The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has renewed his efforts to gain control over the Finance Ministry portfolio which, over the past few years, has been in the hands of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
In recent statements to Palestinian media outlets, Abbas talked about his desire to carry out a "cabinet reshuffle." According to his aides in the West Bank, the proposed reshuffle actually envisages placing the Finance Ministry under the direct control of Abbas's corruption-riddled ruling Fatah faction.
Abbas and Fatah have never come to terms with their loss of direct control over the hundreds of millions of dollars donated annually by the Americans and Europeans to the Palestinians.
Western donors, most likely aware of this, have conditioned their continued aid to the Palestinians on placing the Finance Ministry under the direct and exclusive control of Fayyad. It would be better for both the donors and for the Palestinian people if that is exactly where it stayed, The question is: How much pressure is the West willing to exert to be sure that the Finance Ministry stays with Fayyad?
The donors have explained that they would like to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, when Yasser Arafat and Fatah were in control of the budget and stole hundreds of millions of dollars of Western aid that were earmarked for Palestinians.
Fayyad's control over the Finance Ministry has put him on a collision course with Abbas and Fatah, who are angry because they are no longer able to sign fat checks and deposit large amounts in secret bank accounts around the world.
Tensions between Fatah and Fayyad reached their peak a few months ago when top leaders of the faction called on Abbas to confiscate the Finance Ministry portfolio from the prime minister. Some Fatah leaders even went as far as accusing Fayyad of serving the interests of Americans, Europeans and Israelis - an insinuation that he is a "traitor."
Abbas's renewed attempt to gain control over the Palestinian Authority's public funds should sound the alarm bell in Washington and European capitals. In the past, the US Administration and some European donors have warned Abbas that they would cut off financial aid to the Palestinians if Fatah takes the Finance Ministry from Fayyad.
It remains now to be seen whether the Western donors will intervene once again to prevent Abbas and his corrupt Fatah faction from laying their hands on the Palestinian Authority's coffers.
If Western donors, by failing to act, allow Abbas to take over the Finance Ministry, the Palestinians will again be deprived of international aid -- then even more of them will be driven into the open arms of Hamas and other radical groups.
Omar Khatib is a journalist and translator based in Gaza.