives under Israeli rule in Jerusalem. He even noted that many journalists are afraid to publish his accusations out of fear of being targeted or boycotted by the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank. There’s no doubt that had similar charges been made by an Israeli intelligence official against the Israeli government, the international media would have jumped on the opportunity and covered the story from all possible angels.
The intelligence official also pointed out that Abbas himself never did much to fulfill his pre-election promise to root out corruption and establish good government. “It’s all talk and he didn’t do much in this regard,” Shabaneh added.
But the most serious warning sounded by Shabaneh is the likelihood that Hamas would one day take control over the West Bank due to Abbas’s failure to end financial and administrative corruption.