(Image source: iStock)
A growing number of Palestinians are demanding that the Palestinian Authority (PA) take serious measures to end financial and administrative corruption among its top brass.
Rather than heeding these calls, however, the Palestinian Authority has chosen to crack down on anti-corruption activists as part of an effort to silence its critics and deter others from demanding transparency and accountability. The Palestinian Authority's measures against anti-corruption activists have angered many Palestinians, who are accusing their leaders of covering up for senior officials suspected of abusing power for their own personal gain.
Sweiti, who heads a not-for-profit anti-corruption organization, was arrested after he shared on his Facebook page a document accusing senior Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian General Authority for Civil Affairs and member of the Fatah Central Committee, of exploiting his job for personal gain.
Sweiti's son, Saeb, said that more than 20 officers belonging to the Palestinian Preventive Security Force raided his family's home near the West Bank city of Hebron early in the morning. The officers, he said, confiscated his father's computer, mobile phone and other documents. They also informed his father that he must report to the office of the Palestinian prosecutor general later in the day.
After being interrogated about the document he had shared on Facebook, Sweiti was ordered held in detention for 48 hours. He was released the following day, however, after widespread protests by Palestinian human rights and anti-corruption activists.
The second anti-corruption activist, Mohammed Ayesh, was arrested on June 12 as he was on his way to work in Bethlehem, his family said. Earlier this month, Ayesh was briefly detained by Palestinian security officers after he asked Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh why his government had arrested Ala' Bashir, a female Koran teacher from the village of Jainsafout in the West Bank.
The third man, Saed Abu al-Baha, who is also affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank, was arrested for his role in the anti-corruption campaign waged on social media. Shortly before his arrest, he called on Palestinians to take to the streets to demand transparency from their leaders and protest corruption.
The arrest of the anti-corruption activists came in the aftermath of a new scandal that hit the Palestinian Authority in recent weeks. Documents leaked by social media users revealed that the Palestinian Authority government had secretly agreed to increase monthly salaries of its ministers by 67%, from $3,000 to $5,000. The prime minister's salary, the documents showed, was raised from $4,000 to $6,000. The scandal surrounding the salary hike has seriously embarrassed the Palestinian Authority, whose leaders this time did not question the authenticity of the leaked documents. The Palestinian Authority has defended the controversial decision by arguing that it was taken by the previous government back in 2017.
The Palestinians were not the only ones to protest the decision to raise the salaries of the prime minister and his cabinet members. United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said that he spoke to Prime Minister Shtayyeh, "who committed to end this practice immediately." Criticizing the secret salary raise, Mladenov added: "At a time when the Palestinian people are struggling with economic hardship, when salaries were cut in Gaza, such decisions defy logic and rightly anger people."
Another scandal that recently hit the Palestinian Authority concerns nepotism in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry.
A video posted on Facebook last week revealed that the wife of the Palestinian Authority ambassador to Spain is serving as ambassador to Sweden, while his brother, who also holds the rank of ambassador, works as head of the Latin America Department in Fatah's International Affairs Department.
The ambassador's daughter, the video revealed, was appointed as a Palestinian "spokeswoman" in Europe, while her husband works as senior aide to the Palestinian foreign minister.
"One family holds all these jobs in the [Palestinian] Foreign Ministry," said a caption attached to the video. "This confirms the corruption of nepotism inside the ministry. The video also claimed that Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who has been in his position for 12 years, had appointed his brother as ambassador to Colombia. "Is this a foreign ministry or a family ministry?" asked another caption accompanying the video.
Stories concerning rampant financial and administrative corruption in the Palestinian Authority do not surprise those who have been reporting on Palestinian affairs in the past two decades. What is surprising is the growing number of Palestinian individuals and groups who are openly defying Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials by talking about and exposing corruption.
More and more Palestinians are stepping up -- and risking their lives (and jobs) -- by using social media platforms to discuss corruption -- an issue long considered a taboo in Palestinian society. For many years, Palestinian leaders managed to divert attention from corruption by directing the heat against, mostly, Israel.
Beleaguered Palestinian officials are again resorting to this reliable old sleight of hand. This time, they are saying that the corruption charges are being made suspiciously close to the announcement of US President Donald Trump's plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "Deal of the Century."
Munir al-Jaghoub, a senior official with Abbas's ruling Fatah faction, claimed that leaking the corruption documents is linked to both the Palestinian Authority's rejection of the Trump plan and the US-led economic conference slated to take place in Bahrain later this month.
This statement is intended to create the impression that the Palestinian Authority is facing some kind of American-Israeli conspiracy because of its rejection of the Deal of the Century. What Palestinian leaders are actually telling their people, in other words, is that anyone who complains about corruption is a traitor working with the Americans and Israelis against the interests of the Palestinians. This charge not only carries the death penalty, it brings shame to the accused and his or her entire clan. Palestinians are thus understandably wary of such an accusation.
The crackdown on anti-corruption activists and the attempt to deter Palestinians from demanding transparency and accountability demonstrate
s how far the Palestinian leadership is from combatting corruption and preventing its senior officials from abusing power for personal gain.
Palestinian leaders not only deny their people the right to institutions of proper governing, they are now doing their best to block any chance of improving their living conditions by boycotting the upcoming Bahrain conference, whose main goal is to offer Palestinians economic prosperity and rid them of failed leaders whose sole interest seems to be enriching their own bank accounts and those of their family members.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.