POMED Notes: “Chronic Kleptocracy: Corruption Within the Palestinian Political Establishment”
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on the topic of corruption within the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Fatah party. Rep. Steve Chabot chaired the hearing, with Reps. Gary Ackerman, Ted Deutch, Gerry Connolly, and Tom Marino also present. Testifying witnesses included Elliott Abrams, Jonathan Schanzer, and Jim Zanotti.
For full event notes, continue reading below or click here.
Chabot began the hearing by stating that the purpose of the hearing was to determine the extent of corruption within the PA. Despite constantly being told that the Israeli occupation is the main cause of Palestinian misery, he said, the corruption of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is equally at fault for this, and because the U.S. provides so much assistance and aid to the PA, the issue must be addressed. If the Arab Spring has taught nothing else, Chabot said, the U.S. must address not only leaders in the region, but also the needs of the people there.
Abrams made an opening statement in which he emphasized that despite some prosecutions targeting corruption, the PA is still viewed by most Palestinians as corrupt. USAID programs do not include anti-corruption programs, he said, and given the amount of aid we send to the unelected PA, Abrams asked the committee to consider what kind of message this sends to Palestinians.
Schanzer contended that the problem was partially one of our own making in that after the Fatah-Hamas split, the U.S. threw money at the former in hopes of bolstering them. The PA takes much of this aid and provides gifts to insiders and family members of officials, he said. Washington, Schanzer said, should acknowledge the problem, or Hamas will continue to exploit it. Finally, Palestinians need to know that Israel is not the only obstacle to peace.
Chairman Chabot asked the panelists to elaborate on what specific measures the U.S. can take to combat this problem. Abrams said that, in addition to hoping the Palestinians clean things up themselves, organizations such as USAID and NED should establish anti-corruption programs as part of their work in the occupied territories. Schanzer said that the problem must be addressed in the context of the current leadership, and aid can be removed based on findings of corruption.
Rep. Ackerman commented that the U.S. cannot just simply cut off all aid- all countries suffer from at least some corruption- but the U.S. should try to clean up the PA while weakening Hamas. In response, Schanzer said that the U.S. is complicit in the PA’s behavior, and as long as they are so corrupt, Palestinians will continue to support groups like Hamas. Corruption is a major problem in the region, and in fact, the entire Arab Spring is about corruption.
Rep. Deutch asked the panel if there will be new elections anytime soon. Schanzer replied that neither Fatah nor Hamas wants to take a chance on it, and very few people in the occupied territories are pushing for it. Rep. Deutch asked if there is anyone there willing to stand up for the popular views among Palestinians; Schanzer replied that perhaps Prime Minister Salam Fayyad could fill that role, but he is being undermined by Abbas.
Finally, Rep. Ackerman asked if the corruption is about self-aggrandizement, or for other reasons? If not for the occupation, he said, would democracy take root in the occupied territories? Schanzer confirmed that the PA indeed does rely on the occupation as an excuse for Palestinians’ problems.