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Abbas tries to convince the Palestinian public he’s not corrupt
By Yoni Ben Menachem
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced on August 19, 2019, that all of his advisers had completed their work, regardless of their level and titles, and the conditions afforded by their status no longer applied.
This announcement relates to dozens of advisers that Abbas employed in various capacities. The most prominent include Nabil Shaath, adviser on international affairs; Mahmoud Al-Habash, adviser on religious affairs; Gen. Ismail Jaber, adviser on security affairs; Ali Mahana, legislative adviser; and Majdi Al-Haldi, adviser on foreign affairs.
At the same time, Abbas ordered former Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and the ministers of his previous government to return the salary increases they received to the PA coffers. This was a wage increase of $2,000 per month to each one, which means that every individual needs to pay back sums ranging between $100,000-$120,000.
The PA chairman’s decision was announced on official news agency WAFA, with no further explanation. At the time, it was Mahmoud Abbas himself who approved the raise in Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s salary and those of his ministers, contrary to Palestinian basic laws.
Details on the increases in salaries of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and his ministers were leaked to social media channels in the territories several months ago, arousing much anger because at that time the wages of other PA officials were cut by 50 percent.
On the Palestinian street, the raises were perceived as a clear example of the corruption of Mahmoud Abbas and those who surround him.
When the increases were revealed, the PA chairman hurriedly announced that this was all a mistake and he promised to put it right. However, only now did he take any practical steps.
Former Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah issued a press release on August 20, 2019, blaming Abbas for giving the original order to increase the salaries of the ministers of his government without his knowledge.
Abbas’ latest move to dismiss advisers was a surprise, coming without any warning. The Palestinian street welcomed the action. However, many have said that this is only a small measure that has come too late because the corruption has already spread throughout the PA hierarchy. The source of this corruption, some say, is Mahmoud Abbas himself and his two sons, Yasser and Tarek.
At the same time, Fatah sources are not sure if Abbas fired all of his advisers because his decision did not include a list of all of them and their functions. Mahmoud Abbas remains vague here because some of his associates were defined as his “advisers” so that they could receive a large salary and the perks of the job, such as an office, a car, and so forth.
It is not yet clear if Abbas will appoint new advisers in place of those who were fired.
Senior Fatah officials report that it is not certain what happened to Mohammed Mustafa, who was the PA chairman’s economics adviser. Mustafa was also an adviser to Abbas and his two sons on business matters, and he is considered a very close associate of the Abbas family, knowing all of its financial secrets.
With this recent decision, Mahmoud Abbas is attempting to shake off his image as a corrupt leader. It will be tough for him to fix the damage. The Palestinian public will not forget that he was the one who approved the unusual salary hike for Hamdallah and his ministers, breaking Palestinian law, to acquire their loyalty and so that they would turn a blind eye to his corruption and that of his two sons, which is well-known in the territories.
Abbas’ associates claim that the decision was the result of the harsh financial crisis suffered by the Palestinian Authority as the result of the cessation of U.S. financial aid and the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept tax money from Israel once Israel had deducted the sum paid out by the Palestinian Authority monthly to the families of shahids and terrorists sitting in Israeli jails.
The PA chairman wants to appear as if he is “tightening his belt” because the Palestinian Authority is heading toward a severe economic crisis.
Abbas’ hasty decision shows that he is under heavy pressure, as well as confused. The anger on the Palestinian street continues to mount following recent events on the Temple Mount and in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood where Israel razed illegal buildings. The heads of the Palestinian security forces believe that these areas are on the verge of an explosion that could also turn against the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.
Mahmoud Abbas will need to take serious steps to convince the Palestinian public that he is not corrupt. However, he has already missed the bus, and he will go down in Palestinian history as a corrupt dictator who created dissension within Palestinian society and never achieved anything in the struggle against Israel.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.